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Teaching Utopia and Dystopia: The Sword in the Stone, Gulliver's Travels, and Robinson Crusoe

Sword in the Stone poster

What is the perfect society? Has one ever existed in the past? Will one ever exist in the future? What constitutes a Utopia, and what prevents it from becoming a Dystopia? These are all questions I love exploring through a variety of stories, films, and activities in my Utopia/Dystopia unit. King Arthur's Camelot, Plato's Republic, Atlantis, Animal Farm, Robinson Crusoe's island, Lilliput, and the Planet of the Apes--what do they all have in common?  What lessons can we learn from these fictional examples of a real-life goal? Along the way we also analyze the goal of the perfect leader, and how absolute power corrupts absolutely. I hope you will find these resources helpful in your own journey through Utopia and Dystopia!

UTOPIA UNIT Here is how I use the materials on this website to teach my own Utopia unit. This yields a 15-day unit. This outline includes clickable links! 

THE IDEA OF UTOPIA  This worksheet introduces the concept of Utopia to students--citing such famous sources as Plato's Republic and Thomas More's Utopia. Also check out our whiteboard video of the material presented in the worksheet. (Remember to like the video and subscribe to our channel for more content!)

THE PRINCESS AND ALL THE KINGDOM This worksheet features a famous parable about power and responsibility, wherein a prince wants to marry a princess but does not want to inherit the kingdom that comes with her. This leads to a great discussion about power and responsibility.

MAP OF UTOPIA  Ask your students to draw a map of the perfect society. 


Robinson Crusoe adaptation for high school students
ROBINSON CRUSOE (SCRIPT-STORY COLLECTION)  Robinson Crusoe, the famous castaway, gets to recreate society from scratch. Not surprisingly, the society he creates looks similar to the one he left behind--with a few exotic touches. This classic tale of man vs. nature is as relevant now as it was when it was first penned, over 200 years ago.


CRUSOE vs. CASTAWAY  After read the story of Robinson Crusoe, students can use this handout to compare that story to Cast Away (2000) starring Tom Hanks. I suggest watching only a portion of the film: from the time Noland arrives at the desert island until his departure.

Gulliver's Travels

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS: A VOYAGE TO LILLIPUT (SCRIPT-STORY)   Ship's surgeon, Lemuel Gulliver, sees his own society's problems reflected in the odd lands he encounters across the sea. In this most famous episode of Gulliver's Travels, Gulliver encounters an empire of Lilliputians, little people six inches tall. The only problem? They want Gulliver to be their secret weapon in a war against another tiny nation. 


GULLIVER'S FURTHER TRAVELS  This handout summarizes Gulliver's second voyage to a land of giants. Just as his visit to Lilliput highlighted many of society's problem, this second voyage does the same as Gulliver struggles to adapt to life the size of an insect.

DESIGN A COAT OF ARMS  Students illustrate what truly matters to them by designing a coat of arms similar to the type used by medieval knights.

"SO YOU WANT TO BE A KNIGHT?" "THE QUEST FOR CHARACTER," AND "THE KNIGHTS OF THE ROUND TABLE" These worksheets, which appear in The Road to Camelot, give background on the life of a medieval knight, how character played into being a successful knight, and the creed adopted by King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table.

"A TUTOR FOR THE WART" (SCRIPT-STORY) In this dramatization of an excerpt from The Sword in the Stone Merlyn begins the training of his young ward, the Wart (or the eventual King Arthur). Merlyn stresses the importance of education.

THE EDUCATION OF THE WART  This worksheet summarizes the ways in which Merlyn uses various types of animals to further the Wart (Arthur's) education.

DISNEY'S THE SWORD IN THE STONE VIEWING GUIDE  As my class reads excerpts from the novel The Sword in the Stone, we watch numerous clips from the Disney adaptation of the film. 

WIZ-DOM FROM MERLIN THE WIZARD This video from our YouTube channel presents highlights from Disney's The Sword in the Stone and showcases the wisdom of Merlin.

THE SWORD IN THE STONE (SCRIPT-STORY)  In this dramatization of an excerpt from The Sword in the Stone Merlyn leads the Wart (Arthur) to the culmination of his training: pulling the sword out of the stone.

THE SWORD EXCALIBUR (SCRIPT-STORY) In this dramatization of an excerpt from The Once and Future King, Arthur receives another powerful weapon, the sword Excalibur, and learns the importance of might vs. right from Merlyn.

THE FALL OF CAMELOT This worksheet analyzes the end of King Arthur's kingdom of Camelot.

SWORD IN THE STONE ESSAY QUESTIONS  As an end-of-the-unit activity, I ask students to reflect on what they have learned from the events of The Sword in the Stone.

MERLIN LEARNING QUOTE FREE PRINTABLE POSTER  Original artwork used by permission of Mellodee (Indira Muzbulakova). Characters copyright Disney. 

THE SWORD IN THE STONE FREE PRINTABLE POSTER  Original artwork used by permission of Mellodee (Indira Muzbulakova).  Characters copyright Disney.

THE SWORD IN THE STONE (BOOK LISTING ON AMAZON.COM) The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White is an overlooked classic, and I love its themes of growing up and the importance of education.

THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING (BOOK LISTING ON AMAZON.COM) The Sword in the Stone is only the first part of The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which tells the full life story of King Arthur.

DON QUIXOTE (SCRIPT-STORY) Join Don Quixote de la Mancha as he spoofs the ideal qualities of knighthood with his ridiculous adventures. But the question remains: "Who is truly insane? Don Quixote or the world around him?"

"THE ONES WHO WALK AWAY FROM OMELAS" BY URSULA K. LEGUIN (SHORT STORY) Copyright prevents me from listing the story on this website, but I highly recommend you finding a copy. The story beautifully illustrates the idea that a utopia is not truly a utopia if it is built on the suffering of even one person.

ANIMAL FARM AND 1984 BY GEORGE ORWELL No study of Dystopia is complete without visiting these two famous novels; however, we have so many materials for them that they have their own dedicated page. Click on the link above to visit it!

THE PLANET OF THE APES (1968) We end our unit on Utopias and Dystopias by viewing this classic film. For a reading guide that focuses students while viewing, click the link above.