Sent straight to your inbox


Sign up to receive 10 ready-to-use ELA resources your students will love! 


Eight creative activities for teaching the classic survival novel Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

8 Creative Activities for Teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

One of the things I love most about fiction is the window it offers to characters, places, and experiences that are different from my own. This is why I get so excited about teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. This popular tale of survival, which won a Newbery Honor Award in 1988, never fails to hook students with its gripping plot and memorable characters. 

The novel centers on Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy who finds himself on his own in the Canadian wilderness, with only a windbreaker and a hatchet to protect him from the harsh elements. As he grows into a capable outdoorsman and develops newfound survival skills, Brian also begins to make peace with the complicated dynamics of his family. Students will be on the edge of their seats as they experience this compelling survival story, which makes it a great choice for middle school readers!

Here are my most creative tips and activities to make the most out of teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.

Pre-Reading Activities

I like to begin any novel study with a couple of low-prep introductory activities that help students begin to make connections to the themes and “big ideas” of the book. 

When teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, one activity that gets students thinking is the game “Do You Agree?” No special materials or plans are needed for this activity, which often sparks a lively whole-class discussion! Simply begin by asking students to stand up! From here, you can slowly reveal a series of statements, pausing after each one. Students who agree with the statement remain standing, while those who disagree take their seats. 

For this activity, I like to use statements like these:

  • Nature is beautiful but also dangerous.
  • A person’s true character is only revealed in how they deal with difficulties.
  • In order to survive a difficult situation, you need hope.

Next, I love hooking students on the idea of wilderness survival with a think-pair-share activity. First, I invite them to individually brainstorm a list of ten essential items they would want with them if they were stranded in the wilderness alone. From here, students can pair up with a partner and share their lists with each other. If time permits, each pair can share their items to the whole class, or offer feedback on their classmates’ lists (do they really need a mobile phone in the remote Canadian wilderness?)! I love to wrap up this activity by showing a clip of the TV show Alone so students can see how their lists stack up against the supplies packed by one of the show’s contestants!

Chapters 1-3

Now it’s time for the real fun to begin, as students begin to immerse themselves in Gary Paulsen’s gripping novel. One of the first activities I love when teaching the first few chapters of Hatchet is the Wilderness Survival Quiz.

In this engaging, formative task, students put their knowledge of wilderness survival to the test! They begin with a multiple-choice activity that includes questions, such as:

  • What should you do if you encounter an aggressive moose in the wilderness?
  • How can you protect yourself from mosquito bites in the wild without repellant?
  • How long can a person survive without water?

Once they have had the chance to test their knowledge, your class can discuss their responses before you reveal the answers! Depending on your group, they might be surprised at how much they know (or don’t know!) about surviving in the harsh elements. Finally, I like to have students complete a brief written reflection, connecting their learning from the quiz to Brian’s experiences at the beginning of Hatchet.

Chapters 4-6

To set the scene for a creative activity for Chapters 4 to 6 of Hatchet, hang a “Welcome to the Canadian Wilderness!” poster on your door before the beginning of class. Students will be buzzing as they come into the room! Once they are settled, have students find the section in Chapter 5 where Brian takes stock of the objects he has in his possession. Discuss what he has as a class, and write them on the board.

After students see what Brian has access to, split the class into small groups (I find three or four students per group works well!). As they work collaboratively, students put themselves in Brian’s shoes and problem-solve, considering how they would use each of the objects he has. I like to encourage them to think outside the box! To wrap up, each group can take turns sharing their creative ideas!

Students need to imagine how Brian will use his limited resources in this activity for teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Chapters 7-9

I really like finding opportunities to bring in nonfiction texts to support a novel study. When teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, I find students often wonder how to identify safe plants to eat, especially during the section where Brian unknowingly consumes some poisonous berries.

This is a natural opportunity to integrate some nonfiction information about selecting safe wild berries. For this activity, begin by sharing a brief nonfiction reading about four different things to check for when foraging for berries. 

Once students understand what to look for, provide them with a graphic organizer divided into two sections – one for safe berries, and one for unsafe fruit. From here, I provide each student (or a small group of students) with labeled photos of a variety of different berries. Referring to the list, students must categorize the berries as edible or poisonous. When they have all the berries organized correctly, a mystery word will be revealed!

Integrate non-fiction reading into your Hatchet novel study with this hands-on activity!

Chapters 10-12

Integrating poetry into a novel study can be a unique way for students to express their understanding of a text. As students wrap up reading this section of Hatchet, I like to encourage them to do a bit of creative writing on the subject of fire!

