Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Exploring Gary Paulsen's Hatchet

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is one of my very favorite novels to teach.  I am always on the hunt for ways to pull in my struggling boys, and the male protagonist and survival theme really seems to suck them in.  The book is also one of my eleven year old daughter's all time favorites, so I can say with all honesty that the story is really appealing to adventurous young girls as well.

There is so much that you can do with this novel.  It makes a great literature circle book, as it pairs really nicely with other survival themed novels, such as Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, Jean Craighead George's Julie of the Wolves or My Side of the Mountain,  Shipwreck or Everest by Gordon Korman, Deathwatch by Robb White, The Cay by Theodore Taylor, or The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelsen.  The similar themes of these stories would make for some great class discussion and compare/contrast activities.  

Youtube has some great videos about the novel.  I usually use an interview with Gary Paulsen that I found on youtube to introduce the author.

I like the way he talks about his life as a writer and his reasons for writing.  To keep the kids focused while we watch, I like to handout a few quick questions for them to complete while watching.  We glue these in at the beginning of our Hatchet Interactive Notebooks, and discuss the answers as a class.  If you would like a set of the questions we use (with answer key and video link), you can download it for free at my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here.

As the theme of the novel revolves around survival, I like to introduce the novel by discussing some wilderness survival tips.  I have collected a variety of tips on a handout, and we go over the tips and discuss them as a class.  After discussion, I have the kids brainstorm and write about the tip they think is most important.  The kids always enjoy this, and I find it to be a fun pre-reading activity to get them excited about the book.  We usually get some pretty good class debates going on, as the kids like to argue over which tip is most important.

In the past, I have had the kids complete chapter questions when we complete each chapter of the novel.  I like these questions in particular because they include vocabulary words and opportunities for the kids to express their learning in an artistic way.  This has been a good way to work on their vocabulary and to make sure they are understanding what they are reading.  

This past year, however, I decided to switch things up a bit.  We had been learning about summarizing, and I really wanted the kids to get some practice with these skills while reading through the novel.   To do this, I decided to have them summarize and illustrate what happens in each chapter.  This was a nice break from chapter questions, and the kids like the opportunity to show their understanding in artistic form.  I also really loved how the completed projects looked!  We hung them on the wall outside our classroom for a bit, and then glued them into our Hatchet Interactive Notebooks.

The little image on the left of Brian with mosquito bites makes me giggle every time I see it.  The kids had so much fun with these and I really love how they turned out.

As we progress through the novel, we spend a significant amount of time brainstorming the ways Brian has changed from the beginning of the novel towards the end.  I have them do a compare and contrast organizer in small groups, which we then go over and add to as a class.  When we are done, I have them glue them into their Hatchet Interactive Notebooks, as they will need to refer back to them for the next activity.

For this activity, the kids are required to illustrate and discuss the changes that Brian went through during the novel.  It makes for a great visual representation of Brian before and after.  I like the way this assignment forces kids have to look at the changes that occurred in Brian both on the inside and outside.  Again, the kids loved being able to use art to show their understanding, and I love how they turned out.  Once they were complete, we glued them into our Hatchet Interactive Notebooks.

If you are interested in picking up any of the resources shown in this post, you can pick them up at my Teachers Pay Teachers store by clicking here or on one of the images below.

Do you teach this novel in your classroom?  I would love to hear about some of the activities that work for you!


  1. Each year I take my students out to build a shelter in the woods at our school. They also have to build their own replica of a Cessna 406 plane out of the materials of their choice. You can see their creations on twitter @mtwilleys_class - I love this novel so much! Thanks for your resources!