Into the Essay Arena! Hunger Games in ENG 111

This fall, I am incorporating a novel into my ENG 111 -Expository Writing, for the first time in quite a while. The Hunger Games was the perfect choice, and I look forward to seeing how the students respond. I’ll be sharing their thoughts here as they seem intriguing for discussion, and I hope our numbers are swelled with some of my super students!

In the class, the students will be writing journals on the book, one for every three chapters and then an overview one. They will also have the chance to incorporate the novel into one of the essays.

I’m really looking forward to seeing how this goes. After years of seeing students in ENG 113 who have either never read a book or who haven’t read a book since middle school, I’m hoping the Hunger Games will spark a fire or two in some of my students.

After the jump, find the journal questions I am using. What do you think? I’d love to get some feedback from our serious readers here!


After reading three chapters, you will need to complete a journal response on that segment of the novel. The questions listed for each segment are jumping off places; feel free to use them as thought-starters, but do not feel you must answer them directly. Make sure you do the reading before looking at that group of questions, as they contain spoilers. Your journal should be about 250 words (a page, handwritten, for most folks), and should be readable, though it will not be evaluated for grammar. Your journal must go up by the first due date to be counted; you will then reply to a classmate by the second deadline. Enjoy the reading, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

 Journal 1—Chapters 1-3

“May the odds be ever in your favor”

  1. Katniss tells her story in first person (I, me) and present tense. What effect does this have on your reading of the story? Does it engage you more or less than a book with a different approach? Why?
  2. What can you tell about Katniss’s family situation? What roles does she fulfill in her family? Why?
  3. Is the Reaping a fair way to choose tributes? What other traditions or practices does the Reaping  resemble? What is usually “reaped”?
  4. Effie Trinket, along with other Capitol representatives, often uses the phrase, “May the odds be ever in your favor!” What role do chance, destiny, and fortune appear to play in this story so far?
  5. Katniss reveals, in rapid succession, her love for her sister and her role as an often ruthless hunter. How does this shape your perception of her and your expectation for her story’s outcome?
  6. What do you think the Capitol Anthem sounds like? What other images–visual, auditory, gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell),  and tactile (touch)—do you have while reading this story?
  7. Why is Katniss upset that Peeta Mellark is her fellow tribute? What reaction does the crowd have to Katniss’s volunteering and Peeta’s selection?

Journal 2—Chapters 4-6

  “like a long dream that deteriorated into a nightmare”

  1. Why did it take Katniss so long to think of entering the forest alone?  What skills has she gained by providing food for her family?
  2. Why do you think Haymitch is always drunk and irritable?  What changes his attitude toward Katniss and Peeta?
  3. What is Katniss’s first glance of the Capitol like?  What does her evaluation tell us about her?  About the Capitol?  District 12?
  4. What kind of “prep” does Katniss undergo?  Why is this part of the tribute preparation?  What does the process reveal about Capitol ideals of beauty? Do these resemble our own?
  5. How do Katniss and her prep team view one another?  What prejudices do they each labor under?
  6. Cinna states that Katniss must find the Capitol people “despicable”;  does she?  Do you? What does this statement reveal about Cinna?
  7. Cinna creates the unforgettable image of the “girl on fire” in the opening ceremonies of the games.  Why does he use this imagery instead of the usual?  What other instructions does he give Katniss and Peeta?
  8. Effie is wrong about coal turning to pearls, of course, but how is a pearl actually formed?  What connections are there between a pearl’s formation and what has happened in our story so far?
  9. How has Katniss met the Avox girl before?  What are Katniss’s feelings about this?  Why does she tell Peeta?

