Teaching Catching Fire

Perhaps even more exciting than The Hunger Games, Catching Fire entertains and enthrals young readers from beginning to end.  The popularity of Suzanne Collins' trilogy provides a great opportunity for educators to harness and direct student energy and enthusiasm.  By teaching Catching Fire, the exciting sequel to The Hunger Games, educators can accomplish the educational equivalent of getting kids to eat their vegetables without them even noticing.  Just like the parent who blends carrots and zucchinis into their kids' favorite spaghetti sauce, teachers can sneak some curriculum into their study of Catching Fire without diminishing the reading fervor it evokes.

Kids are crazy about The Hunger Games, even more so now that the movie is out.  Everywhere you go, you see the familiar black and gold cover clutched in the hands of young people.  This isn't the first time teens have gone gaga over a series of novels - remember Twilight? - but The Hunger Games and its sequels are far more teachable than other recent examples of teen lit.  The trick is to get students to learn the essentials of language arts curricula without damaging their desire to read these entertaining novels.

One of the easiest ways to harness student enthusiasm for Catching Fire is to focus on the novel's characters.  Because the kids are so engaged with the story and its participants, assignments like character sketches are elevated from positively painful to totally tolerable.  But teachers should strive for more than "tolerable" when teaching Catching Fire, so why not take the trick a step further?  One highly successful technique is to play off of this generation's familiarity with and love for social media.  Begin by having your students design a facebook or twitter page for a character from the novel.  My unit plan comes with a great template you can use, or have your kids design their own.  Make sure they include important details about the character's personality.  They can do this creatively through status updates, tweets, likes, groups, photos, etc. (if you don't know what these things are, get your students to explain them).  The social media profile can serve as a great scaffolding step towards writing a full character sketch.  It gives the students something to start with and keep them focused.  It also gets them hooked on the activity.  Once they have completed a profile, you can teach the proper structure for a traditional character sketch.  Starting with something fun and creative makes the process far more appealing.

Another effective way to sneak in some curriculum and cash in on your students' love of all things Hunger Games while teaching Catching Fire is to plan thematic lessons.  Let's face it, the only way to milk meaning out a teen novel is to focus in on the underlying themes.  Ask your students what the fundamental messages are in the book.  What does Catching Fire say about survival?  What does it say about trust?  What messages are there about moral obligation and social responsibility?  You might be surprised at the depth of your students' insight when answering these questions, and without even knowing it, they will be getting straight to the central themes of the entire trilogy.

Once you have some answers to the big questions, you can show your kids that these answers are actually themes, and that they are really what make literature compelling (apart from the raw entertainment and escapism factor).  From there you can take the class in any number of directions, following the themes they have identified.  If they think Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire shows that teamwork is essential to survival, you can send them off on a research project to find real-life examples to support this theme.  If they believe Collins' novel shows that people sometimes have a social responsibility to help others, you can have them identify and write about their own social responsibilities.  Just be sure to continually connect your activities and assignments back to the novel to maintain your students' interest.

With a little harmless trickery, and a new approach to some old staples, educators can exploit the popularity of the Hunger Games trilogy while teaching Catching Fire.

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