Alien Invasions: Then and Now

What happens when you pair a classic text with a contemporary title? Here’s one suggestion for teachers who want to to reinvigorate student interest in the classics while helping them explore contemporary issues.

Classic TextWar of the Worlds

war of the worlds doverWells, H. G. (1997).
The war of the worlds. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Summary: Written in 1898, War of the Worlds tells what happens when a war-like, enemy race of Martians invades Victorian England, completely overwhelming the human population with advanced weaponry like heat rays and metallic fighting machines. Quickly, it becomes clear that the human race is in danger of losing the war as Martians rack up more and more victories over the English landscape.

Quantitative Reading Level: Lexile 1040L, ATOS 9.1

Qualitative Reading Level: The setting is 19th century England and some place names, descriptions and words may be unfamiliar to young readers. The vocabulary level is advanced with some archaic and infrequently used words. Sentences are often long and complex. The chapters are fairly short and chapter titles foreshadow upcoming events. Only 162 pages, the short length of the novel could appeal to some readers. The first-person narrative style may help bring some readers into the story.

Contemporary TextThe Fifth Wave

fth waveYancey, R. (2013). The 5th wave. New York: Putnam Juvenile.

Summary: First readers meet Cassie, a survivor of the first four waves of alien invasions. Cassie struggles to protect herself in a dangerous world where she is possibly one of the last of her kind. When she meets Evan Walker, she wonders if she has finally met her new family or if trusting him will destroy her.

Quantitative Level: Lexile HL 690L, ATOS 4.6

Quantitative Level: Although the book length is long (512 pages), it is written with contemporary language and mostly simple sentence structure. Chapters are short and often end on suspenseful notes. The point of view switches between two first-person narrators, both teenagers, one female and one male. The storyline is non-linear, alternating between a bleak present reality and past waves of alien invasions.The novel explores apocalyptic themes which may be unfamiliar to some readers and the plot deliberately leaves many unanswered questions.  Violent and sexual situations elevate the text level to older readers (grade 7 and beyond).

Curriculum Suggestions

Subject Areas: English language arts / U.S. & world history

  • Students identify common themes in both texts, particularly surrounding the topics of violence, humanity, individuality, survival, technology, and hope. They identify specific, textual evidence to the significance of the theme.
  • Students write arguments on the issue of safety vs. freedom. Which is more important to a democratic society? Safety or freedom? For support, students research contemporary U.S. laws curtailing rights in order to provide greater security.
  • Using Rick Yancey’s book trailers for The 5th Wave as mentor texts, students create similar trailers for War of the Worlds. They study elements of film to make decisions about how to write, direct, film, and edit their trailers.
  • Students compare British colonial history to the invasion depicted in War of the Worlds. They are challenged to decide if there is evidence to support the theory that Wells wrote the book as a critique of Colonial England.
  • Students compare the themes portrayed in War of the Worlds and The Fifth Wave to a popular Twilight Zone Episode, “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” How do mid-century U.S. fears compare to those of British Victorians or modern teenagers?
  • Students listen to the 1938 Orson Wells radio broadcast of War of the WorldsThey research the panic resulting from the broadcast and discuss possible reasons for that event, including whether the same thing could occur today.

Common Core State Standards


Compare and contrast a written story, drama, or poem to its audio, filmed, staged, or multimedia version, analyzing the effects of techniques unique to each medium (e.g., lighting, sound, color, or camera focus and angles in a film).

Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to the characters, setting, and plot; provide an objective summary of the text.

Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s