Reading and Responding to The Hunger Games

In my research on adolescent literacy and The Hunger Games, I’ve learned how much young people value creative, multimodal, and self-selected responses to literature. After they have read a book, they can’t wait to respond to it.

Check out this thread on Mockingjay.net where a teacher asked for ideas on how to teach The Hunger Games in school.  Two hundred posts later, ideas included:

  • Write a song about the book and perform it.
  • Keep a journal for a character throughout his/her experience in the Hunger Games.
  • Make a movie trailer.
  • Create a playlist for the book and write why they chose each song.
  • Design a detailed map of the setting.
  • Make a political cartoon that reflects life in Panem.

One 13 year old Australian boy in my study read The Hunger Games in his Year 7 English class. His teacher asked students to give a presentation in character, and he chose to be Caesar Flickerman. In reflecting on this experience, he joked that he suffered from a disease called “English Class Euphoria.” Not only did he have the chance to discuss one of his favorite books in school, he relished the opportunity to engage in a creative, embodied response.

As a teacher educator, I provide professional development to teachers and administrators on technology. I’ve found that many teachers are eager to incorporate digital tools and new literacies into the curriculum in order to promote student achievement and engagement. Others are more resistant and share their concerns with the amount of time and resources required or their own lack of expertise with technology. These are very valid concerns, and they speak to the need for ongoing, hands-on professional development.

But sometimes a teacher will make a comment such as, “Those projects are nice, but it’s not real English. My students need to be able to analyze literary techniques and write essays.” As a former high school English teacher, I know how important these skills are.  But I think that for many students – especially for those who may be disengaged or performing below grade level – digital tools can prompt their critical engagement with literature. Moreover, they can build skills that will later be instrumental in writing essays, research papers, and creative pieces.

I think that, more than anything, children and teens love having choice in how, when, and why they respond to literature. These responses can build a number of skills:

  • Through fan fiction, students can explore missing scenes and alternative points of view. To do this, students need to closely analyze the mentor text, understand characterization, and use dialogue as an important part of the plot. As of today, FanFiction.net features 11,158 examples of Hunger Games fan fic.
  • Through fan art, students can consider the characters, settings, and events. There are countless examples of Hunger Games fan art, including on DeviantArt and the maps of Panem.
  • Through videos, they can storyboard and re-enact pivotal moments in the plot.
  • Through games, they can closely analyze the text in order to authentically portray a character and engage in role plays. Check out The Hunger Games RPG for fabulous examples of text-based role plays.
  • Through music, students can write lyrics, compose songs, and engage in remixing. Many of these are shared on Panem Radio.

When we integrate technology into the curriculum, we need to engage students in ongoing discussions and consider: What are the features of a thoughtful, critical response? What is your purpose? Who is your audience? How does your use of descriptive language, grammar, and conventions shape your work? Where is the textual support in the novel for your response?

We cannot just say, “Go make a movie.”  We wouldn’t say, “go write an essay” without first modeling critical analysis, discussing the genre, , and sharing examples, would we?  When we integrate technology into the curriculum, we still need to scaffold learning and provide students with formative and summative feedback.

For many students, creative responses to literature can be an in into the curriculum.

Fan art by daekazu

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