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Reading Planet 51

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By Karen Millerwriter. Karen runs a website ( aimed at encouraging young film-makers

There’s an alien invasion happening in a cinema near you this autumn. Karen Miller suggests a galaxy of ways to bring the new animated film, Planet 51, into your literacy lesson


Planet 51 is a great, new animated feature film. The movie is a clever twist on an alien invasion film and takes children to a fantasy world that looks like ours but is inhabited by green-skinned beings! The ‘alien invasion’ arrives in the form of astronaut Captain Chuck Baker who crashes down onto Planet 51 during a family barbecue.

Planet 51 has fantastic child appeal and will no doubt be a big hit in the cinemas: but it could also be a big hit in the classroom and has lots of educational potential. Learning how to ‘read’ a moving image text by understanding how visual images carry meaning enables children to develop comprehension skills and an understanding of story structure. The following activities, linked to units from the Primary Framework, will also help develop children’s understanding of the influence of genre on narrative, setting and character.

Identifying genre

Begin by drawing on the children’s knowledge of films by sharing initial ideas about what might happen in a film called Planet 51. Introduce them to the setting of Planet 51 using the images on the poster The Surprising Summer Barbecue (available to download here), and challenge them to identify any features that illustrate the genre of the film.

Now load the interactive Through the keyhole activity onto your whiteboard, and move the keyhole around to reveal different sections of the street scene. Ask the children to describe the setting and work out what genre the film is (sci-fi/fantasy). What clues can we get from the colour and lighting used? What mood/atmosphere does this create? What sorts of things might happen here?

Characters and storylines

Encourage the children to describe the characters and storylines of some films set in space that they are familiar with – such as Star Wars and E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Display the downloadable image of the Planet 51 characters. Ask different groups to focus on one of the following character(s):

  • General Grawl and soldier
  • Lem, Eckle and Neera
  • Rover and Skiff
  • Chuck
  • Professor Kipple

Encourage the children to consider the features of each of their characters to decide whether they will be heroes or villains and what their mission might be in the film. They can note ideas down on the downloadable ‘Character study’ activity sheet.

Bring the class together to watch the Planet 51 trailer and read the synopsis. Did they make any correct deductions about the characters and storyline?


The following Planet 51 resources are available to subscribers:

Movie Trailer PosterThe Surprising Summer Barbecue Through the keyhole interactive resource Film synopsis Script extract Planet 51 movie poster Earth vs. The Flying Saucers – 1950s movie poster Planet 51 characters Character study activity sheet


Y5 Unit 6

Dramatic events unfold on Planet 51!

Dramatic conventions

Take a look at the extract from the Planet 51 script. How does this differ from play scripts the children have read and used? Taking account of the directions, try acting out this section of the film. Now watch the movie trailer, which includes this same scene. How did your interpretation compare to the real one?

Captain Chuck Baker’s arrival on Planet 51 not only gave Lem a shock, it also caused quite a stir everywhere and, in the film, TV camera crews flock to report on the alien invasion. In the script, a TV reporter is described as ‘acting like the fate of the world hinges on his every word….’

Challenge the children to draw on their knowledge of the structure and language features of broadcast news reports to take on the role of a TV reporter on Planet 51. Ask them to script a report, describing the events presented in the trailer, and to deliver it ‘as if the fate of the world hinges on their every word’.

If you have access to a video camera, why not film the children’s news reports? Remember to use a tripod and plug in an external microphone that the reporters can hold, for steady camera work and decent audio.

Y6 Unit 1

It Came From Outer Space

Fiction Genres

Reflecting on their knowledge of the alien invasion film genre, encourage the children to come up with an idea for their own sci-fi/fantasy film set in space. The following phrases taken from a variety of famous space-themed films could be used to generate ideas and become titles.

  • ‘Resistance is futile’
  • ‘We come in peace’
  • ‘Houston, we have a problem’
  • ‘Take us to your leader’

Discuss each one to check that the children understand their meaning and generate possible plotlines. Encourage the children to create a list of characters and write a synopsis describing the setting and outlining the plot for their film.

Challenge the children to turn their movie idea into a short story.