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Hot New Fiction
I've said before that reading literary classics is important, but new fiction is just as vital to creating a well-rounded curriculum. When I decided to implement this unit, I had several books in mind to read in class, but The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins was the right choice for my 8th graders. Not only is it a buzz-worthy book that has been recommended by Stephenie Meyer (author of the Twilight Saga, for those of you who have been living under a rock), but the novel has received rave reviews from critics, and even Stephen King has acknowledged its worthiness in a review for Entertainment Weekly that you can read about here.
I wanted to pick a novel that both male and female students would enjoy, but I didn't want a novel that was as popular as Twilight and the like. The Hunger Games met all of my criteria, and is a book that also has a sequel, Catching Fire, coming out in September. Series books are HUGE in fiction right now (hello Patterson fans!) and using this book was another way I could address why that is. You may find other contemporary books that meet your specific needs, but pick up a copy of The Hunger Games before you decide against it, especially if you teach secondary students, because this book may be too violent for elementary school kiddos. Click on this link to read a brief synopsis of the book.
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Before Starting Your Novel
Students need to see just how "contemporary" your novel is, so sign up for the computer lab or your laptop carts, or use your overhead to project your Internet findings. Find the author's website and have the kids browse it. Suzanne Collins has two different sites devoted to The Hunger Games. The UK version, you can find here, and the United States version, here.
Explain to your students that most newly published novels will have companion websites. These websites will tell you more about the book and might even have games readers can play, which is the case for The Hunger Games website. Today's literature is interactive and is very Internet friendly. From blogs, to book clubs, and reader-created fansites, contemporary literature is "hip" to the times.
Browsing your author or publisher's website will not only create interest in the book, but it will show the students that reading isn't just about dusty old literature, sitting on a library shelf. Reading can be cool, and isn't just for bookworms! Literature nowadays is faster-paced and captivates the reader from the first page and keeps them holding on until the last page. Discuss why readers today might demand faster-paced fiction than they did in the past and have students share what they look for in a good book.
After having this discussion, go back to The Hunger Games website. Read the synopsis of The Hunger Games. This synopsis is found on the Scholastic website by clicking here. Ask your students if they are eager to read this book after reading the synopsis and browsing the novel's website. Again, ask students to analyze why publishers would create partner websites to books. Students should be able to understand that novel websites are marketing tools for the publishing world, which is another element of today's media advertising students must acknowledge and understand.
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Even though the purpose of this unit is to explore the pure enjoyment that reading can offer us, I wanted to teach students about what a "DYSTOPIAN SOCIETY" is. Not only because it is a fancy word that is sort of fun to say, but because many middle and high school students have been exposed to this subject before, but might not have known it. A dystopian society is defined by Webster's dictionary as being "an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives". In The Hunger Games, the setting of the novel is in the country of Panem that is located in what used to be the United States. Panem is comprised of twelve districts that ring the Capitol; the Capitol is cruel, controlling and reminiscent of the socialist economy that is often feared in today's world.
Many books and movies are dystopia in theme. The Giver by Lois Lowery, George Orwell's 1984, are a few examples of novels with dystopia traits. You can also go to this link, The Best List of Dystopia Movies and discuss what makes the societies “fearful” and why authors or movie makers would use this theme. Classroom discussions should be a big part of this unit, because in real life, discussing books is what makes reading so enjoyable to so many!
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The Art of Reading for Pleasure!
I wanted this reading of the novel to be reminiscent of how I read for enjoyment. I find a comfy chair and make a big pot of coffee before I settle down with my book. The whole idea of this unit is to show students, not only that new books are entertaining, but that they need to view reading as a source of enjoyment in their lives. Students who do not see "reading for fun" modeled at home do not know how to read for pleasure, or even understand that reading can actually be enjoyable.
Hopefully in your bookstore field trip, students were able to see people enjoying a book or magazine, and there wasn't a teacher lurking over their shoulder making them do it! With that in mind, I encouraged my students to bring beverages to class, we sat on the floor, some sprawled across my bean bags and rocking chairs, and we read The Hunger Games together.
Sometimes we would read a chapter out loud, but mostly, they wanted me to read it to them while they followed along. Maybe it's because I have two small children, but I like to make voices for each character while I read, and I think that makes the reading process much more fun for students. Most importantly, though, we TALKED about what we were reading while we read it. If some crazy event happened (and believe me, there are a plethora of "crazy" events going on in this book) we would pause and discuss it.
This was the last six weeks of my school year, so I only took participation grades and didn't give pop quizzes to keep them reading. I didn't have to use quizzes as a threat to pay attention because I had done such a thorough job of building up anticipation for the novel that students were hooked before we read the first chapter. Browsing the author's website and reading synopsis and reviews had the students eager to read! The book did the rest of the hooking for me, because after reading the first two chapters, they didn't want to stop! I'm sure you will have the same success in your classroom if you push reading for PLEASURE and keep the threats and paperwork at bay for one small portion of your school year. You may have students that leave your room with a life-long passion for reading, and to me, that is the greatest gift we can give our students!
Teaching 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins
New fiction is often overlooked in public schools, and at a time when new teen fiction is flying off of the shelves and shaping mainstream media! Capitalize on this resurgence of interest in teen reading and integrate it into your classroom lesson plans with the help of this article series.