Teaching Into the Wild can be one of the most rewarding units in your ELA curriculum, especially when you get to witness the absolute griphold this book can have on students who “hate to read.” This compelling literary nonfiction book tells the story of Christopher McCandless, a young man who decides to leave behind his comfortable life to explore the wilderness of Alaska. Into the Wild explores themes that high schoolers care about such as individualism, adventure, life lessons, and the woes of societal expectations.
That said, while Into the Wild is a high interest text, it can also be challenging to teach and read due to its unique organizational structure. This book does not follow a linear plotline which can be frustrating for striving readers. The Into the Wild lesson plan ideas in this post are designed to keep students engaged and on track throughout the entire unit. They will help you dig deep into the themes of the book without killing the excitement. They will help students make meaning of the text without feeling lost. They will help you achieve the rewarding aspects of teaching this text without the overwhelming workload.
Are you ready to teach Into the Wild? Let’s go explore!
Into the Wild Pre Reading Activities:
To prepare for teaching Into the Wild, start with some engaging pre-reading activities to really spark their interest. In these Into the Wild lesson plans, I also include instructions and materials for students to create a booklet to add to as they participate in pre-reading, during reading, and post-reading activities. They can even put the booklet together while you show the Into the Wild movie trailer! This booklet has SO many activities for students to complete throughout the unit.
Adding in different types of activities can really help students build interest in the issues presented in the text. In these Into the Wild lesson plans I include intro activities that can work for any classroom! For example, you can start with the “Be your own star” activity that gets students up and moving as they consider choices that will be tackled in the book. After they finish reading, students can revisit these statements and discuss whether or not their opinions have changed.
Next, students can practice their inference skills in an “inference guessing game”. Students can work independently or in groups as they work through inferences about McCandless and consider opposing perspectives of how he is viewed by readers.
Into the Wild Lesson Plan Ideas:
Into the Wild Chapter 1 Activity:
Students begin their journey with Into the Wild by tracking McCandless’s adventures. At each of his stops, they will design a “merit badge” that represents what kind of impact he made on himself or others in this section. Not only does this help students summarize the main points of each section, but it also serves as a great review throughout the book. You can read more about the booklets here: 5 Reasons to use a Notebook with Your Into the Wild Unit
Into the Wild Chapter 2 Activity:
Chapter 2 details the discovery of McCandless’s bus and, ultimately, his body. While stories such as this are typically told with a tone of objectivity, this chapter is full of literary elements. The activity for chapter 2 is perfect for any new or veteran educator looking to teach Into the Wild!
As students read chapter 2, they can complete an “incident report” worksheet of officers finding McCandless’s body. This activity is an opportunity for students to work on analyzing style. Although this is a nonfiction text, there are many stylistic elements that are worthy of further analysis and study.
Students will identify examples of literary elements in the chapter as they read, and the incident report activity challenges students to look at how typical technical writing is void of human emotion while this book is chock full of emotional language. When students are filling out their incident reports, instruct them to use a technical approach and a professional tone.
Into the Wild Chapter 4 Activity:
Before reading chapter 4, use the gallery walk included in these Into the Wild lesson plans to get students up and engaged with the content of the chapter. First you’ll divide students into seven groups, and then they will rotate around the room discussing each prompt. The prompts in this lesson provide students with opportunities to confront difficult topics that will be covered in the book in a low-stakes setting.
Once the gallery walk is complete, you can use the “allusions match” close reading activity to help students practice annotation skills as they read chapter four. Once this annotation activity is complete, students can revisit the prompts from the gallery walk with the context of what they’ve learned in chapter four.
This revisiting of their answers to the gallery walk prompts allows students to reflect and possibly revise their previous findings or opinions. Teaching Into the Wild and allowing space for students to practice reflection in their learning is so valuable as they grow as readers.
Into the Wild Chapter 6 Activity:
This Into the Wild Unit Plan has a fun and engaging activity for chapter 6 included in the booklet they made at the beginning of the unit. Getting students involved in the story by asking them to reflect on their own experiences and challenges in life is a wonderful chance to forge conversation among peers.
For this activity, students will design their own symbolic “belts” that show important events and feelings throughout their own lives and experiences. This activity is great for community building in the classroom, and it allows students to reflect on their experiences and how they became the people they are today. It also opens up space for conversations between peers on how their personal journeys contain similarities.
Into the Wild Chapter 8 Activity:
Throughout teaching Into the Wild, students reflect on the two most common lenses from which to view McCandless: 1. One of admiration and compassion 2. One of critique and condescension. In chapter 8, students read letters from these two points-of-view and find words that reveal their tone. Next, they rewrite the letters in a different tone to dig deeper into perspective.
Into the Wild Chapter 9 Activity:
This Into the Wild unit focuses a lot on adventure. It’s important for all students to be able to see themselves in the themes of books. In chapter 9, students go on a webquest to read about diverse adventures from around the globe. For example, Jessica Nabongo is the first Black woman to visit every country in the world.
Into the Wild Chapter 17 Activity:
Who doesn’t love a good debate? Students always love getting to argue different perspectives (with a little mediation of course), so the “pilgrimage worksheet and debate” for this chapter is always a hit.
This activity is complete with a linked article for students to practice analyzing a supplemental text while answering, and debating, questions relevant to the chapter and the article. Students can answer the questions on their own, in small groups, or as a class. But, this is a great opportunity for students to debate these issues as they confront difficult topics in the book.
Into the Wild Chapter 18 Activity:
After reading chapter 18, students can read an insightful article about how McCandless died. The article is informative, but it is also very telling of Krakauer’s craft and dedication to telling this story. This article lends itself perfectly for a class discussion to finish the story.
A perfect way to end this book is to have students design a home on wheels for McCandless. You can do this on a smaller scale in the booklet provided in the lesson, or I provide a full tiny house project resource for students to complete.
The tiny house project is so fun and engaging for students if you have the time with your class! This project lets students design their tiny house with color symbolism and even use an online tool for designing their floor plan. Allowing students to get creative is so important when fostering engagement with their reading.
after teaching into the wild
While there is a well-adapted movie version of Into the Wild, I prefer to show a movie pairing instead. For one, the movie is rated R and showing it isn’t allowed without permission. For two, teaching Into the Wild takes around 3-4 weeks so I’m usually pressed for time. And lastly, this 37 minute documentary I found is SO GOOD and really helps students synthesize the themes in Into the Wild. You can find an Into the Wild movie pairing guide here: Into the Wild Lesson Plans
My Into the Wild Unit Plan also includes a final essay assessment. The essay offers four different prompt options for students to choose from, and the included prompts give students agency in their analysis process. Also, a complete multiple choice test is included (with an answer key) for your convenience!
I hope this post has inspired you with meaningful and fun activities for teaching Into the Wild! Very few books have impacted my personal life as much as this one, and it’s been an honor to get to share that with students over the years and now with you. XOXO – Ashley