Gregor the Overlander Storia Teaching Guide
- Grades: 3–5, 6–8
About this book
When Gregor tries to rescue his little sister, Boots, after she falls through a grate in their apartment building, he finds himself hurtling through a darkness that never seems to end—until he lands with a thump in a bizarre land full of giant cockroaches. While Boots seems to delight in this new world, Gregor has only one desire—to escape the Underland and return home. However, Gregor’s adventure has only just begun. He soon meets the people of the Underland, as well as, their enemies—huge, bloodthirsty rats who are waging a war against the Underlanders and their city, Regalia.
The Underlanders reveal to Gregor two shocking pieces of information. His father, who had disappeared over two years ago, is a prisoner of the rats in the Underland. And they believe Gregor to be the great warrior described by the Underlanders’ ancient leader in a strange prophecy. Is it really Gregor’s fate to save the future of the subterranean world? Reluctantly, Gregor accepts the quest to defeat the enemy rats in their war against the Underlanders in hopes that he can also rescue his missing father.
The author creates a fantastical world of bizarre creatures, dream-like settings, and pale-eyed humans with amazing skills. Yet this strange world becomes real for young readers as they follow Gregor on his quest to battle the forces of evil and discover his own powers for good.
Teaching the Book
Gregor the Overlander begins the saga of eleven-year-old Gregor’s quest to save the creatures of the Underland and to fulfill the prophecy of becoming the brave warrior leader. This compelling and adventure-filled story, written by Suzanne Collins, provides the opportunity to teach the fantasy genre, the skill of analyzing setting, and the use of connotative language. Activities will engage students in mapping the Underland, researching underground animals, and creating their own imaginative world.
Theme Focus: Fantasy
Comprehension Focus: Analyze Setting
Language Focus: Words With Dark Connotations
Get Ready to Read
Engage students’ interest by creating a concept map for the genre of fantasy. Remind them that a fantasy is set in a place that does not really exist and is about strange people, creatures, and events that are imagined by the author. These make-believe worlds become real to us through the author’s descriptions of places and characters. Ask students to name their favorite fantasy books and movies and add them to the concept map.
> Harry Potter
> The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Discuss the settings and characters in the fantasies that students list and ask them to explain which are their favorites and why.
Preview and Predict
Tell students that author Suzanne Collins wrote Gregor the Overlander when she thought about what would happen if an urban child fell down a manhole into an underground world. Ask students to predict what kind of world might exist in the “Underland.”
Words With Dark Connotations
Explain to students that words have two different kinds of meanings. Denotation is the dictionary definition of a word. Connotation is the emotional or imaginative meaning associated with a word. The author uses many words with dark or negative connotations to describe the Underland and its inhabitants. Remind students to look for clues in the text for the word meanings and then write the definitions on the vocabulary cards.
Distribute copies of Resource #1: Vocabulary Cards to students.
- monstrous (p. 25)
- queasy (p. 38)
- staggered (p. 81)
- viciously (p. 86)
- annihilation (p. 121)
- eerie (p. 178)
- writhing (p. 190)
- cannibalism (p. 228)
Words With Dark Connotations
Ask students to refer to the definitions they wrote on their vocabulary cards to answer each question below.
- What did you think was the most monstrous creature in the Underland?
- What event made you feel queasy when you read about it?
- What creature attacks most viciously?
- When did you think that Gregor faced annihilation?
- Describe how a creature would look if it were writhing.
- What is an example of cannibalism in the book?
As You Read
Reading the Book
Give students a taste of the compelling adventure and model fluency by reading aloud an excerpt from Chapter 9 on pages 91 and 92. Discuss with students what they have learned so far about the fantasy world of Gregor the Overlander.
Have students read the book independently. Encourage them to partner with another student to share questions and reactions to the book.
Big Question: Critical Thinking
Ask students to think about this question as they read and be ready to answer it when they have finished the book. Write the question on chart paper or have students record it in their reading journals. Does Gregor have what it takes to be a true warrior?
Setting is an important literary element in the fantasy genre. The imaginative world that an author creates sets the stage for the protagonist’s quest and for the battle of good and evil. Whereas setting in a realistic novel encompasses time and place, in a fantasy novel setting also includes the strange creatures and magical powers that are part of the fantasy world of the author.
Use the graphic organizer on Resource #2: Analyze Setting to model for students how to find text evidence for the various elements of setting in Gregor the Overlander. Project the page on a whiteboard or pass out copies to students.
