Explore! Life on Mars

Mars Imaginings: The Story

Adapted from Imaginary Martians, Destination:  Mars, NASA Johnson Space Center, 2002.


During this 45–60-minute activity, children ages 6–13 consider depictions of Mars from science fiction books and video clips. As a group, children discuss what they know about Mars and compare their ideas with the way Mars and imaginary martians are presented in the science fiction works. They then use what they’ve learned to create their own Mars Science Fiction “Movie Trailer” Zines. Optional:  The children may also create a short story about life on Mars at home.

It is recommended that this activity is preceded by two or three of the previous activities so that the children will already have an understanding of what life needs and how Mars compares to Earth. This activity may be extended to serve as a tween and/or teen science fiction book club.

What's the Point?

  • Earth and Mars have many differences and many similarities.
  • Scientists have gained a great deal of information about Mars in recent years, and there is still much to learn.
  • To discover how our understanding of Mars has changed over time as reflected in science fiction.
  • To create a short “Movie Trailer” Zine to allow them to use their imaginations and to capture what has been learned about Mars and possible life beyond Earth (to this point).
Tips for Engaging Girls in STEM:
  • Provide engaging informational and narrative texts. This activity offers numerous science fiction book suggestions to engage the children.
  • Embed activities in interesting contexts. For elementary-aged children, use fantasy, such as saving a planet from invasion, searching for life on another planet, etc., to spark their interest and engage their imaginations. This activity is heavily imbedded with fantasy and science fiction about Mars in order to spark interest and engage young imaginations.


For the group:

  • 1 whiteboard, large sheet of butcher paper, or poster paper
  • staplers (one per 4–6 children)
  • selection of science fiction and nonfiction books about Mars (please refer to the resources section for other suggestions):
  • Optional: Copies of the Extreme-O-File activity pages for this activity
  • Optional: Video camera to record the group movie trailer

For each child:

  • 1 pencil/pen
  • Zine materials:
  • art supplies, such as colored pencils, crayons, and markers
  • optional (extension): 1 release form for the parent or guardian to sign (if the “movie trailer” is to be filmed)
  • optional:  1 set of the Extreme-O-File: The Story activity pages
  • optional:  1 set of the Life on Mars? Trading Cards
    Trading Cards (large file, 34 MB)
    Trading Cards (small file, 7 MB)

For the facilitator:

  • background information
  • shopping list
  • 2–3 markers or chalkboard and chalk to record the children’s ideas
  • 1 computer/TV/projector to show brief sci-fi video clips
  • connection to the Internet


  • Review the activity procedures and background information.
  • Print copies of the Zine template and folding directions.
  • Prepare an area large enough for the children to be comfortably seated as a group.
  • Prepare TV/computer/projector and load sci-fi movie clips. A selection could include:
  • Optional:  Prepare to read — or arrange for a professional storyteller to read —selections of science fiction about Mars and martians.
  • Optional:  Test out the video recorder if you plan to record the group’s “movie trailer” at the close of the activity.
  • Optional:  Print copies of the Extreme-O-File activity pages.

Optional extension:  Feature one or more science fiction works about Mars as part of a tween and/or teen book club. Have the participants read and discuss each entire work of science fiction. Display several nonfiction books about Mars in a place where the children can page through them before and after the activity.


1. Welcome the children and tell them that they will be exploring how life is depicted on Mars through books and video clips, which they will then use to create their own short Mars science fiction “movie trailer” Zine. Ignite their imaginations with a few questions before diving into the activity. Have them draw/write their ideas on a large sheet of butcher paper or poster board:

  • Have you ever dreamed or thought about going to Mars?
  • What do you think it is like on Mars?
  • What type of life forms (aliens) do you imagine when you think of Mars? Draw it!

If appropriate, point back to the group definition of life developed during the Searching for Life activity, and remind them to keep it — and what they have learned about Mars — in mind as they work together to create a short science fiction “movie trailer” together.

2. Introduce the children to the Mars science fiction books. Invite them to consider the descriptions of Mars and martians in one or more science fiction works, either by listening to excerpts read to them or by reading individual works/excerpts themselves with a book club/small group. Note the publication date of each work you feature, and ask the children to think about how our understanding of Mars has changed since that time. Explain that our understanding of Mars has changed over time as scientists continue to study Mars with telescopes, orbiting spacecraft, landers, and rovers. Often this change in our understanding is reflected (at least partially) in literature, such as science fiction works.

