InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Cli-Fi: Climate Science in Literary Texts > Unit 4: Read and Analyze a Short Story
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Unit 4: Read and Analyze a Short Story

Authors: Jennifer Hanselman (Westfield State University), Rick Oches (Bentley University), Jennifer Sliko (Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg), Laura Wright (Western Carolina University)

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards as detailed below. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more.


In this unit, students analyze a literary text in light of how it presents climate change. This approach provides opportunities for an interdisciplinary unit with English/Language Arts.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

Global Climate Change: Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities. MS-ESS3.D1:

  1. This material was developed and reviewed through the InTeGrate curricular materials development process. This rigorous, structured process includes:

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    • multiple reviews to ensure the materials meet the InTeGrate materials rubric which codifies best practices in curricular development, student assessment and pedagogic techniques.
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  2. This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Exemplary Teaching Collection

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This page first made public: Mar 7, 2016


Building on the work they did in Unit 3, students will perform an "ecocritical" rhetorical reading (the theoretical lens for examining the way that literary texts engage with climate and climate issues) in order to analyze a short story chosen from several provided by the instructor. They will utilize literary terminology in discussing this text and generating a rhetorical analysis of it.

Learning Goals

Learning Goals:

Students will apply their knowledge of "cli-fi" when provided with a fictional short story. After reading a short story, students will be able to discuss the climate change significance of the story and explain its literary context.


By the end of this unit, students will be able to:

  • identify climate change issues addressed in a short story.
  • provide context for the inclusion of climate change issues within the story.
  • use literary terminology when writing about/discussing literature.
  • complete an ecocritical rhetorical analysis of a short story's treatment of a climate change issue.

Context for Use

This unit is appropriate for all levels and class sizes, but instructors will need to adjust length of the activity based on certain variables. For example, in larger science classes, instructors may want students to do this activity in groups and discuss the outcomes, while in smaller literature classes, instructors may prefer that students write individual short analyses. We suggest that over the course of the full semester, students read all of the stories in the anthology I'm with the Bears: Stories from a Damaged Planet so that instructors can use these stories for this assignment (see reference below).

This unit can be completed in one 50–75-minute class period.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this part of the assignment, students will complete a rhetorical analysis of a "cli-fi" short story. In the "Teaching Notes and Tips" section, we provide a summary of three short stories from I'm with the Bears: Stories from a Damaged Planet. Ed. Mark Martin. Verso: 2011. We also identify which climate variables (from Unit 2) are associated with each short story.


  • A projection system to display a PowerPoint presentation.
  • Copies of Unit 4 Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Feb24 16) for each student.

Prior to Class

The students should read the assigned short story (either "The Tamarisk Hunter" or "Diary of an Interesting Year") before starting this activity. The instructor should select the short story associated with the appropriate data used in Unit 2.

In Class

At the start of class, the instructor should review climate change issues, the concept of a rhetorical analysis, and literary terminology. The Terms, Rhetorical Analysis, Genres Slideshow (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 1.1MB Mar20 16) from Unit 3 could be revisited, as it provides a useful overview of the most relevant terms and concepts as well as definitions for "ethos," "pathos," and "logos." Present this material and allow time for questions.

After this review of terminology, students should work on the Unit 4 Activity (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 15kB Feb24 16), which can be completed as a group or individually, either through discussion or in writing. The following assessable items should be covered:

  1. Summary of story: students should provide a summary of the story using correct literary terminology (for example, the summary should include such things as the setting, narrator—as distinct from the author, protagonist, antagonist, etc.).
  2. Identification of climate change issue(s): students should identify and contextualize the climate change issue(s) present in the story. Students will also align the climate change issues with previously graphed data from Unit 2, as the data from Unit 2 is related specifically to these short stories.
  3. Evidence: students should provide a close reading of a specific textual passage and analyze the denotative meanings of specific words in that passage in order to provide a reading of the text's creative treatment of climate change.
  4. Function: students should determine the function or role that the climate change issue(s) serves in the text.

Once students have had a chance to work on these questions, discuss as a class or in small groups. Have students share their answers to the questions, provide feedback to their peers, and debate the role of climate change within the work. Student summaries of the same text are often extremely variable, as students choose different aspects of the story on which to focus. Asking for a five-sentence summary is appropriate and serves to limit the amount of material that students can include in the summary.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Below are brief summaries of two short stories from I'm with the Bears and the climate change variables used in the stories.

"The Tamarisk Hunter" (Paolo Bacigalupi)

Lolo is a freelance Tamarisk hunter and makes a living killing the trees along the Colorado River. Set at some point in the near future, this story describes life in western states affected by a prolonged drought. Densely populated California has control of the water rights of the Colorado River and has slowly dried out various cities along the river, until all that remains are independent "water ticks" like Lolo. Lolo is proud that he has created job security by secretly planting Tamarisk to harvest in upcoming years. However, a visit by the National Guard raises concern that Lolo's illegal planting activities have been discovered. His relief when he finds out that his Tamarisk planting is still a secret is short-lived when the Guards tell Lolo he will no longer receive a water bounty for every Tamarisk tree he kills. Lolo learns he must travel farther north, and he will no longer have access to water for his farm. Relevant data include data group A (temperature, precipitation, drought/PDSI).

"Diary of an Interesting Year" (Helen Simpson)

This story takes place in 2040 in England. After "the Collapse," the narrator is living with G., her older husband/former professor (who warned of the Collapse before it happened). The characters had to deal with fuel and food rationing, disease, and billeting before deciding to abandon their house and "head north." As they trek north, G. is killed by a bandit and the narrator is forced to travel with the murderer. After getting pregnant, she tricks the murderer into beating her so she miscarries the baby. The narrator manages to kill the murderer, and buries the baby and her diary before heading north. Relevant data include data group B (temperature, precipitation, drought/PDSI, Arctic Sea Ice extent).


Students will be assessed by their answers to the four questions in the assignment using this

Ecocritical rubric

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References and Resources

Literary term glossary from the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL)

Sample rhetorical analysis essay: Not Quite a Clean Sweep: Rhetorical Strategies in Grose's "Cleaning: The Final Feminist Frontier"

Basic Questions for Rhetorical Analysis, Silva Rhetoricae, Brigham Young University

Hayden, Gabriel and Greg Garrard. "Reading and Writing Climate Change." Teaching Ecocriticism and Green Cultural Studies. Ed. Greg Garrard. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 117-129.

Martin, Mark. I'm with the Bears: Stories from a Damaged Planet. New York: Verso, 2011.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »