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Survival of the Fittest

Unit Plan

TEACHER Lynne Keen

9 3-5 4 weeks
Achievement Objective Being Assessed Learning Outcomes

Transactional Writing

Produce a piece of comparative writing in response to the question "How successful was the main character as a survivor?"


Create a poster to demonstrate a comparison between the main character as a survivor and that of a true-life survivor.


Processing information

Gather, select, record, interpret and present information on survivors and their survival strategies gained from reading the novel and true life survival biographies.

Supporting Achievement Objective Learning Outcomes

Interpersonal speaking and listening

Participate in class and small discussion groups to clarify ideas, express and justify opinions about survival; contribute and exchange information gained through individual research and reading of texts on the theme of survival.

Thinking Critically

Identify, discuss and convey attitudes to and beliefs about personal survival, gained from reading the novel and non-fiction texts.

Close Reading

Students will gather information about the main character as a survivor, and find examples to support their ideas.
Assessment: Formative
Achievement Standard:

AS90053 (English 1.2): Produce formal writing.

Achievement Standard:

AS90059 (English 1.8): Present a media or dramatic presentation.


The purpose of the activities in this unit is to discuss and explore the nature of human survival. Research findings from survivor auto/biographical texts together with the collective ideas of the class will be used to identify and publish a Profile of an Archetypal Survivor. This profile will then be used as a yardstick of comparison for the main character of the novel, when students will write about the character's effectiveness as a survivor.

The intention of these activities is to generate plenty of oral discussion to guide thinking and stimulate ideas to produce focused, quality writing.

Teacher Background Reading


Smiley Select and adapt these learning activities to best meet the needs of your students, and to fit the time available:
  1. The teacher introduces this unit by outlining the programme of learning activities (group and individual tasks) and objectives in a handout to the class.
  2. Brainstorming

    As a class, students brainstorm:
    • What are some common survival situations? List in two columns: man made and natural.
    • What are some of the features or factors that transform a situation into one of survival?
    • What is a survivor? Compare dictionary definitions; write an agreed class definition.
    • Who are some known, famous survivors? List, add to.
    • Share any personal experiences of survival.

    Teacher records responses for future/further reference and display.

  3. Carry out this survivor role play from the ARB resource.
  4. Individual research

    The focus questions for research are
    • What makes a person a survivor?
    • What coping tactics (strategies) does/did this survivor use?
    • What aspects of the survivor's personality (traits) helped him/her to cope?

    Brainstorm and list ideas. The teacher could guide class discussion to consider physical health, personality factors, attitudes, actions, available resources, environment and external factors, eg. luck. (See a comparable list, Traits of Explorers)

    Two useful, short, survival biographies for practice in close reading and to identify evidence of survival responses are the Reader's Digest story "Stowaway", and "The Ice Man" (see Resources from Disaster and Survival by Rigby Heinemann. Add these responses to the list. The list will form the basis of the Profile of an Archetypal Survivor.

    Students then individually research a true-life story of survival, past or present. Ideally each should research a different story, for interest and range of responses. Refer back to the list of survivors already made, search catalogues, scour the library shelves for biographies and encyclopedias, see Biography and the Academy of Achievement.

    Present day survival adventure accounts:

    Students are to record their research findings.

    This general format will need to be modified for each survivor's story according to

    • the survival 'problem' or situation
    • the survival response categories identified through brainstorming
  5. Research follow up in group/class discussion

    Students report their individual Research Findings on the focus questions to their group. Additional survival responses thus identified are then shared with the class and added to the list of ideas; common responses are highlighted and categorised as strategies and traits. A new sheet listing these traits and strategies is drawn up as a Profile of an Archetypal Survivor. This sheet is retained for the transactional writing task.
  6. Reading the novel and completing the log activity

    1. Students are to read the novel Hatchet during one week of class time and homework, completing the log.
    2. Students log Brian's survival experiences as they read. They could already be familiar with this novel and should find this activity relatively easy.

