A lesson plan for 7th or 8th grade readers over this story about a very unusual hunt.
You know the story; you probably read it in middle school yourself. Sanger Rainsford, famed hunter, falls overboard into the Caribbean while reaching for his pipe and ends up stranded on "Ship-Trap Island." He meets the inscrutable General Zaroff, who has made this island his own personal hunting paradise. However, his favorite game -- men -- are hard to find, and so he has set up some false lights in front of the rocky reefs off his island, and the ships that are destroyed give him the prey he needs. At first, Zaroff thinks that Rainsford will be impressed and will want to join him on his hunts, but Rainsford is disgusted, and so Zaroff makes Rainsford his next target. Rainsford escapes and ends up murdering Zaroff in his own bedroom.
There are many different films that have this theme -- man hunting man as entertainment. Depending on your school's rules for movie, be creative here. "The Running Man," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, features a game show in which convicted criminals are given the chance to run to freedom, if they can get by a series of hunters. There is some adult content in this film, so if you do get permission to show it, you might just show the beginning of the game show, when the prisoners begin their attempt at escape. "Logan's Run" and "Blade Runner" also show people hunting one another, and there are scenes in each that could be acceptable for showing. You will want to check with your librarian to make sure you are following fair use guidelines.
If you want a film version of this story, there was a movie with the same name made in 1932 that has some effects that will make your students laugh, but still has a lot of the thematic elements of the story. There was a version made in 2008 that, at the writing of this article, still awaited DVD release.
Anyway, if you can use a short clip from one of the movies above to get the students thinking about what it would like to hunt, or be hunted by, a fellow person, that will help comprehension of the story.
Helping Students With the Story
This is not a complex story. It is somewhat long for in-class reading, so if you have a Pre-AP/honors class or a particularly diligent regular class, you might assign the reading of this for homework, and then have students come in to class for the short clip mentioned above. Either before or after the clip, you could give a short quiz over the story to test whether or not it had been read.
Then, you might have students make a list of all of the examples of irony, or, if they have copies of the text before them, have them annotate the text for irony. This device runs rampant through the story: Rainsford, at the beginning of the story, declares that the world "is made up of two classes -- the hunters and the huntees." Rainsford does not know, of course, what is coming for him. Just about every assumption that Rainsford makes about the island, and every detail about General Zaroff pulse with irony -- you may already be familiar with this, or you may need a full literary analysis of the story.
Suspense is another device that this story can teach as a primer. Look at just about every description -- from the suffocating Caribbean night on the ship to every instant that Rainsford is out in the jungle, being hunted. The descriptions of Zaroff slowly searching for Rainsford; Rainsford hearing the mortal screams of the "animal" being hunted when he lands on the island; even the early description of Rainsford's escape makes the reader wonder what is coming next.
This story pulses with action: let your students respond actively. Here are some ideas:
1. Have students write a script out for either the entire story, or for different parts of it. If you have a larger class, split the story into several sections (Rainsford on the ship, Rainsford with Zaroff, Rainsford being hunted, Zaroff and Rainsford at the end, for example) and have each group responsible for one section. With middle schoolers, you will want to keep an eye on the more active students in this process, but this can be a lot of fun for a focused class.
2. Show students some of the movie posters that were made for this film in 1932, and have them make posters for a modern remake. Use some of the other images on the Internet Movie Database to give them some ideas for movie posters. This can be done individually or in pairs.
3. A good writing prompt for this story could be this: What does Zaroff stand for? Is he the monster in each of us? Why or why not?
4. For the creative writers in your class, writing an alternate ending is something that many middle schoolers enjoy doing. What if Zaroff had been expecting Rainsford? What if Rainsford had landed on a sharp rock in the water? Would those endings have been better? Why?