Hunger Games Mini-lesson: Vocabulary


Previously, we discussed using the Hunger Games series as a vehicle for teaching teens about the THEMES of utopian and dystopian literature. However, educators are responsible for having multiple balls in the air at any one time, and two of those are vocabulary and word knowledge. How can we throw these into the mix while keeping teens engaged enough to watch the juggling act at all?

Hunger Games Lesson Vocab

We will take the same mini-lesson we discussed earlier on THEMES and insert a quick vocabulary lesson. This lesson is designed to extend the Teengagement Unit of Study: Ethics of Survival: Lexile 1240, 1140, 770  & 690. Our goal is to meet the standard without interrupting the flow of the lesson too much; we want our students to remain engrossed with the conceptual meat of the topic.

We could add the following additional Common Core standards to the heading of our lesson plan:


Vocabulary Acquisition and Use

  • Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.

After the teacher introduces the background information and then discusses the concepts of utopia and dystopia included in that mini-lesson, some word attack skills can be taught, using the word dystopia.

For example: “The word dystopia is a good example of how our language developed. If we take this word apart, here’s what we find.” The following information can be projected for student viewing.

Dystopia: “imaginary bad place,” 1868, in writings of J.S. Mill, from Greek dys- “bad,       abnormal, difficult” (see dys-) + utopia. Related: Dystopian. (

“So, the word comes from the Greek language. Its parts are the prefix dys-, which means something bad or unfavorable, plus the word utopia, meaning a perfect place. This knowledge helps us in several ways, including deciphering the meaning of the two types of literature we are discussing in relation to the Hunger Games.”

“Can we think of any other words that use the same prefix? How does attacking a word in this way help us better understand what new words mean as we read any text?” The ensuing brief discussion can help students cement this word part for later use with other unfamiliar words.

A similar focused attack on new words in any unit of study or lesson now makes sense in the context of the topic under review. As excerpts are read that contain other new vocabulary words, the teacher can demonstrate again how to use appropriate sources to find derivation and thus meaning within the context of the passages. Then students can take over to attack formal vocabulary lists included in units of study and other lessons.

Another effective method to attack words in context is to provide non-examples and ask students to compare usage in the selected text.

For example: The word secure is used in the text of the unit as a verb: to get hold of. Ask students to compare the way the word secure is used in the sentence below with how it is used in the text they have read. This can be done at any appropriate point in the lesson, preferably as the word is encountered.


The concern that Peeta showed for Katniss as they started the Games made her feel secure…at least for a while.”

The word is used differently in this sentence (which the teacher simply created). Students who can identify this distinction have truly attained knowledge of the word secure and how it can be used in a variety of ways—most importantly in the text they are reading now.

Students may also be asked to write their own non-examples with vocabulary words, thus giving an accurate assessment of their knowledge of use in context.

In these ways, vocabulary acquisition becomes more meaningful and need not take a great deal of time away from the heart of the lesson. Evidence shows that the effectiveness of these methods is far superior to simply asking students to copy and memorize words and definitions.

What innovative avenues have you found to introduce vocabulary and word attack skills within the framework of the text your students are reading?

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