  • Why do you think that there are so many stories about Mars?
  • What aspects of the author’s description do you think are scientifically accurate?
  • How do you think our understanding of Mars has changed since this work was written? How is our view of Mars different today?

Note:  You may lead this in a storytime fashion with the group, bringing in a professional storyteller, if available. Many librarians do their own storytelling — at least with younger children.

3. Play two or three short video clips from sci-fi movies for the children.

4. Invite the children to use their imagination and create a Mars sci-fi “movie trailer” Zine! Introduce the Zine to them (show them an example). Explain that they will create miniature comic books to take home. Have them consider what others might want to know about life on Mars. Remind them to use a format similar to the movie trailer video clips that they watched in their drawings and text. Have them write and illustrate a concept on the Zine template. Optional:  Invite them to use the Life on Mars? Trading Cards as inspiration for their trailers.

Trading Cards (large file, 34 MB)
Trading Cards (small file, 7 MB)

Things to keep in mind and to guide the children’s effort (you may provide fiction and nonfiction books about Mars to help the children):

  • Were there any facts that you learned about Mars that that you would like to include in your fictional story? What did you find the most interesting about Mars?
  • What do you think it would be like to live on Mars? What is it like on Mars? How does it compare to Earth?
    • What color is it? Red, orange, brown, etc.
    • Is it hot, cold, or both? Cold and dusty!
    • Is it smaller, larger, or about the same size as Earth? Smaller!
    • Is it closer or farther from the Sun than Earth? Farther!
    • What would it be like to live on Mars? Are there mountains? Rivers? Forests? No, it is soil and rock — very dusty.
    • Does it have more or less gravity than Earth? Less (~40% of Earth’s).
    • Is a martian day longer, shorter, or the same as an Earth day? Almost the same — a martian day, also known as a “sol,” is only about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day.
    • What are some other important features of Mars? Recall what you have discovered during our previous Life on Mars? activities (if applicable) Atmosphere, volcanos, craters, rivers, etc., take them back to the other activities they have undertaken.
  • The children outline the following in order to create their “movie trailer” Zine:
    1. Introduction (beginning) — Who (main character), what, and where (this is setting the scene for the story)?
    2. Problem/challenge (middle) — What is going on?  What challenge does the main character(s) face?
    3. Concluding question (end) — An intriguing open-ended question to pique people’s curiosity and motivate them to want to see the movie. Why should they watch? What is the personal relevance?
  • Have them follow the instructions to fold and staple their Zine into a booklet.
  • Optional:  Have the children complete the Extreme-O-File: The Story activity pages to help them in the process of creating their Zine.

5. Invite the children to take their Zines home with them. Encourage them to create a short story based on their Zine at home.

6. Optional:  Collect and photocopy the children’s Zines for the library’s collection. Explain that you will add their photocopied creations to your library’s collection (circulation) to share with the community.

Optional:  You may have the children complete this at home (on their own), if needed due to time constraints. However, this would prohibit you from featuring their stories in the library’s circulation to share with your community.

In Conclusion

Summarize what was discovered about how life on Mars is depicted in sci-fi books and movies, how it compares to Earth, and how science fiction has reflected our (changing) understanding of the Red Planet over time.


Work as a group to create and film a Mars sci-fi “movie trailer.”

  • Collect signed video release forms from the parents/guardians of each child.
  • Provide the group with various props and craft materials (i.e., boxes, sand, craft items such as pompoms, craft sticks, pipe cleaners, construction paper, plastic/stuffed creatures or animals, fake plants/flowers, cans, tape, aluminum foil, Play-Doh®, etc.). Note: If you have conducted other activities within the Explore: Life on Mars? module, incorporate props and creations from those activities here, if available (i.e., Mars landscape, volcanos, creatures, etc.).
  • Have the children brainstorm together, and then break the group into three smaller groups to create a “movie trailer” composed of three scenes:
    1. Introduction — Who, what, and where (setting the scene)?
    2. Problem/challenge — What is going on?  What challenge does the main character(s) face?
    3. Question — An intriguing open-ended question to pique people’s curiosity and motivate them to want to see the movie. Why should they watch? What is the personal relevance?
  • Optional:  Partner with a local film group or college/university. Recruit film students/professionals to help in the creation, filming, and editing of the movie trailer for the group.

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