If you give a Maus a cookie

I want to teach middle or high school when I grow up and become a real adult, but a little big part of me will forever be a child who finds joy in making puns based off of favorite childhood books. I try to keep that inner-kid in mind when I think about how and what I want to teach when I finally have my own classroom. I have had to think a lot about my future teaching style this semester as I took a class on instruction and assessment. A large project, assigned roughly a week after I wrote my previous article on Maus, required me to create a mini-unit that I could feasibly one day actually teach to real students. Because I had just reread the graphic novel by Art Spiegelman for the blog entry, I decided to write lesson plans for a 10th grade English/Language Arts class that were going to be reading the Pulitzer Prize winning book.

The overview of my mini-unit’s worth of lesson plans. Virginia SOLs are found in each plan.

You can read all of the lesson plans if you’re so oddly inclined, but to spare you the boring details I’ll summarize it here. (For the sake of brevity, please allow me to fantasize a bit and pretend that these hypothetical, future students actually exist and that I successfully taught these lessons to them.) To start thinking about what I wanted the students to know, understand, and be able to due at the end of three lessons (so, three sequential 90-minute blocks of a high school day). Because I make the rules for my imaginary world, the students learned about World War II and the Holocaust at the same time they were doing these lessons with me.

I decided that I wanted my students to examine the relationship between text and art/visual graphics in different mediums to analyze symbolism in historical contexts. Simply put, I wanted the students to be able to close-read a piece of a comic or graphic novel like they would close-read a piece of text from a novel, looking specifically about how and why the author or artist used symbolism in the words or art.

A snippet from the ‘Task’ page of my WebQuest. This page is their instruction sheet for what they have to complete.

Because I didn’t expect my students to become scholars on graphic novels immediately, I started their exploration of the medium by having them look at different propaganda created in WWII. I created a WebQuest for the students to complete. WebQuests are an inquiry-based model of instruction, allowing students individually to explore predetermined different corners of the internet. I sent my students off to look at various types of propaganda created by different countries on both sides of the war.


One of the panels I had the students look at in small groups.

The next two lesson plans involved the students reading and talking about Maus. Because the symbolism of animal-as-ethnicity is such a meaningful part of the story-telling, I wanted the students to think about why Art Spiegelman made that decision. I also chose specific panels from the book for them to analyze in small groups, having discussions based off of questions I provided. These questions varied in level of complexity to allow for the different needs and abilities of the students. The final lesson had the students forming a circle for a Socratic Seminar where I asked them “How would this book have been different if all of the characters had been drawn as human?” My hopes were that this question would allow the students to think about both the literal visuals and the more symbolic meaning behind each panel, and my more broad goal was that having the students read about history in a graphic novel form made them care about and engage with the material more. My favorite find of the entire project was finding somebody on YouTube who narrates the entire book, panel by panel (though, of course, if you were diligent and clicked though every link of the WebQuest you would have already seen this) which makes the book accessible to many more students now.






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