Hatchet by Gary Paulsen Lesson Plans: How to Teach Theme and Author's Purpose

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen Lesson Plans: How to Teach Theme and Author's Purpose
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Teaching Theme

*Before teaching this reading lesson plan about Hatchet, you will need to check for understanding of the term, theme. Use an easy tale to teach or review themes in stories, such as, “The Three Little Pigs.” The main theme in this tale would be haste makes waste or it’s better to take your time and do it right.

Hatchet has two main themes: Brian’s survival in the wilderness in a physical sense. The other theme is his inner, or emotional, struggle over his mom and dad’s divorce.

Once you have taught theme or reviewed it by using simpler stories, ask students to make a list in their reading response journals or on a piece of paper about the themes in Hatchet. Tell them there are two main themes, and ask them to write down what they think the themes are. The hardest part of this reading skill for students is they are too specific with their themes. Students may write down that one theme is the pilot having a heart attack or Brian using his hatchet.

Once you have given students time to write in their journals, let them discuss their ideas for five minutes with a partner. After these discussions, ask students to tell you what they think the themes are. Make a list on the board or chart paper, and work together as a class to narrow the list down to two main themes.

atchet: Teaching Author’s Purpose

In a class discussion, ask students why authors write books. Most authors write books to either entertain, persuade, or inform. Most fiction books are written to entertain. Ask students why they believe Gary Paulsen wrote Hatchet. His purpose for writing the book was to provide an adventurous story for older elementary or middle school students with a boy as a main character or in simpler terms–to entertain.

Ask students to find specific examples in the text of Hatchet where Paulsen is writing to entertain. They could find any passage where Brian is in danger, or succeeding in the wilderness. You can either have students write about their examples in their reading journals or discuss them with the class.

Project Recommendation

To have fun with these elementary reading skills, assign students a project about Hatchet’s themes and the author’s purpose you discussed. Students can:

  • Create a poster or display about the theme of survival, Brian’s inner struggle, or the author’s purpose to entertain. The poster or display should show the theme or author’s purpose the student chose in a creative way with specific details or events from Hatchet.