A sadistic General Zaroff sneaking through the jungle hunting his esteemed guest, Rainsford, in a life or death version of cat and mouse…
Do 8th graders need more than that to be engaged? I was surprised that my class did. I’d incorrectly assumed that the plot of The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell, would be enough to capture the imagination of my students. However, the complexity of the text, vocabulary, leaps in time, and need for inferencing proved to be more of an obstacle than I thought they would be.
General Zaroff’s mannerisms were too genteel, his threats too subtle to evoke an emotional response in my students. Although my arms were covered in goosebumps, they just were not interested enough to tackle such a complex text. I could have scrapped the whole idea, but I believe that students need to spend time with difficult text. I just needed to find a way to engage them enough to make the critical thinking and rereading worth the effort.
Dave Burgess’s book Teach Like a Pirate provided great ideas for crafting a lesson that would hook my students. The premise of his book is that creativity and passion are not lost to education; we just need to consciously plan for it. He suggests thinking about how students can be immersed in a lesson and where a lesson would best be taught.
I decided my students needed to be take part in a hunt. I asked a beloved administrator to be General Zaroff and ‘hunt’ us. I provided him with the time and locations around the building that we would be hiding. The plan was that he would walk past us while reading lines from the story always pretending that he couldn’t see us.
We hid in in the jungle brush of the 7th grade lobby, behind the rocks near a water fountain on the first floor, and crouched in a cave located in the hallway next to the cafeteria and custodial offices. Everywhere we went, we read more of the story and discussed it. What was previously unaccessible to my students became personally relevant.
General Zaroff never came close to us, but believe me we understood what it felt like to be hunted! It was much easier for my students understand keeping one’s nerve and game of cat and mouse when they were caught up in the hunt. At one point I had to the break the tension and admit that even though I knew he wasn’t General Zaroff, I was getting a little freaked out. It was the perfect opportunity to talk about how panic can override logic.
In the end, we made it safely back to our classroom. The last line of the story meant we had to make one more inference. At first they were disappointed because they thought the author left us hanging. Then I heard,”Oh! I know who won! Look at what it says here…” For that, I would trek through the jungle any day.