To start, give a brief explanation of a concrete poem. I like to tell students that while poetry is typically written from left to right on a page, a concrete poem forms an image of the poem’s topic using letters and words arranged artistically on the page. It can be helpful to show students a few examples of concrete poems, and clarify any questions they may have.

Before students begin writing their own poems about fire, they may find it useful to collect their thoughts using a graphic organizer. As they plan their poems, encourage students to use both words and visual design to capture the essence of fire’s power, and its significance to Brian in the wilderness. Once they have a solid plan in place, they can write their finished poems on a provided template, or express their creativity on a blank piece of paper! Concrete poems make an excellent bulletin board display, and students are usually quite proud to share their work!

A concrete poem offers an outside-the-box way for students to connect to the themes of Hatchet.

Chapters 13-15

As students move into the final third of the novel, it’s time for them to consider how Brian has grown and developed over the course of the story. In this creative activity for teaching Hatchet, students explore the idea of a dynamic character, and identify five different ways that Brian changes as the novel progresses.

I like to remind students that these changes don’t necessarily need to be physical, although Brian does undergo changes to his appearance during the novel. Characters can also experience mental or emotional changes! With this in mind, students can use a graphic organizer to identify ways in which the “new” Brian differs from the “old” Brian, supported by specific evidence and examples from the text.

When teaching Hatchet, encourage students to consider how Brian develops as a character with this graphic organizer.

Chapters 16-18

Students are usually on the edge of their seats during these action-packed chapters, which is why I find a collaborative activity especially useful at this point in the novel study. For the “What’s In the Survival Pack?” task, students must have finished reading Chapter 18 of Hatchet. Like the “Welcome to the Canadian Wilderness” activity, you can build anticipation by hanging a poster on your classroom door. As students take their seats, remind them that in these chapters, Brian remembers that there is a survival pack in the airplane. In this activity, students will work in small groups to brainstorm a list of items that they think should be included in a survival kit on an airplane.

Once students have created their initial lists, I like to encourage them to explain why each item would be important for survival, based on Brian’s experiences in the novel. If time permits, students can share which items they chose to include in their survival packs. This could spark a lively class discussion!

As students read Chapter 18 of Hatchet, ask them to brainstorm what items would be in a survival pack on an airplane.

Chapter 17-Epilogue

As students wrap up their reading, I like to introduce one last activity that builds on the events of the final section of Hatchet. In the epilogue, readers learn that Brian’s story is gaining media attention, and he is interviewed for several television networks. 

When teaching this section of Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, I like to point out that no details are provided about the questions the reporters ask Brian. With this in mind, I ask students to pretend that they are interviewing Brian for a local news station. As they plan for the interview using a provided graphic organizer, they will need to choose five strong questions to ask Brian. From here, I ask them to consider how Brian would respond to each question, based on what they learn about him in the novel.

To add a twist, you could also consider partnering students up, and have each partner respond to the other person’s questions!

As students take on the role of "reporter," they can plan out an interview with Brian, the main character from Hatchet by Gary Paulsen.


A final post-reading project is a great way to conclude any novel study. When teaching Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, my favorite assignment is for students to write their own survival manual.

For this task, I invite students to imagine that they are Brian after the rescue. I tell them that as a result of the media attention, Brian is given a publishing deal to write a survival manual that will be used by the Canadian government as a training tool.

For students who need a bit more clarity, I also provide a list of sections that they must address when composing their manual, including:

  1. Necessary Supplies
  2. Building a Shelter
  3. Finding Food
  4. Preparing a Signal for Rescue 
  5. Animal Dangers

For each section, students should provide a paragraph of information, as well as diagrams, point form lists, and drawings to help anyone who plans to go into the Canadian wilderness. I also ask that they consider Brian’s experiences in the novel, and consider the mistakes that were made. This way, they can prepare others for a better outcome!

Writing a survival manual based on Brian's experiences is an engaging final project for your Hatchet novel study in middle school ELA.

There you go! I hope this post gives you some fresh ideas to put a new spin on Hatchet, or maybe teach Gary Paulsen’s beloved survival novel for the very first time! The resources from this post (as well as many more!) are all included in the Hatchet Novel Study Unit Plan.

Looking for more creative novel study units? Check out these blog posts about teaching other popular novels in middle school ELA!

Teaching Refugee by Alan Gratz: 12 Creative Activities
Teaching A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle: 10 Activities

share this post


sent straight to your inbox!

10 days of ELA TEACHER