Visit to a Small Planet
A Literature Lesson by Dena Wolfson
Lesson plan, activities and worksheets for
"Visit to a Small Planet", a play by Gore Vidal
I recommend that you consult the background and teaching guide information given in The ECB Anthology Teacher's Guide. (Background / Discussing Meaning).
Pre-reading Activities (or while you are still in Act I)
Topic-- "A profile of life in America in 1955" (when the play was first broadcast)
Groups of pupils or pairs can do different aspects. They can find pictures on the Internet, in old library books, current history books and some of them may even have pictures at home.
Task 1: Instructions to Students
"You are time travelers. Go back in time to America in 1955.
What do you find out about life then?
It is only 45 years ago, but how have things changed?
Prepare a report or profile of what you discover."
Elicit topics by brainstorming.
I split my topics up as follows:
- Foreign Policy (post Korean War, fear of Communism);
- The Arms Race;
- the Space Race and the fascination with the idea of alien life;
- the Development of Technology and Mass Communications;
- Society and Stereotypes - the status of women, the American Dream;
- parents and children, American youth;
- entertainment (music, TV, cinema and theatre).
Some groups focus on one aspect while other focus on 2 or 3 topics.
Give pupils one week of homework time and allow them one lesson for preparation.
The following lesson each group displays its work and presents.
Pupils may present the material to the class in a variety of ways:
- video of part of an old TV show;
- science fiction novels / magazines.
Their work is displayed on the back wall/ notice-board.
Task 2: Who is Gore Vidal?
Get 2-3 pupils to find out important biographical details about the playwright.
Task 3: TV in 1955 - what was broadcast and how?
Task 4: Brainstorm the title of the play.
Reading the Play
- Point out the play on words in some of the characters' names and the use of irony throughout the play.
- As you read look for socio-political references.
- Read and explain the stage directions as they help build the characters and give us technical and period information i.e. the first shot in Act I. This shot is typical of live television before computer technology.
Download this Student Worksheet
This Worksheet is designed for students to begin work at the beginning of Act I, and to continue through Acts 2 & 3.
If you have drama students in your class, get them to plan ahead and to bring some props for each reading. Allow pupils to act-out the play in front of the class. I found they were very enthusiastic (unlike another play I've taught). There are plenty of short speeches - one liners- so that even the very shy pupils will read.
Copyright 1997 - ETNI