Anyone who works with young people has undoubtedly heard of The Hunger Games. Suzanne Collins’ blockbuster young adult trilogy is set in a futuristic dystopian state that has been subdivided into 12 districts. Once a year, each district must select two young people to participate in a televised fight to the death for the entertainment of those who live in the privileged capital city.
While many see The Hunger Games as leisure reading and movie watching (the cinematic adaptation of the second book, Catching Fire, is scheduled for a November release), some educators see the young-adult phenomenon as source material. The story of Katniss—the savvy teenage protagonist forced to enter the state-sponsored death match—has made its way into an increasing number of lesson plans around the country.
The Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, for example, has created and distributed a Hunger Games-based lesson plan that teaches gender empowerment for their Center for Healthy Teen Relationships program. In the lesson, students are introduced to the idea of gender being socially constructed. With that in mind, they are asked to identify characteristics they associate with the novel’s two main characters and discuss the degree to which these characteristics coincide with traditional gender stereotypes.
“We saw that [the books] had a really strong female character in Katniss and a strong character in a different way in Peeta,” says organization spokeswoman Kelly Miller of the protagonists. “He could be a warrior, but [as a baker] he was artistic and had characteristics that were traditionally feminine.”
Illinois schoolteacher Tracee Orman uses the book to teach subjects as wide-ranging as science (in which students design parachutes), nutrition (in which students use text to analyze hunger) and ad design (in which students create mock ads of Hunger Games sponsors using real advertisements as models).
“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,” Orman said in an interview with examiner.com.
Glenn Wiebe, a social studies curriculum developer for ESSDACK, designed a geography-based lesson that teaches students to examine the causes and effects of uneven distribution of wealth and to look more closely at regional differences in the U.S.
Wiebe also believes that using a popular novel can teach students about more than just geography and civics.
"There’s hope and bravery and loyalty,” says Wiebe of the characteristics many Hunger Games heroes exhibit. “Those are the kinds of things we want to instill in all our students.”
Natalie Helms and Leigh Hall, at the University of North Carolina, agree. They used The Hunger Games to design a social justice lesson plan that teaches students to become “more socially aware of justice and injustice through familiarity with literature.”
In the first novel of the trilogy, death match participants are chosen using a lottery system called “the reaping,” structured to minimize the likelihood that wealthy children will be chosen. In Helms and Hall’s lesson plan, students reenact the reaping using rock-paper-scissors. Students are then asked to reflect and discuss on the fairness of the process.
A former writer for children’s TV, Collins is rumored to have come up with the Hunger Games concept while channel surfing between reality TV and coverage of the Iraqi war. Her juxtaposition of multiple real-world social issues resulted in thought-provoking source material that can challenge students across disciplines and engage their imaginations and love of reading.
Konheim is a Virginia-based freelance journalist and writer.