First, I’m going to look for a description of a place that helps create the author’s fantasy world. On page 45, Gregor gets his first glimpse of Regalia. “The buildings here were all a lovely misty gray which gave them a dreamlike quality. . . . Thousands of torches were placed strategically so that a soft, dusky light illuminated the entire city.” I’ll write the page number and the words into the organizer.
Guide students to fill in the rest of the organizer using examples from the text of descriptions of the creatures, humans, and strange events in the Underland. Ask how these descriptions help create the fantasy world for readers.
After You Read
Questions to Discuss
Lead students in a discussion of these focus story elements.
1. The Fantasy Genre
The Underland is a fantasy world, but parts of it are based on creatures and settings that are familiar. What are these familiar things? Do they make the Underland seem real? (Sample answer: Rats, cockroaches, and bats all live in dark places in the real world. It makes sense that they might be giants in the Underland.)
2. Analyze Setting
How do humans travel between the Overland and Underland? (Sample answer: There are five portals between the two worlds.) How does Gregor and Boots fall into the Underland? How do they get back to New York City? (Sample answers: They fall through a grate in the laundry room of their apartment building. They come back out through a staircase leading to a stone door that brings them to Central Park.)
3. Words With Dark Connotations
Find a scene in the book that you would describe as eerie. (Sample answer: When the cockroaches dance around Boots as though she is a queen.)
Questions to Share
Encourage students to share their responses with a partner or small group.
How would you react to falling into the Underland? Would you try to escape?
What other places can you imagine might be portals to the Underland? Are there possible underground passages and entrances in the place where you live?
Compare Gregor’s adventures with the adventures of another young character in a fantasy novel. Which character do you think is most believable and why?
Content Area Connections
Map the Underland
Challenge students to map the fantasy world of the Underland, starting with Gregor’s fall through the grate and ending with his return to New York City. They should include the major parts of the Underland including Regalia, the lands of the crawlers, spinner, and gnawers; and the portals between the Underland and the Overland.
Assign students to find photographs of animals that live underground or in dark places—like the creatures in the Underland. Encourage them to find pictures of moles, earthworms, woodchucks, ants, and bats. Then have them make a slideshow of these animals. To add drama, ask them to write original descriptions of Gregor encountering gigantic versions of these strange creatures in the Underland.
A quest undertaken by a young protagonist is a common theme in adventure fantasy stories. Ask partners to make a list of fantasy books and movies that involve a quest. Have them list the titles and the main char acter and his or her quest. Prompt them by suggesting they begin with Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.
The Underlanders are humans who left the Overland centuries ago and retreated underground. Ask students to find descriptions in the book of how they have adapted to their new environment. How do the adaptations help them survive? What would happen to them if they came back to the Overland?
Book Review & Rating
Fantasy is a genre that sparks strong opinions from students. Challenge students to write a review of Gregor the Overlander, giving it a rating of one to four stars. First, have them each create a star rating system, deciding what—for them—makes a four-star book as opposed to a one-star book. Then ask students to rate the book according to their own criteria and write an opinion essay that explains their rating. Emphasize that every opinion is legitimate as long as it is supported by reasoning and evidence.
Don't Forget the Big Question
Give each student an opportunity to answer the big question. Encourage students to support their answers with details and evidence from the text. Remind them that there is no one right answer. Does Gregor have what it takes to be a true warrior?
A Strange Fantasy World
Ask students to apply what they learned about the elements of a fantasy world from reading Gregor the Overlander by creating their own fantasy setting. Ask students to complete the Big Activity: A Strange Fantasy World. After they answer the question prompts, encourage them to write a scene that takes place in their world that features a young hero on a quest.
This Storia e-book has the following enrichments to enhance students’ comprehension of the book.
- Word Twister (3)
- Word Scramble (2)
- Who Said It?
- Do You Know?
- About You
About the Author
Suzanne Collins was inspired to write her first novel while thinking one day about Alice in Wonderland. What would happen if a modern, urban child fell down a mysterious hole? Where would he or she end up? That was the genesis of Gregor the Overlander, the first book in her best-selling, five-part fantasy series for middle-grade readers: The Underland Chronicles.
Next, Collins set her prolific imagination to work on a fantasy series for readers 12 and up. When the first book of the Hunger Games Trilogy appeared in 2008, it immediately became a critically acclaimed, award-winning sensation. In 2012, the movie version of The Hunger Games introduced an even wider audience to the powerful dystopian fantasy story.
Suzanne Collins lives with her family in Connecticut. For more information about the author, please visit: www.suzannecollinsbooks.com.
© 2012 SI ALL RIGHTS RESERVED