I began teaching it to a group of reluctant readers (mostly boys) in my general/remedial English I class in the fall of 2009. The majority of the class bragged that they hated to read and pretty much faked it all through middle school. As teachers, we all know these kids are out there; they are usually the ones staring out the window or bouncing in their seats because the words on the page are the last thing they want to be looking at.
I knew it would be a long year if I didn't find something that I could "hook" them with right away. Usually I entice the group with a hero unit pairing Homer's The Odyssey with the "Star Wars" saga. But these kids had no interest whatsoever in "Star Wars," let alone The Odyssey. My mention of our Sherlock Holmes Mystery unit sent me looks of boredom. We read "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, which, normally, kids love. It was OK, but not enough hunting, they said.
It had only been a little over a week into school and I was already scrambling for something to engage these kids. What on earth was I going to do the rest of the year?
That weekend I went home dreading the daunting task of coming up with new lessons for The Odyssey. I knew I would have to have a lot of hands-on activities because these boys could barely stay seated for five minutes at a time. So I did what I tend to do when I am faced with a challenging task...I procrastinate!
I decided it was time I lost myself in a good book and went to my stack of summer purchases from Amazon that were waiting patiently on my night stand to be read. Toward the bottom was a book I bought after reading Stephen King's review of it in Entertainment Weekly. But when it came, I was busily reading Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series; a dystopian novel about a female hunter who competes in some game had nothing over Edward and Jacob...or so I thought.
Then it hit me...the narrator is a hunter. If anything, I thought, maybe I can try to relate to these boys by looking at things from this hunter's perspective.
It took about five pages, then I was hooked. I could not put The Hunger Games down. The more I read, the more I kept thinking how perfect it would be for my class. I finished it the next day and quickly logged on to my Amazon account and pre-ordered Catching Fire. Then I started thinking of all the great activities I could do with my class: a class reaping, survival games, and skills training stations (where they would teach the class various skills such as creating snares and traps, archery, knot-tying, and even, perhaps, martial arts). The possibilities seemed endless.
And the learning opportunities were (and still are) innumerable, as well. The novel is rich with figurative language, easily creating teaching moments using metaphors, similes, personification, hyperbole, symbolism, idioms, and so much more. Even though it is set in the future, the students could connect similarities in the novel to the past and present. We had rich discussions about government control and terms such as desensitization.
The most amazing aspect of this unit was that my students were eager to come to class, and while we were reading the novel (which we read out loud in class), they were focused, seated, engaged. They begged each day to read. They loved the activities. They did not mind the tests or quizzes or vocabulary work. They fell in love with Katniss's story. And, most importantly, they realized that reading truly could be an enjoyable activity.