Journal 3—Chapters 7-9

“ She came here with me”

  1. Is the treatment of the tributes what you would expect of people who are being sacrificed for the rebellion of their ancestors and the entertainment of their oppressors? What other sorts of people or animals get treated this way?
  2. Why is it considered “rebellious” for Peeta and Katniss to appear as a team? What are their feelings on this portrayal?
  3. What was Peeta’s special job in the bakery? How can that be considered a survival skill? How does it affect your perception of him?
  4. Why does Katniss think Rue is like a bird? What do you know about the plant called Rue?
  5. Why does Katniss perform as she does before the Gamemakers? What does she think will be the result? What actually happens? Why?
  6. Why is Katniss so upset over her performance with the Gamemakers? What cheers her up?
  7. Haymitch has trouble finding an “angle” for Katniss’s interview. How does she finally work  the interview? How would you coach her?
  8. On page 124, Katniss explains about the Capitol’s obsession with plastic surgery.  How are the Capitol’s views radically different from those of people in District 12?
  9. Were you surprised by Peeta’s interview revelation?  How does it alter your perception of him?  What effect does it have on your expectations for the rest of the story?


Journal 4—Chapters 10-12

“I want to die as myself”

  1. Compare Effie’s and Haymitch’s farewells. What do they indicate about these characters and  their focus?
  2. In their talk on the roof, what does Peeta say is his biggest concern? How does this connect with his character? In what other circumstances might this concern emerge?
  3. How do the Capitol and District  people view the arenas differently?  How does this illustrate the difference between experience and observation?
  4. Why does Cinna say he would bet on Katniss?  Would you?
  5. What is the reason for Katniss’s hesitation at the Cornucopia?  What does she finally come away with?
  6. What choices does Katniss make during her first day in the arena?  How effective are they?
  7. What conclusions does Katniss draw about Peeta?  Do you think she is correct?  What might she be overlooking?
  8. Stephen King has seen the lack of visible cameras as a narrative flaw in The Hunger Games.  Do you?  Why or why not?
  9. Why does Katniss assume Haymitch doesn’t send her water?  What does their relationship seem to be like?  Why does he let her suffer rather than just giving her what she needs?

Journal 5—Chapters 13-15

“ the place where fear lives in your brain”

  1. Why do the Gamemakers introduce the fire?  What does this indicate about the audience, or anyone whose sole focus is to be entertained?
  2. What is Rue’s appeal to Katniss?  Why does she want Rue to win if she can’t?
  3. What are the unique qualities of the tracker jackers?  Why would anyone create creatures  like this?  How do they work as weapons for the Capitol?  For Katniss?
  4. Katniss is bewildered that Peeta saves her life.  Why?  What explanation does she not consider?
  5. Katniss thinks that Haymitch will be disappointed in her alliance with Rue. Why?  Why does Rue seem an unlikely ally?  In what ways is she actually a good choice?
  6. What information do Katniss and Rue share about their homes?  What surprises them?  What assumptions have they made?
  7. Why does the Capitol prefer that people in different districts don’t know much about each other? What does this indicate about power and control?

Journal 6—Chapters 16-18

“This awful piece of time we call today”

  1. Why does Katniss decide to go on the offensive against the Careers?  How does their usual level of success depend on their control of the supplies?  What does this indicate about genuine survival skills and power?
  2. What does Rue tell Katniss about the mockingjays?  Why do they each like the birds?  How are their characteristics found in Katniss herself?
  3. How have the Careers protected their supplies?  What does this indicate about their values and perspectives?
  4. What happens to Rue?  How did you react to this?  Is this a better fate than other alternatives in the arena?  How is it fitting?  What purpose does it serve?  Many readers feel this is the most terrible moment of the book.  Do you agree?
  5. What honors does Katniss do for Rue?  How might these affect the audience?  How does Katniss change after Rue’s death?
  6. Why does Katniss consistently merge Rue with Prim?  Are they really that much alike?
  7. Why does Rue want music?  What significance do you see in Katniss’s song to Rue?  How do you imagine the tune it should have?  How does it resemble other Appalachian songs you know?
  8. Why does Katniss tell the mockingjay that Rue is “good and safe”? It what ways is that true? How is she good?  How is she safe?

