Critical Thinking Journal Questions For Hatchet

Discussion Questions for Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

At my school, we often handle our discussion questions by chapter as I have done here. However, my questions are a bit broader than we usually assign as homework, as I feel that you can have more of a conversation if questions are open-ended.

Chapter 1

We learn right away that Brian’s parents are divorced. What do you think the Secret is? Are words painful?

Chapters 2 and 3

We are with Brian as he makes decisions and the plane crashes. As it goes down, his head is struck, the plane plunges into the lake, and he fights his way out of the water. He loses consciousness, and, as he does, he thinks of the Secret (beginning of Chapter 4). Why does he think of this particular memory?

Chapter 4

After surviving the crash, what is the 1st trial or challenge that Brian faces and why is this so unexpected?

Brian thinks about whether or not he has good luck or bad luck (pg. 40).  Which type of luck do you believe he has? Why?

Chapter 5

List the problems that Brian already has to face, at least the ones which have surfaced in this chapter.

Brian thinks of his English teacher who said “stay positive and stay on top of things.” (pg. 49) Do you think Brian can stay positive and stay on top of things in this situation?

Chapter 6

Brian addresses his problems and solves two of them right away. What were they, and how did he solve them? Were they good solutions or not?

Chapter 7

After he is sick from the berries, Brian’s mind once again goes back to the Secret. With so many other problems, why does Brian think about it now?

After only three days in the woods, he begins to call his crude shelter “home.” Why do you think he does this?

In this chapter, Brian has his first encounter with a wild animal, and at first he is frozen in fear. This incident shows that Brian is changing. How has he changed?

Chapter 8

Brian has his second encounter with a wild animal, and because of this event, he learns the first rule of survival. What is it?

While sleeping, Brian dreams of his father and his friend. In the dream they are trying to give him a message. He understands the message and knows it is imperative for his survival.  What is the message and what does he accomplish?

Chapter 9

Who (or what) does Brian think of as a friend and a guard?

Chapter 10

With each chapter, Brian is changing more. Describe some of the changes that are taking place as Brian spends more time in the wilderness.

Chapter 11

Brian is now aware that he is changing and he is beginning to understand some of these changes. What does Brian notice that is different about himself?

Chapter 12

What happens when the search plane fails to find Brian?

Chapter 13

Brian has now been in the wild for 47 days. What realization comes to him as he sees the wolves?

What two truths did he discover after the search plane failed to find him?

What were some of the mistakes he made as he learned to survive?

Chapter 14

What is the “vital knowledge that drives all creatures in the forest” (pg. 129)?

What is the “second most important thing about nature” (pg. 131)?

Brian continues to make mistakes. What has he done to overcome them?

Chapter 15

How does Brian discover the “secret key” which will enable him to get meat?

Chapter 16

Two major events take place in this chapter – both of which almost kill Brian. The second incident, the tornado, destroys so much that he feels is back to square one. Is he?

Chapter 17

Brian finds that the tornado has changed more than he expected. What do you think he will find on the plane?

What about his “reverse question” (pg. 170)? How do you think he will remember these days in the wilderness?

Chapter 18

While Brian is chopping his way into the plane, he drops the hatchet. He doesn’t believe this could happen to him now. Why?

Brian manages to retrieve the survival kit from the plane, but the experience is more traumatic than he expects it to be. What helps return Brian to peace?

Chapter 19

As Brian sorts through his “treasure” – the items from the survival kit – he has mixed feelings. Why?

Just as Brian finally reaches the survival kit, he is rescued. Why do you think Paulsen chose this time for Brian to be found?


What changes took place in Brian? List the temporary ones and the permanent, life-long changes. List the physical ones and the emotional ones.

Why didn’t Brian ever share the Secret with his father?


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Posted in: Discussion Questions, For Teachers, Most Recent | Tagged: Classroom, Discussion Questions, Gary Paulsen, Hatchet, Posts by Barbara, Teachers

Hatchet (Paulsen)

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Gary Paulsen, 1987
Simon & Schuster
192 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781416936473

Brian Robeson, 13, is the only passenger on a small plane flying him to visit his father in the Canadian wilderness when the pilot has a heart attack and dies. The plane drifts off course and finally crashes into a small lake.

Miraculously Brian is able to swim free of the plane, arriving on a sandy tree-lined shore with only his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present. The novel chronicles in gritty detail Brian's mistakes, setbacks, and small triumphs as, with the help of the hatchet, he manages to survive the 54 days alone in the wilderness. (From the publisher.)

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