Ashley Haywood, English Teacher, Intrinsic Schools
The Hunger Games is a dystopian novel set in the futuristic, post-apocalyptic nation of Panem. The country is divided into 12 districts, which are controlled and serve at the mercy of the Capitol. We learn early on that the inhabitant of the districts are mostly poor, working to provide resources for the wealthy citizens and government officials of the Capitol. Every year the Capitol hosts a competition in which each district must provide two tributes who will fight to the death in the televised Hunger Games. For the districts, the Hunger Games serves as a punishment for an earlier rebellion and a constant reminder of the power and ruthlessness of the Capitol. For the citizens of the Capitol, the Games are a much anticipated form of entertainment. The novel is written from the first person perspective of Katniss Everdeen, a young woman from District 12, who volunteers as a tribute.
A high level of student interest and engaging themes for discussion make The Hunger Games one of my favorite novels to teach. I have found students to be passionate about the issues of justice, government control, and social inequality raised by the novel. At the same time, themes around the media, glorification of violence, and teenage development allow for meaningful integration of nonfiction texts.
Integrating short stories with similar themes, such as “The Lottery” or “The Most Dangerous Game,” allows students to compare and contrast across literary texts. The writing prompts for both of these ThinkCERCA applied lessons push students to delve deeper into character analysis by thinking about motivation and individual choice. The same questions could be applied to Katniss, the protagonist of The Hunger Games, and would make for a rich classroom discussion or writing assignment. Both short stories are a higher reading level than the novel, and I have used them as independent/small group enrichment; however, they could also be explored as a whole class with more teacher support for lower readers/grade levels.
There are many opportunities to bring nonfiction texts into a unit on The Hunger Games. In my experience, exposing students to current news articles on similar subjects helps them make real-world, personal connections to the novel. The Capitol’s zealous consumption of the violence and death of the Games is often shocking to students. It can be easy to write off the citizens of the Capitol as cold, unfeeling, and detached from reality. I love complicating this idea by asking students to think about their own interactions with violence as a form of entertainment. The CERCA Set (differentiated lesson set for grades 4-12) on video games forces students to dig deeper and find the similarities between the dystopian novel and their own society.
For some interesting science integration, students could explore the biological factors contributing to risk-taking in teenagers. The participants of the Hunger Games, all of whom are between the ages of 12 and 18, must constantly grapple with decisions of risk and survival. I would lead students through a close reading of passages from the novel that deal with Katniss’ internal dialogue about risks and help students make connections to the nonfiction texts. A Socratic seminar around the question “Why are only teenagers made to participate in the Hunger Games?” would be a great way to get students to draw evidence from multiple texts and their own experiences.