Making a game out of science fiction for 8-12 year olds

posted in: SF Said | 6

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Once a month I lead a book group for 8-12 year olds at our local public library and our most recent session was about science fiction books. It was one of the most enjoyable sessions we’ve had, so I thought I’d share what we did.

My first challenge was to come up with a list of science fiction which 8-12 year olds might enjoy. This wasn’t such an easy task, but in the end my book list read like this:

  • Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Cosmic
  • Sally Gardner’s Maggot Moon
  • A range of Dr Who books
  • Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time – both the original and the graphic novel (adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson)
  • SF Said’s Phoenix
  • Various Star Wars spin off books
  • Philip Reeve Sarah McIntyre’s Cakes in Space
  • Nicholas Fisk’s Star Stormers and Space Hostages
  • Jen Reese’s Above world
  • John Christopher’s The Tripods
  • Paul Magrs’ Lost on Mars
  • Mark Haddon’s BOOM!
  • Andrew Norriss’ Aquila
  • Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  • Sophia McDougall’s Mars Evacuees
  • Neil Gaiman & Chris Riddell’s Fortunately The Milk
  • Ben Hatke’s Zita the Spacegirl comics
  • James Turner’s Star Cat
  • Mini Grey’s Space Dog
  • Jon Scieszka’s Frank Einstein novels

  • sfbooks2

    Several people helped me come up with this list (thank you!), but I’d like to give a special shout out to author SF Said who was tremendously helpful in making suggestions about books I might like to consider.

    I knew that most of the kids in my group hadn’t read any science fiction at all (though most had seen either some Dr Who episodes or the Star Wars films), and so first we had a discussion about what we mean when we talk about science fiction in relation to books. The definition we came up with was:

    Fiction which typically focuses on:

  • either science or technology
  • life in space, on other planets or aliens
  • and whilst there is often some sort of fantasy element, the fantasy is potentially believable (through technological advances, for example), and therefore distinct from fantasy with dragons and spells.

  • As the aim of the session was to get the kids exposed to a wide variety of SF, and to choose at find at least one SF book which they thought looked interesting enough to read, I wanted to expose them to lots of different books in the short time we had. And so I came up with a board game which the group played in teams.

    All the books on my list above, plus some space-themed poetry and space non-fiction books were placed in the centre of our table, and each team was give a game template, a dice and a lego spaceman or alien as their counter.

    spacegame

    The aim of the game was for each team to get to the end of the board game (set out a little like snakes and ladders ie with the possibility of having to move forward and backwards on the board), collecting as many (glow in the dark) stars as possible along the way. Teams won stars by correctly answering questions associated with the numbered star they landed on each time they rolled the dice.

    All the questions were about the books in the centre of the table, and so to find the answers, the kids had to do a lot of browsing. Some questions were very simple (“Who is the author of X”), some involved a value judgment (“Choose three words to describe the illustrations in Y”) and some required more in-depth browsing inside books (eg “Which book opens with the lines XYX” or “Which book is set in X”). When each team had found the answer to a given question they came and gave me the answer, and if it was correct (or simply reasonably thoughtful in the case of value judgments), the team got a star and returned to roll the dice for their next question.

    The game was over when every team had reached the end point on the board, and the winning team was that which had collected the most stars. The victors each won a Mars bar (you get the space connection?) and the book of their choice from a small selection I brought with me from my past review pile.

    Once winnings had been distributed we went round the group and everyone had to pick up one book which had caught their eye, and comment on what it was about the book that they liked the look of.

    The session went with a blast (no pun intended, but I’m happy to keep it in 😉 ). I think it worked so well because:

  • There was a (team) competitive element – this meant the game got quite loud and physical, with lots of books being picked up and discussions going on
  • The kids won stuff – everyone went home with some glow in the dark stars, in addition to the victors’ winnings
  • The kids had a period of pretty intensely browsing books they might not otherwise have picked up, and everyone went away with a new discovery (the most popular books were the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time, Space Cat, Space Dog, Phoenix, Mars Evacuees and Lost on Mars)

  • If you’d like to try the game out you can download a copy of this board game here (pdf) but you’ll need to create your own set of questions to go with whichever books you’re using in your session. You’ll see on the board that there are time warps (they look like tornadoes), a teleporter, and two tardises (tardi?) – if kids landed on these they had the choice to go forwards or backwards along the board, and pretty soon they realised that it was actually beneficial to move back wherever possible as this gave the team the chance to win more stars.

    Next month’s bookgroup meeting is actually all about celebrating our first birthday, so if you’ve any suggestions for great book-themed party games to play, I’d really love to hear about them!

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    If you liked this post you might enjoy two past posts of mine: 7 ways to set up and run a children’s book group or Book Bingo!.

    6 Responses

    1. Love this idea, Zoe! You might find some games you can use for the birthday celebrations in my post about Literacy-related Guessing Games. http://www.thebookchook.com/2013/07/literacy-based-and-other-guessing-games.html
      Susan Stephenson recently posted..Creative Prompt for Kids – Superhero Yourself

    2. Great idea! Glad it went so well!

      Triggered me off thinking about a possible treasure hunt in library, having to browse books, clues hidden inside books…. etc. Would need a very willing library though I guess!
      Claire Potter recently posted..Unbratting the Bratz: Give a doll a makeunder!

    3. Johnny Mackintosh trilogy by Keith Mansfield
      WILD ROBOT by Peter Brown
      Zombie Bums from Uranus by Andy Griffiths!
      John Christopher’s “The Guardians”
      WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
      BOOM by Mark Haddon
      SAVING LUCAS BIGGS by Marisa de los Santos
      Astrosaurs by Steve Cole
      Spacejackers by Huw Powell
      FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm
      DEADLY PINK by Vivian Vande Velde
      ONLY YOU CAN SAVE MANKIND by Terry Pratchett
      Railhead by PHilip Reeve
      Zoe recently posted..A multi-story [sic] colouring-in book to keep the peace

    4. Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein (suggested by Jessica Walton @JessHealyWalton)
      Zoe recently posted..A multi-story [sic] colouring-in book to keep the peace

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