Despite some minor controversy last year (and being named to the top 10 most challenged/banned books list this year), The Hunger Games is becoming a more and more popular choice for teachers to use in the classroom. And while there are a number of resources out there for teachers to choose from, one woman has gone above and beyond to provide lesson plans for the books by Suzanne Collins.
Tracee Orman created details lesson plans for The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay, and sells them for a small fee online so other teachers can use them in their own classrooms. She also uses them herself in the classes she teaches at a small high school in Illinois.
As school got underway this past month, we talked to Orman about her decision to use The Hunger Games in the classroom, her lesson plans, and more.
Hunger Games Examiner: What made you decide to start teaching The Hunger Games in your classroom?
Tracee Orman: I had a group of boys in a remedial freshmen English class in 2009 that seemed impossible to teach. They hated to read and most were suffering from attention deficit hyperactive-disorder, so they could barely sit still. After a week of class with them, I was seriously at a loss. I had never had such a difficult group to teach and had no idea what to do. That weekend, I went through the stack of books I always have waiting to be read on my nightstand (The Hunger Games had been sitting at the bottom for at least six months). So to take my mind off everything else, I started reading it. Then, of course, I couldn’t put it down. I went in on Monday morning and asked my principal if I could purchase a set of classroom books that I guaranteed these boys would love. Within three days, were we reading it in class.
HGE: How are you incorporating The Hunger Games into your curriculum?
TO: I had to cut the novels A Separate Peace by John Knowles and Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in order to make room for The Hunger Games at the sophomore level. I can still teach the same skills for the learning standards no matter what novel we use, so I’d much rather teach one the students will love.
HGE: Are you using any other materials along with the books?
TO: This is what is so wonderful about this novel series: it can be paired or compared with so many different pieces of literature and art. I always start every class with a reading of Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short story “The Lottery.” It is shocking and is perfect for setting them up for the reaping.
For the freshmen, we compare The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare to The Hunger Games. Though Katniss is far from a “star-crossed” lover, her relationship (or “fake” relationship) with Peeta is portrayed that way for the audience. We also compared the Games to The Running Man by Stephen King. The movie “The Condemned” also has many similarities, but I just felt it had too much language and violence to use in class with freshmen.
When I use it to teach the sophomores we compare it to The Tragedy of Julius Caesar by William Shakespeare (there are actually even more similarities with Mockingjay and Julius Caesar). We study Raphael’s “Sistine Madonna” (specifically the cherubs) while reading Catching Fire, as well as comparing it to the movie “The Truman Show.” When we read Mockingjay, we paired it with several songs, including “One” by Metallica and “Kyrie” by Mister Mister. We also incorporated it into our poetry unit, using Wilfred Owen’s and Randall Jarrell’s anti-war poems as thematic comparisons. We also used the movie “Red Dawn” as a comparison of fictional rebellions.
When I teach To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, we discuss tolerance, injustice, and racism; the way that Blacks were treated in our country for so many years reflect the way the district citizens are treated by the Capitol citizens. When students bring up the fact that we didn’t have a “Hunger Games” I show them pictures of public lynchings and we watch “The Untold Story of Emmett Till.” Seeing those images and realizing that racism is still present today makes them realize that we have allowed the “Games” to thrive in our own country–every time a black person is wrongly convicted (like Tom Robinson), the “Games” are alive and well.
We also discuss the similarities between the Holocaust, though the racism connection is truly one that drives the point home more than any other.
HGE: Tell us about your Hunger Games Lesson Plan. What made you decide to create it and share it with other teachers?
TO: I had little time to create anything before I started teaching it for the first time, so I went online to see what materials were out there. I came across the website teacherspayteachers.com, but the few lessons listed on the site were for younger students and there were no formal assessments (like quizzes or tests). So little by little I made my own materials, often staying up until 1 a.m. on school nights so my students would have assessments the next day. In November, 2009, I decided to upload some of my own materials onto the teacherspayteachers.com website, hoping I could help other teachers in my situation. One of the great things about the site is that everyone is required to list free downloads for their fellow teachers. I made a free Hunger Games activity and the owner of the site featured it in a newsletter that was sent to all their registered users. Over 4,000 copies were downloaded and the emails and requests for more materials exploded. I was blown away that there were so many others who were desperate for materials. I started listing my free materials on Scholastic’s Teacher Share site, as well, so it would be easier for teachers to find my materials. Then in November of last year I started my blog because I could not respond to the emails from teachers asking me advice about teaching the series. I offer numerous posts and lesson ideas, though my most popular post is my map of Panem article, complete with all the different maps I created while reading the three novels.
HGE: What can teachers expect to find when they purchase your lesson plan?
TO: In my digital download ($14.99) teachers will receive about 50 files, including chapter quizzes, discussion q&a, creative activities (my most popular is the Facebook Character Sketch), tests, vocabulary, review games, teacher’s guide, and so much more. I offer a shipped CD version ($25) that includes everything in the digital, plus an introduction Powerpoint presentation, a board game activity, and several other files that did not fit in the digital download (120 files in all). I believe materials for teachers need to be affordable since most of us are buying our own supplies.
HGE: Are there other resources for teaching The Hunger Games that you’d recommend for teachers?
TO: I think listening to The Hunger Games Fireside Chat and participating in the discussions in the forum on Down With The Capitol are excellent ways to not only get ideas for lessons, but to engage in wonderful conversation about the novels.
I have to admit that when the cast was being announced last spring, I had your site up on my projector daily showing my students the newest casting news! You offer the latest & greatest in Hunger Games news!
Scholastic’s Hunger Games website is great and my students love playing Trial By Fire (although, I’ve introduced them to The Potter Games, and they actually like that better now).
There is a Hunger Games Wiki that has marvelous information about the entire series, but is filled with spoilers. It is a good resource for teachers, but I try to keep my students from going there until they’ve read all three books.
The Girl Who Was on Fire is a great collection of articles written by authors about Katniss and the trilogy. Any of the articles offer a non-fiction companion piece to go along with the novels.
And I can’t wait to share the comic-book Suzanne Collins biography with my students! I know I struggle to find biographies that appeal to my students. This is going to be a wonderful resource in a fantastic format they will love.
HGE: Any tips for other teachers thinking of using The Hunger Games in their classroom?
TO: Why wait? Start teaching it now. You will not regret it! It really doesn’t matter if you teach 7th grade or 12th grade, students (and adults!) of all ages love it. If we want kids to read, we have to provide them with materials they like or they just won’t read it. The Hunger Games is one of the few books I’ve read (and the only one I’ve taught) that appeals to both boys and girls, men and women.
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