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A Pre-Reading Activity for "The Hunger Games"

Lesson Question:

How can categorizing words from Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games help introduce students to the major themes of the novel?

Applicable Grades:


Lesson Overview:

In this lesson, students use the Visual Thesaurus to help them categorize words from the first chapter of The Hunger Games — as a means to predict the novel's central themes. Then, after reading the chapter, students analyze those same words in the context of the novel.

Length of Lesson:

One hour to one hour and a half

Instructional Objectives:

Students will:
  • use the Visual Thesaurus to define and categorize words from the novel The Hunger Games, as a prereading activity
  • interpret and analyze vocabulary in the context of reading the first chapter of The Hunger Games


  • student notebooks
  • white board
  • computers or iPads with Internet access
  • scissors (one pair per small group)
  • sticky notes (for each small group)
  •  "Words from Chapter One of The Hunger Games" sheets (one per small group) [click here to download]
  • copies of Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games (one per student)


Categorizing words with the help of the Visual Thesaurus:

  • Organize the class in small groups and distribute a copy of the "Words from Chapter One of The Hunger Games" sheet, a handful of blank sticky notes, and a pair of scissors to each group.
  • Instruct groups to use their scissors to cut the "Words from Chapter One of The Hunger Games" sheet into individual words and to then sort the twenty-five words into categories that they will determine and name based on their research on the Visual Thesaurus.
  • Encourage groups to discuss the words' meanings and relationships (with the aid of the Visual Thesaurus) in order to decide how they will categorize them. Let groups know that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to create categories as long as their word groupings make sense to them. For example, one group may decide to group predator and victor together as "dominant roles," while another group may decide to pair predator, prey, and forage together as "words associated with living in the wild."
  • Once groups have decided how they will categorize their words, they should use the sticky notes to make labels for the different word groupings they have created. At the end of the warm-up exercise, each group should have their sticky-note labels organized on a student desk with each set of words positioned in a row under each label.



 North America
















 skin and bones








Making predictions about the content of The Hunger Games:

  • Invite students to walk around the classroom to observe how the other groups grouped and labeled the same set of words and names. What commonalities or patterns do they see? What differences?
  • Based on this exercise, discuss with students what they expect the novel that contains these words — The Hunger Games — to be about. [Based on the list of twenty-five words, students will most likely expect that The Hunger Games may have something to do with competition (i.e., victor, competitor, defeat), deprivation (i.e., ration, meager, sustenance, scrawny, etc.) and perhaps political turmoil (i.e., incite, uprising, nation, peacekeeper, etc.).]

Reading Chapter One of The Hunger Games:

  • Read the first few pages of The Hunger Games aloud, establishing that the narrator, Katniss, is a sixteen year old young woman who lives in poverty in "the Seam" and is forced to leave the confines of her dreary district in order to forage for food in the forest to bring back to her mother and younger sister Prim.
  • Continue reading the first chapter aloud, pausing every so often to establish relationships among the words from the warm-up activity.

Analyzing Chapter One of The Hunger Games:

  • Ask students to reflect on their reading experience as they reencounter words that they had already researched and categorized using the Visual Thesaurus. How closely did their previous word categories mirror the ways the words were actually used?
  • How does reading the chapter establish connections between words that they may have previously considered as unrelated? For example, when students originally looked up reap in the Visual Thesaurus, they probably associated the word with harvest and connected it to other food-related terms in the list, like sustenance or ration. However, after reading Chapter One, students learn that the word reap, as in "the day of the reaping" takes on an ironic meaning of its own — as the terrifying day when each district must sacrifice two young "tributes" to compete in the brutal Hunger Games.


Discovering the Unique Vocabulary of The Hunger Games:

  • After reading the chapter, acknowledge that students should be left with many questions — especially the question of Prim's fate (she has been chosen to compete in the Hunger Games).
  • Warn students that some of the words (like reap) that are introduced in Chapter One have special meaning in the context of the novel. Words like district, peacekeeper, Capitol, and tribute can be found in the Visual Thesaurus, but they should analyze how their "dictionary definitions" relate to their special meanings in the novel.

Extending the Lesson:

  • Students can keep the themes and topics they wrote on their sticky note labels and add words to those categories as they read The Hunger Games. Which themes end up becoming more and more dominant as the plot unfolds?
  • Have students consult this online glossary of Hunger Games terms. Why does Collins use words with positive connotations (like tribute, cornucopia, game) for such a brutal series of events? How does her ironic use of language communicate a message?


  • Assess whether or not groups logically categorized vocabulary words and names based on their use of the Visual Thesaurus.
  • Assess students' oral participation in discussing the thematic and plot content of Chapter One of The Hunger Games.

Educational Standards:

Common Core State Standards for ELA and Literacy:

Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

  • Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grades 6-12 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
    • Use context (e.g., the overall meaning of a sentence or paragraph; a word's position or function in a sentence) as a clue to the meaning of a word or phrase.
    • Consult general and specialized reference materials (e.g., dictionaries, glossaries, thesauruses), both print and digital, to find the pronunciation of a word or determine or clarify its precise meaning or its part of speech.
    • Verify the preliminary determination of the meaning of a word or phrase (e.g., by checking the inferred meaning in context or in a dictionary).
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
    • Interpret figures of speech (e.g. verbal irony, puns) in context.
    • Use the relationship between particular words to better understand each of the words.
    • Distinguish among the connotations (associations) of words with similar denotations (definitions) (e.g., bullheaded, willful, firm, persistent, resolute).
  • Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL) Standards:

List of Benchmarks for Language Arts

Standard 5. Uses the general skills and strategies of the reading process

Level III (Grades 6-8)
1. Establishes and adjusts purposes for reading (e.g., to understand, interpret, enjoy, solve problems, predict outcomes, answer a specific question, form an opinion, skim for facts; to discover models for own writing) 
3. Uses a variety of strategies to extend reading vocabulary (e.g., uses analogies, idioms, similes, metaphors to infer the meaning of literal and figurative phrases; uses context clues, such as word function and placement; uses definition, restatement, example, comparison and contrast to verify word meanings; identifies shades of meaning; knows denotative and connotative meanings; knows vocabulary related to different content areas and current events; uses rhyming dictionaries, classification books, etymological dictionaries)
4. Uses specific strategies to clear up confusing parts of a text (e.g., pauses, rereads the text, consults another source, represents abstract information as mental pictures, draws upon background knowledge, asks for help)
5. Understands specific devices an author uses to accomplish his or her purpose (e.g., persuasive techniques, style, word choice, language structure) 
6. Reflects on what has been learned after reading and formulates ideas, opinions, and personal responses to texts
7. Knows parts of speech (e.g., noun, verb, adjective, adverb, pronoun, conjunction, preposition, interjection) and their functions

Level IV (Grades 9-12)
1. Uses context to understand figurative, idiomatic, and technical meanings of terms
2. Extends general and specialized reading vocabulary (e.g., understands allusions to mythology and other literature; understands connotative and denotative meanings)

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