The novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is awesome to teach in the springtime. With the theme of nature, wilderness, animals, insects, and so much more, springtime makes the perfect backdrop for this beloved novel.
Hatchet is a story of a thirteen-year-old boy who gets stranded in the Canadian wilderness after his bush plane goes down. Brian is emotionally reeling for him parents’ recent divorce and contending with surviving with little to no wilderness experience. He faces his own despair and loneliness all while dealing with wild animals and never knowing if he will be rescued.
Paulsen is honest with readers as he takes us on the emotional journey and transformation of Brian. I believe it resonates with middle schoolers so well because Paulsen isn’t afraid to dive into mental turmoil and the deep emotions synonymous with this age level.
To learn more about Gary Paulsen, please watch this video provided through his publisher, Random House Kids.
Hatchet is a novel that both upper elementary and middle schoolers alike enjoy. I have taught Hatchet for over four years now and boys, as well as girls, love it.
Here are 7 activities or ideas I use with Hatchet:
Activity 1: Urban Brian Vs. Wilderness Brian
I love to complete a type of transformation assignment with students. We investigate how Brian’s inner and outer character traits were before the plane crash and how he changes once he’s had to survive on his own. Not only does he become stronger, more confident, more intelligent and wiser, but his physical appearance drastically changes. I have students illustrate Brian before and after l, based on inferencing. We list the various changing character traits of Brian before, during, and after his survival journey. We also discuss urban Brian vs wilderness Brian and how the two are so different.
Activity 2: Setting Truly Shapes a Story
We focus on how setting shapes a story. Furthermore, we discuss that if Brian’s plane went down in the middle of the Arizona desert, then how would this shift change in the setting shift the novel? The students see how Brian relies heavily on the setting as his source of survival. Last, we investigate what aspects of the setting harm Brian and what aspects help him.
Activity 3: Reading Outside in Nature
We read Hatchet outside. Just this last week, I took my seventh graders outside to read Hatchet and there was just something neat about hearing the birds chirping and feeling the wind rustling as we discussed Brian’s scavenging for berries and encountering a bear. Students encountered crows in our parking lot at the same time and it was a neat way to make real-life connections.
Activity 4: Create Their Own Survival Backpacks
At the end of the novel, I assign a culminating project in which the students design their own survival backpacks. Brian had little supplies. His hatchet turned out to be the best resource he had. Students always enjoy this activity as they get to physically gather materials to place into a backpack that would help them survive. I’m always blown away by how creative and innovative they are with this particular project. They think of some amazing ideas!
Activity 5: Research Real-Life Survival Strategies
Hatchet is a great novel to pair with wonderful nonfiction pieces to practice those text features. We read articles about snapping turtles, how to survive a bear encounter, and even a real life account of a young boy who survived the wilderness on his own. I love the opportunity to learn information about a topic in our novel and have it connect to students in a unique way.
Activity 6: Breaking News: Teenager Missing in Alaska
If time isn’t lacking, I have students spend a couple of days on a group project. Students put on a news report that details Brian’s plane crash. During the news report, they “interview” Brian’s parents and police officers, and wildlife officers as well as Terry, Brian’s best friend. They pretend that they are these characters pleading with people to search for Brian. Students create a script and act out a 5-minute news report. This project ends up always being a lot of fun.
Activity 7: Different Types of Conflict
Lastly, we analyze our reading and learn important skills and objectives. We investigate the 5 types of conflict and also learn about the theme as well. If you would like our FREE Hatchet Theme Google Slides Worksheets, please click below.
If you’ve never taught Hatchet and you teach upper elementary to middle school, I highly recommend this novel. I hope you’re able to implement some of these ideas and bring this novel to life in your classroom and enjoy the survival journey of Brian.