Journal 7—Chapters 19-21

“the final word in camouflage”

  1. What are Katniss’s many reactions to Claudius Templesmith’s announcement of the rule change?  Which of these do you think is the most genuine?  Why?
  2. What are the only other rules that seem to exist in the arena?  What other unstated rules seem to be quite present?
  3. What has been Peeta’s strategy after his wounding?  How is this ironic?  Appropriate?  Expected?
  4. What are Katniss’s feelings about dealing with the sick and injured?  How does she conquer them to help Peeta?  How would you evaluate her skills as a healer?
  5. What are Katniss’s attitudes about nudity?  What is ironic about her views?  Why don’t others have the same outlook?  Why is Katniss different in this regard?
  6. What method of  “communication” do Katniss and Haymitch work out?  Are they alike, as Peeta says?  How?
  7. In what ways is Peeta and Katniss’s relationship genuine?  Staged?  How does Katniss think she feels about Peeta?  Is this in line with what her actions reveal?
  8. What story does Katniss tell Peeta?  Why this story?  How does she edit it?  What does the story (both real and edited) say about Katniss and her life?
  9. Why does Thresh spare Katniss and kill Clove?  How do his actions, like Katniss’s, smack of rebellion?

Journal 8—Chapters 22-24

“shine in the sky and then disappear from the world forever”

  1. Once Peeta recovers, how does his relationship with Katniss change?
  2. When does Peeta say he first fell in love with Katniss?  How does this shape their relationship? 
  3. What are the different ways Katniss and Peeta regard the episode with the burned bread years earlier?  What does this indicate about their points of view?
  4. Katniss wonders if the moon is real or a projection.  Why does this matter to her?  How does Katniss connect with the moon?
  5. How does Foxface die?  Why is this one of the only ways she could have been defeated?  How does Peeta feel about her death?  Do we know, for certain, if Peeta has actually killed anyone else?
  6. What is Katniss’s assessment of Cato?  Is it accurate?  What are his advantages?  Disadvantages?  If you were a Capitol viewer, would you bet on him?
  7. Why do the Gamemakers drain the stream?  What does this indicate about their role?  How do Katniss and Peeta respond?

Journal 9—Chapters 25-27

“the most dangerous part of the Hunger Games”

  1. What was your reaction to the mutts? What makes them so very awful?  How much of this is real? How much is a mind game?
  2. Katniss says the hours on the cornucopia are the worst of her life.  Considering what we know of her life, is this surprising?  Why do you think it takes top spot?  What other events would be contenders?
  3. Did you anticipate the “rule change” reversal?  Why didn’t Katniss and Peeta see it coming? What motivates the Gamemakers’ decision?  How does this ploy mirror the way we treat television characters, and even real people like celebrities or individuals on reality shows?
  4. Why does Katniss devise the scheme with the berries?  How is it perceived differently by the Gamemakers?  The audience?  The government?  Peeta?
  5. What alternations are made to Katniss?  What does Haymitch refuse to let the Capitol do to her? Why is she cleaned up, healed,  and refurbished before the interviews?
  6. How does Cinna calculate Katniss’s look?  What is it designed to do?  Why?
  7. Why does Katniss think her post-games appearances may be the most dangerous part of the games?  How does she play her role?
  8. Why hasn’t Peeta been coached on the roles he and Katniss are playing?  How do you see their relationship developing (or not) next?

Journal 10—Overall

“the moment when I will finally have to let go”

  1. If you have taken ACA 111, you are familiar with the opposing roles of victim and creator.  In that context, to what degree is Katniss a victim? To what degree is she a creator?  How many choices does she have?
  2. What do you make of the book’s cover art?  How representative is it?  Would you have used something else?
  3. On page 51, Katniss says that plants are “tricky”; how can this statement be seen as a theme running through the whole story?  (Think of the characters with plant names, as well as literal plants.)
  4. For a book focused on the Hunger Games, there is a huge emphasis on food in this story.  Which meals most intrigued/ horrified you?
  5. The names of characters and other things are often “mutations” themselves, morphed from words in our own time.  Which of these were the most interesting to you?  What else did you notice about the names?
  6. Dreams play a critical role in the book.  What did you notice about Katniss’s statements about dreams and dreaming?
  7. This story begins with Katniss and Gale in District 12 eating bread and berries, and ends with Katniss and the boy with the bread(Peeta) nearly eating poison berries so that they can go home to District 12. What other “mirrored” events did you notice?
  8. 8.      What were your overall thoughts on the novel?  Do you plan to read the other two books, Catching Fire  and Mockingjay? Why or why not?
  9. 9.      Many readers compare this series to other highly popular ones. What connections do you see with other books or stories that you know?

