English Language Arts

7 Activities for Teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

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.

Happy Reading!

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April is National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month and home to “Poem in my Pocket” day. This year, “Poem in my Pocket” will be celebrated on April 18th.

As a middle school English teacher, I always reserve March and April for my poetry unit. I feel spring is the perfect setting for in which to teach poetry. 

I love springtime in the classroom. The weather is starting to warm. Extended recesses and outdoor lessons in the sunshine give us all something to look forward to.

Springtime can also be a tiring time as well. We are all limping along to spring break. The teachers and students are exhausted and running on fumes. Add in pandemic teaching and we are all especially lethargic this year. 

Yet, my poetry unit is something that helped me trudge along with my students in tow. I teach grades 6-8, so we read a variety of poems, analyzed them, answered questions, and even wrote and illustrated our own poems.

Some poems that were especially popular among my middle schoolers were:

  • Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
  • Dear Basketball by Kobe Bryant
  • I Wave Goodbye When Butterflies by Jack Prelutsky
  • To The Thawing Wind by Robert Frost
  • The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes

An especially favorite poetry activity we completed was to write our own “Dear _______,” poem to our passion, just like Kobe Bryant wrote to basketball. We learned so much about extended personification through this poem. 

We also explored writing haikus, by combining five separate haikus into a 5-stanza poem. Students carried this even further when they illustrated their extended haikus. 

We wrote humorous limericks and interesting cinquains. We also analyzed Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird,” and “Still I Rise,” all while learning more about the poet. We used “Still I Rise” to write our own poems about overcoming our own personal obstacles that we have to rise above.

We did a lot of “Coffee Shop” time during our writing. I turned on the twinkle lights and put on a coffee shop playlist on YouTube for an awesome poetry writing vibe. Also, I put our Virtual Coffee Shop up on the screen while the music played in the background, truly creating a “Coffee Shop” feel. My students loved it. We even snapped our fingers instead of clapping when we presented our poems before the class.

3 Hours of Starbucks Music

It’s been a great couple of weeks with our poetry unit. Oh, all most forgot, I kickstarted my poetry unit with this whimsical Spring Poetry Bulletin Board Kit my mom made for in-person and virtual teachers. It is definitely a pick me up to see this beauty in the classroom. Also loved how she caught each poem perfectly in the poetry posters too.

To show you how much we love this subject, we are making our poetry virtual library available designed by Tami, the elementary librarian, my mom. These poems are especially perfect for upper elementary to middle school. Please enjoy!

Distance Learning

Spring, Flowers, and Miss Rumphius

Growing up, my mother was a gardener. I have vivid memories of her every spring, in the dirt, growing lettuce, squash, tomatoes, cucumbers…you name it.

There’s nothing like the taste of a salad, freshly washed, from your own backyard.

When I was in third grade, my favorite teacher, Miss Sykes read to us, “Miss Rumphius.”

It is a lovely children’s book about a lady who travels all over, works in a library, and settles down in a cottage by the sea. She spreads love and joy to others by scattering lupine seeds all over her town. She made the world a better place by growing flowers and planting beauty.

Thus, my love for flowers was born. (And reading!)

When I was twelve, my mother bought me some packets of wildflowers. I planted them by a small portion of a white picket fence outside of our red-tinned roof farmhouse. And they grew.

They were beautiful. It was everything I ever dreamed of.

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I like to say my mother is the vegetable gardener, but I am the flower gardener.

Every spring, I go to the Amish greenhouses and buy flowers. I love to spend a breezy warm day with my hands in the soil, potting the bright purple, yellow, pink, and you-name-it colors. A couple of years ago, my mother-in-law even put me in charge of completing her flower pots.

When the flowers grow even bigger and the sun shines on them, it warms my heart.

When my son was born in May of 2013, and we brought him home from the hospital, the bright yellow and red tulips I had planted the previous fall, welcomed us home.

When my daughter was born this last April, those same red and yellow tulips smiled at us again.

Flowers hold a big, happy spot in my heart.

So, no wonder I love to see them in my classroom, as well.

I put up this gem of a bulletin board this last week, and the flowers smiling at me make my heart happy.

Go check it out and using our flowers, spread beauty in your classroom today.

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