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Teaching Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder"

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/27/2012

This short story is a great example of science fiction and a popular one for students. Try these ideas to teach Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder".

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    Brief Summary of the Book

    The year is 2055, the day after the presidential election, won by Keith, who defeated the Fascist Deutscher. Eckles expresses relief over the election results as he prepares for a time travel safari to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Eckles' guides, Travis and Lesperance, warn Eckles not to leave the path. They explain how tiny changes, such as killing a mouse, could have drastic ramifications in the future.

    As the T-Rex approaches, Eckles panics and, you guessed it, leaves the path. Travis wants to kill him on the spot, but Lesperance and a whimpering Eckles convince him otherwise. When they return to the year 2055, Eckles is shocked to discover subtle changes in the air, in the room, and how words are spelled. He hears police whistles outside and learns that Deutscher has won the election. Eckles notices a dead butterfly on his boot and begs to go back in time so he can return it. Travis refuses to return and shoots Eckles in the back of the head.

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    Discussion & Teaching Points

    The following subjects and literary devices are worthy of discussion and should be incorporated into your lesson plan:

    1. Foreshadowing - Lesperance's explanation to Eckles on the dangers of small changes in the past having catastrophic effects on the future foreshadows the changes that occur. The constant warnings to stay off the path indicate that Eckles will leave the path.
    2. Elements of Science Fiction - Bradbury is a master of science fiction. "A Sound of Thunder" has been imitated so frequently that its concepts have become a cliche.
    3. The Butterfly Effect -Lesperance explains what the effects of killing something as small as a mouse would have thousands of years in the future. Eckles' killing of the butterfly shows this effect.
    4. Suspense - Bradbury uses foreshadowing, dangerous action, and pacing to create suspense.
    5. Authoritarian Regimes - Eckles unwittingly brings a fascist to power.
    6. Characterization - Travis seems quite pleased with the results of the changed election results.
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    Lesson Plan

    1. Analyze the elements of science fiction and have students write their own science fiction account. Use these tips for writing science fiction.
    2. Teach Cause and Effect with this essay lesson plan. Use a flow chart to chronicle the chain of events that causes words to be spelled differently, the air to be different, and for the election to change. Be creative.
    3. Adapt this analyzing suspense lesson plan.
    4. Compare "A Sound of Thunder" to these other excellent science fiction stories.
    5. Bradbury gives a detailed description of the Tyrannosaurus Rex. Read the description and assign students to draw the dinosaur. Bring in a photo of another animal--a mouse, for example--and instruct students to write their own description.
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    Write a Review

    Have each student do the following after reading the story:

    1. Write a brief "A Sound of Thunder" summary, 100-200 words.
    2. Write a brief analysis of "A Sound of Thunder," extolling its literary merit, 150-200 words.
    3. List lesson activities for "A Sound of Thunder": 3-4 ideas in a bulleted list.
    4. Give each section a rating of 1-5 stars.

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