Teaching The Hatchet

One of the great things about Paulsen's Hatchet is the vast amounts of resources available to educators. The text, as it has aged and edges to is twenty-fifth year since publication, has grown in popularity and is becoming a text taught in many middle school classrooms.

Paulsen ostensibly wrote the text with the young adult in mind. Not only is it a survival story, but it is a coming-of-age tale as well.

There are activities, story elements, printable and online questions, activities, and descriptive writing prompts for nearly every chapter. In addition, there are projects, vocabulary activities, vocabulary tests, quizzes, puzzles, and lesson plans available on the following site:

Web Brochure

There is also an entire unit for a survivalist brochure for middle school students available at the link below. It includes the task, process for completing the task, and an assessment with a rubric. Obviously, the rubric can be altered, as it is not sufficient for some educators, and Rubistar is a great resource for that. This is the link:

The following is a snippet of the task for the web brochure for the previous activity:

Hello, let me introduce myself. My name is Back Packer and I am the owner of the local camping supply store, Outdoorsmen R' Us. I heard about your amazing survival story in Canada, and thought you would be the perfect person to help me with this little project I have started. I have been collecting information on wilderness survival and was hoping YOU would look over it and then use the information to design a survival brochure for the customers in my store.

I would like for the brochure to cover the following four topics:

  • How to deal with panic (STOP Acronym)
  • The five basic survival skills
  • Survival Kit components
  • Other Survival Tips

Recommendations for Teachers
Hatchet is an ideal book for students in upper-elementary or middle school. The language is accessible, the plot is interesting, and the character is of an age that students can relate to. While it is very likely that no students have landed a plane and survived for months in the wilderness, it is likely that many of them have experienced the same emotional issues as Brian (divorce, feeling isoloated and alone, struggling with something). While the text is accessible to students and can act as a mirrorr of themselves,Hatchet can also function as a window into a setting and situation students have no experience with.

1) Draw the Scene - The setting of Hatchet is a central part of the story. It is, after all, the setting (the wild) that serves as the antagonist in many of Brian's challanges. Have students draw a picture of how they see Brian's new home on the L-shaped lake and then compare them as a class. Do they see it as a serene setting or a more desolate and threatening setting? How does their view of the lake change their opinion of the story?
2) What Would You Do? - Play a game show in which students are given scenarios and then must describe what they would do to survive. This makes the students think like the character and perhaps identify more with him.
3) Create a Journal - Have students write journal entries in Brian's character. They can choose to write about significant events such as the first time he created a fire, the run-in with the porcupine, or coming face-to-face with the pilot's corpse.
4) Imagine If... - Ask students questions such as "what if Brian wasn't rescued in the end?". This question will lead to others such as "would he survive the winter?", "what would happen to the animals he eats?", and more. Have students answer these various "Imagine if..." scenarios as if they were Gary Paulsen editing his story.

N., M., & , S. (n.d.). Hatchet: A struggle of the Body and the Mind.. YA Reviews. Retrieved April 20, 2011, from yareviews.wikispaces.com/Hatchet+by+Gary+Paulsen+(Review+2)

Related works by Gary Paulsen

The success of Paulsen's work prompted him to create a series with Brian Robeson starring as the central character. There are five books in total that feature Brian:
The River, Brian's Return, Brian's Winter, and Brian's Hunt. Three of these books are downloadable via http://www.randomhouse.com/features/garypaulsen/library/briansaga.html, Paulsen's website. 

There are several teacher's guides available for each text as well. Although these texts may not fit into an educator's traditional curriculum per se, they may work well with independent reading for students.