Top 7 Tips for Teaching The Hunger Games

Since we like to focus on using YA books in the classroom whenever possible here at Novel Novice, it should come as no surprise that we often hear from teachers looking to incorporate The Hunger Games into their curriculum. Earlier this week, we shared our study guide questions for the book & some other classroom activities. But today, we are delighted to feature a guest post from Tracee Orman, the teacher behind Hunger Games Lessons. She’s sharing her top 7 tips for using The Hunger Games in the classroom!

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Top 7 Tips for Teaching The Hunger Games

I started teaching The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins in 2009 when I had a group of freshmen in remedial English that were … well, let’s just call them “rambunctious.” I was at a loss with this group of mostly boys until I read The Hunger Games. I knew instantly my students would love it. Since then I’ve taught The Hunger Games five times to different groups of students and Catching Fire and Mockingjay twice. I can’t imagine my curriculum without them.

hunger games box setIf you are looking to add The Hunger Games to your curriculum, here are some tips for the most successful and enjoyable experience for you and your students:

1. Before you begin, let the parents/guardians of your students know you are reading The Hunger Games and share your rationale for using it in the classroom. I teach high school students, so I’ve been fortunate not to have any complaints or objections to the book; however, there are teachers out there who have. If you teach middle school, this is even more essential. You can download a sample rationale and permission slip here. We share all our novels with parents at freshmen orientation and also send home a list at the beginning of the school year, which gives parents the opportunity to ask questions and us to share our rationale.

2. While reading, have engaging class discussions where everyone participates. Don’t weigh your students down with too many formal assessments. If you have a large class, split students into smaller groups so everyone has an opportunity to share their opinion. To jump-start the discussions, begin with silly questions such as: “What would the ride to the Capitol be like if instead of a train they all traveled in horse-drawn wagons?” Students open up and are more comfortable to share because the thought of them all riding together in a wagon is funny (just imagine how grumpy Haymitch would be). Then ease them into more serious questions like “What if Katniss didn’t volunteer for Prim? Or if Prim refused to let her volunteer? Would Prim be strong enough to survive the Games? Who would her allies be? Would Peeta be willing to die for Prim?”

3. Have a mock class reaping. Your students can use some math skills to figure out how many slips of paper would have their name on them if they had to take tesserae for themselves and each of their family members. Have them write their names on the slips (or have them create a table in a word processing document with their name in each square to print and cut). After you draw the first names, have students reflect on whose name was drawn: What were the odds that his/her name would be drawn? Were they surprised in any way? Then you can continue to “reap” for each district, if you’d like. You can read more about our “class” reapings on my blog post here.

4. If you have a mock “Games,” try not to glorify the violence. This is a tough one, but an important point. I don’t want to squash my students’ excitement for the novel, but every time I teach it I’ll hear at least one student say, “We need to have our own Games so we can kill each other!” Of course, they mean pretend kill. But still …

When I point out that the entire premise of the trilogy is to prove that violence is evil, they shake their head and say, “Ya, I know. Killing is bad. But it’s just a game.” This generation of students is already desensitized to violence that older generations would find shocking. Instead of having a final challenge that is combat-based, you might want to focus on skills. Use examples from the training sessions in the novel for inspiration. My students had a lot of fun with this “camouflage the orange backpack” contest. Use trivia, design, and interview challenges as optional activities. By far the best example I’ve seen is from Bristol Eastern High School in Connecticut; they are doing an amazing series of challenges in their school-wide Games.

To make the challenge engaging for ALL students (even those who are not tributes) allow students to donate food items in exchange for Panem cash to “sponsor” their favored tribute(s). Donate the collected food items to a local food pantry or homeless shelter.

5. Make connections to other subjects so students can see how literature links all content areas together. For example, if your students are studying World War II in history class, compare and contrast the characters with historical figures: President Snow with Hitler, Katniss with Anne Frank, Miep Gies with Cinna, Haymitch, or Peeta.

Science: discuss how muttations are created, the significance of certain plants mentioned in the novel, or the physics of the Capitol gadgetry and machines.

Health class: discuss depression, alcoholism, and nutrition/essential nutrients for survival.

Art: depict images from the novel, or have students create artwork Peeta might create.

Music: write the musical notes to Rue’s lullaby.

Math: gather statistics for reaping odds.

Geography: use context clues to make a map of Panem.

You can even connect the novel with other literature: The Tragedy of Julius Caesar, Lord of the Flies, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, and so on. The possibilities are endless.

6. Utilize the resources on the web. There are so many great fan sites for The Hunger Games trilogy that are constantly engaging their followers and encouraging literacy. As a teacher, I love sharing the latest news or resources relating to literature with my students. But I rely heavily on sites like Novel Novice, Down With the Capitol, The Hunger Games Fireside Chat, and The Hunger Games Examiner because they do all the work for me! (Thanks, by the way!) They’ll often have contests that ask fans to write a story, poem, caption, etc.. These are pre-made writing prompts just waiting for us to use in the classroom! Plus, the students get to partake in a fandom that encourages reading. It’s a win-win for all. Another great resource is The Katniss Chronicles for a unique audio representation of the novel. The free recordings are excellent adaptations of the novel and help struggling readers visualize the scenes.

7. Finally, why stop with The Hunger Games? Catching Fire and Mockingjay offer just as many (if not more) opportunities for engaging discussions and real learning.


11 thoughts on “Top 7 Tips for Teaching The Hunger Games

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  1. I wish we could have a Hunger Games lesson plan in my English class! Thanks so much for all these great giveaways; I really want that pin!

    1. Vicki – I wear my pin to school all the time! 🙂 If you missed out on winning here, I’m having a giveaway on my site, too. I just added another pin because Scholastic sent me another the other day.

      Thank you, Sara, for allowing me to contribute to your site! I love Novel Novice and was very flattered.

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