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The materials in this course were developed through an NSF grant designed to improve how students learn about and interact with polar regions. The intent was to create materials to help students engage with polar data and researchers and learn more about how polar science issues affect people and animals
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Module 1 Living Narratives

Initial Publication Date: May 19, 2020 | Reviewed: March 12, 2023


This module engages students with a variety of different viewpoints, encouraging them to understand how different people can view the world. Students will work in small groups to analyze a "living narrative", then explain to the rest of the class the heroes, villains, problems, and solutions their narrative frames the world in. This module helps set up the course, as students will perform a similar analysis on every article that they read for the other modules.

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Learning Goals

  • Students will be able to appreciate and give examples of the narrative positions that people may hold.
  • Students will be able to read a story through the lens of various narratives, and infer how a particular viewpoint may influence a reader's interpretation of a story.

Context for Use

This short module is intended to be covered in a single 75-minute class period, however depending on student understanding and interest, it may be extended to a second class. It focuses not on learning a set of information, but rather building an understanding of certain elements of human sociology and how people interface with facts and stories. The concepts presented here are not unique to polar science, and thus this unit would be an excellent exercise for nearly any class. It is best taught at the beginning of a course so that students can keep this information in mind as they interact with material in the rest of the course.

Description and Teaching Materials

The lecture PowerPoint can be used to introduce students to the idea of "living narratives". This starts by introducing students to the concept that people are not blank slates, and everyone has their own opinions and viewpoints that will affect their priorities and how they interact with facts.

This also introduces students to the Elements of a Story form, which they will use throughout the course to evaluate the news articles they read. After working through the initial examples in the PowerPoint, it is time to distribute the Living Narrative packets. These packets give a variety of different views, and students will not be able to read through all of them in a timely manner. Rather, students should be broken into groups based on the class size, and each group is assigned one of the living narratives to read and fill out the Elements of a Story form.

After giving students several minutes to complete the form, the class can reconvene, and a spokesperson from each group can read their narrative, then describe what they identified on the Elements of a Story form. The class should be encouraged to discuss and offer input on the elements identified. After all the groups have presented, a general discussion of the concepts presented can help reinforce what students learned and ensure that they are prepared to apply these concepts going forward for the rest of the class.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This tends to be the hardest module of the course, as students struggle to identify the key elements of a story. There is also a tendency to undervalue the concepts covered in this module, because they are not topics that are commonly emphasized in most classes. Since the PowerPoint has audio components, these need to be tested prior to the start of class to ensure they will play loud enough for the students to hear them. Depending on class size, the groups for the Living Narratives packet exercise can be small or large. If the class is very small, there may not be enough groups to cover all the narratives in the Living Narratives packet. If this is the case, the narratives that are not assigned to any group can be discussed as a class at the end to help check understanding, or they can be omitted for the sake of time. For delving a bit further, the instructor can select a news article from the past week and distribute it to the students and have them fill out the Elements of a Story form to give them more practice with an actual news article.


Assessment for this module is formative and done by asking the class general questions about who they thought were the heroes, villains, problems, and solutions proposed in each narrative. Students can turn in the Elements of a Story form for their assigned narrative as a small formative assessment; however it may be enough to discuss the material in class and let students retain their forms for future reference. Students will continue to be assessed on the concepts covered here in the rest of the modules, and will complete the Elements of a Story form in the rest of the modules.

References and Resources

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