      NB: Here is a 'survival' search that can be made at the MGPL Webrary. See also the Action Adventure reviews from Read Hot

    3. Groups discuss and compare their logs. Each group summarises and displays their findings, as traits and strategies, outlining profile of Brian as a survivor, sharing it with the class. Follow up with class discussion and debate as a response to the novel:
      • How credible was Brian's situation?
      • How did you rate him as a survivor?
      • How would you have reacted in his position? etc.
  7. Preparation for Assessment Activity 1:
    Transactional writing task
    1. Students will need a copy of the assessment activity and class' profile of an Archetypal Survivor and profile of Brian as a survivor, together with their Hatchet Log.
    2. Teacher discusses with the class/elicits ideas for the process of transactional writing.
    3. Teacher models the process emphasising the structure and models the format for transactional writing, viz.
      • an introduction, explaining Brian's situation, giving his/her opinion of Brian's success as a survivor, citing at least three reasons (points)
      • body, where each point is stated, an example from the novel is given and explained in a separate paragraph; paragraphs are linked
      • conclusion, where the student compares Brian's survival profile with that of the Archetypal Survivor
    4. Teacher issues the user-friendly rubric (an adaptation of the Level 5 key indicators from the assessment schedule for Assessment Activity 1) as their guide and aim for this transactional writing activity based on the teacher model. Students are encouraged to share their writing during this process, using the user-friendly rubric as an interrogation tool.
    5. Teacher gives individual help to students, who then share their drafts in their groups for conferencing feedback, using the user-friendly rubric.
  8. Preparation for Assessment Activity 2:
    Poster and dramatic presentation
    1. Students will need a copy of this assessment activity their Research Findings and Hatchet Log.
    2. Teacher models the use of a simple Venn Diagram Organiser to show how to present the similarities and differences between Brian and a true life survivor for poster presentations.
    3. Posters are then wall-displayed for peer assessment and teacher assessment (see below).


(See note on Assessing against the Curriculum).

Assessment Task 1
Assessment Task 2

Displayed posters are

  • peer assessed - class discuss and design an assessment schedule; each student to assess another's poster (see an example of a class designed assessment schedule).
  • Teacher assessed - each student is assessed for his/her comparison and presentation using the assessment schedule.

Student Evalution

Groups discuss the questions on the Evaluation Sheet then individually complete it.

Transactional Writing Exemplars
Presenting Exemplars



  • Assessment Resource Banks:
  • For Hatchet student activities and related links, try:
  • For author comment and biography, teaching ideas, thematic connections, links, try:
  • For the non-fiction version of his adventures which link him to the Brian books:
  • Pages of links and ideas:
  • Venn Diagram Basic
  • Stories of Survivors:

    NB: There are thousands of sites listed when any combination of the key search words survival, survivors, adventure, true-life, fictional, biographies, autobiographies are keyed in. Although there are a number of survival 'situations', sites relating to sexual abuse and Holocaust survivors are often listed first in search results.


    • Paulsen, Gary Hatchet, Macmillan Children's Books (1992)
    • Dictionaries
    • Library resources - auto/biographies, encyclopedias, INNZ, CD ROM's,
    • Reader's Digest stories
    • Heinemann, Rigby. (1994) "The Ice Man" story from Disaster and Survival. ISBN 0-7312-1657-1
    • Activity Resource Book: #2642 Hatchet, Hawker Brownlow Education (1997)


    • Large sheets of paper for group work and poster work, felt markers, etc.
    • The film/video of Hatchet, A Cry in the Wild, only appears to be available in Canada and the US, in NTSC format.


    These group activities could provide enrichment for the more able students or present further opportunities for teacher assessment of students, eg. they could be asked to justify their choices in a written response.

    • Design a board game based on Brian's survival experiences, eg. a "Snakes and Ladders" type game where his good decisions/luck lead to some kind of 'reward', and his bad decisions/luck incur a 'penalty'.
    • Take part in the Hatchet Internet Hunt (PDF).
    • Play The Survival Game justifying a decision.
    • Using the survival auto/biographies students have researched, set up a panel discussion where students pose questions to A Panel of Survivors.
    • Students could research and produce a personal safety and survival tips pamphlet or design a survival kit to include in their school's Outdoor Education programme. Safety and Survival has basic, relevant information.
    • Students could read the other Brian Books which follow on from Hatchet together with Guts: the true stories behind Hatchet and the Brian Books. As a further activity, students could identify which of Paulsen's real life survival experiences occur in which of the Brian Books, as a cross-referencing exercise.


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