10.  If you are familiar with other dystopias, what does this story have in common with them?  How is it different?

11.  In what ways is District 12 like the Appalachia we know?  How is Katniss a “mountain woman”?

12.  Look at some of the interviews with Collins.  What did you learn from them?  Did it change your perspective?


  1. Arabella Figg says:

    Sorry to be so late. This is wonderful! Your students are lucky to have a teacher that incorporates engaging, contemporary material. I’m sure younger students would get a lot more out of this than 1984, a snoozer to me that I couldn’t relate to. Your questions are all so good, it will be fun answering them.

  2. Yes, I agree with Arabella! These are very interesting and I think you will keep your students interested and engaged with these discussion points. I took literature classes as free electives way back in college and would have loved to discuss a book such as this. Though it would have been hazardous to my other studies as I would have been sucked into the trilogy.

    I think this book would be a great addition to the curriculum and have heard that some high school teachers are introducing the book as a replacement for 1984.

  3. Fro-wicki says:

    I am using The Hunger Games in my 7th & 8th grade Language Arts classes for the 2nd year. I hope you don’t mind if I add some of your journal questions to the ones I have already created for my novel unit. I am taking a different perspective to the story. Since I also teach Gifted American History and Civics, I am using the government and society in The Hunger Games to contrast with the different governments and societies that exist in the world today. I have even found a way to incorporate the principles of economics, specifically the barter system into the unit. It is wonderful that Suzanne Collins can give teachers such dynamic and diverse literature that teens today can relate to, while still keeping true to the dystopian genre like 1984. I think you will find as you use this novel in your classroom that the questions about society as it relates to our modern society naturally come out of your students. Good Luck and keep us posted about how it turn out!

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Borrow away! I’m so happy that others are using the book. I’m encouraging colleagues in psychology, humanities, history, and student success to use HG! I hope you’ll share your thoughts as well, as I’d like to compare the experiences of middle school and college students. First day of class, yesterday, one student asked for all the questions, as she had read the book overnight! A good sign, I think!

  5. Arabella Figg says:

    A great sign! And what you’ve done is create a top notch discussion group guide. You could send it to Scholastic.

  6. I love these discussion questions. I used the first set with my junior English class and the discussion lasted an hour! We are up to chapter nine in class and many of the former non-readers are asking for the next book. I would love to see what you have for Catching Fire and Mockingjay, as your questions are much more insightful than what I had come up with on my own.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks, Pam! I’d love to hear more about your students’ responses and compare them to mine (some of my college students are actually dual-enrolled and still in high school). I am working on further questions, both for this book and the other two. This week, I pass out the essay prompt, with possbile HG topics! Cue Claudius Templesmith!

  8. Instead of journal responses, we are writing short essay responses in preparation for class discussions. We discuss every third day and check homework for daily grades at that time. The best responses so far have been on journal 2, question 4 when we delved into the pain the women go through to be beautiful. I insinuated that Peeta may have gone through the same waxing process as Katniss and in each class this brought pained looks and groans from all of the males, followed by an in depth discussion of American beauty ideals. I have incorporated the social issues in the trilogy into our required research projects with HG as the first source. For the first time ever there are no groans and complaints about doing research. Ms. Collins is a miracle worker!

  9. I too would like to borrow questions from your list. Great Questions!

  10. Jennifer P says:

    I wish I’d stumbled across this project three weeks ago! I teach a course to High School Juniors and Seniors called “Suffer the Children: The Effects of Violence on Youth in Literature” and we start with THG. I’m definitely going to be pulling from this next fall when I teach it again! Thanks for sharing!

Speak Your Mind