Teaching Theme in The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is a great novel to use when teaching theme.

Because they are interested and invested in the story and its conflicts, students enjoy analyzing and discussing the novel’s messages bigger questions.

I like to begin with a list of topics from The Hunger Games.  We make a master list on the board that students copy into the notes.

Then I explain that a theme is more than a topic.  A theme says something about what it means to be a human being.  A theme is the text’s deeper meaning, what it says about the topics.

My students then set to work discussing what The Hunger Games says about the topics they have listed.

I usually then have the kids pick three of the topics in our list make into theme statements.  We write these on the board and the students copy them into their notes so that they always have a few strong examples of theme statements to refer to.

I like to maintain the same structure for each theme statement:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins shows that…

I have had great success with this lesson.  It really helps students get the distinction between a topic and a theme.

Here are the lesson instructions step-by-step:

In this lesson, students will identify, discuss, and write about themes in The Hunger Games.  Theme is sometimes a difficult concept for students to grasp, but it is essential to their development in literary analysis.  Repeatedly remind your students that the theme of a story is the central message or idea.  It says something about life, or about being human.  Theme is what makes literature compelling and significant to readers.

1.  Ask students to list topics from the text.

2.  Make a master list on the board with student input.  You will end with a list that looks something like the following:

  • survival
  • strength
  • loyalty
  • suffering
  • identity
  • authority
  • human nature
  • civility vs. savagery


4.  Write the following formula on the board: Topic + Insight = Theme

5.  Students should copy this formula into their notes.  Stress that theme is more than just topic.

6.  Explain that theme is different from a moral.  It doesn’t state what people should or should not do.   Instead, it says something about what it means to be alive.  A moral might be as follows: look before you leap.  While the theme from the same story might be as follows: people are often impulsive and hedonistic.

7.  Select one of the topics to use as an example with the class.  Ask them what the story says about this topic.  What is the author’s message?  Discuss.


Theme Statements

1.  Write the following on the board:

Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games shows that strength…

2.  Ask your students to copy it down and finish the sentence.

3.  The finished product is a theme statement.  Tell your students to use this structure when writing theme statements.

4.  Have students share their theme statements on strength with the class.

5.  Students must now select another topic to write a theme statement for.

6.  When they are finished, call on students to share their statements with the class and check for understanding.

7.  Students must now add two reasons or examples to their theme statements.  This can be done in point form.

Ex.  Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games shows that there are many different forms of strength.

  • Rue scores receives a high score from the Gamemakers and shows that she is a worthy competitor in the arena.
  • Katniss is much smaller than most of the other Tributes, yet she wins the Hunger Games.

8.  Call on students to share their reasons.

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