Making Curriculum Pop

Hey Y'all, I'm an 8th grade reading teacher in Houston about to start American Born Chinese I'm somewhat bewildered as to what to do with this novel. I've got some background info on the Monkey King and obviously there is the issue of stereotypes. I don't have any experience teaching graphic novels so could use any suggestions on lessons. My students are mostly inner-city types with limited positive reading experiences. The TAKS test is over, so I want this unit to be fun!

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hey there, :)

i have included american born chinese in my new book teaching graphic novels (out this fall) under the teaching english language arts fiction chapter. would suggest first reading scott mccloud's making comics and using some of the panel terminology and the gutter terminology with these readers, emboldening them to read with images as a valid reading expression. also, since they are resistant readers, you might want to introduce the story - before they start - as taking on three narratives. gene luen yang has a great website too, VERY helpful. you can find it at

all my best! keep us posted! katie

I can only agree with what Katie said. Check out Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics. I just taught Watchmen for the first time this year, and I had the same question for MC Pop, because I was as nervous as you were.. It was Katie who reminded me of McCloud, whom I'd read before.

Teaching graphica works really well, because when I was doing Watchmen, even though I had read it many times before on my own, the students pointed out a vast number of things I hadn't noticed before. This is a very visually oriented generation, and you may find, as I did, that they will teach YOU how to read the story. You provide the framework--talk about stereotypes, the immigrant experience, teen angst, the need to fit in, and so on, and they will do the rest.

Good luck, and have fun with it.

John Weaver

First off, you should send a message to Lauren Fardig, she just finished teaching ABC here in the South Bronx and Amanda Hunter who taught it last year. However, to get some ideas flowing you should check out Gene Yang's website as well as First Seconds lesson plans for the novel.

Also the pop resources wiki is LOADED with Graphic Novel Teaching resource ideas including simple lessons for having kids make comics. CLICK HERE.
You guys are so nice to offer these suggestions! I think I've made myself out to be more clueless than I actually am. I've taught comic book terminology. I've shown the great slide show introduction to the novel on the NPR website. We are currently doing background reading on the Monkey King for later comparison with ABC. What I'm having a trouble getting a handle on is how do I fill up an hour of class time with one chapter that will take maybe 20 minutes to read even if we stop and discuss? What kind of work should my students be doing with the novel? When I've taught regular novels, there are usually too many directions I can go with my lessons, and I'm sad that I can't get to everything. I look at the panels of ABC and think, "Okay, after we talk about what these panels mean, what are we supposed to do?" I'm usually not one to use published teaching guides, but I really wish I had one for this book. I get that we should be discussing "stereotypes" (or whatever), but I'm having a hard time figuring out how to actually make a lesson out of it. I usually LOVE to write curriculum, but I am drawing a blank with this book. Although it was not my choice to teach American Born Chinese, the kids are really excited about it, and I don't want to damper their enthusiasm with my lack of creativity!
I used ABC with an English methods class, and they were totally divided about whether they would even teach it (those who wouldn't be comfortable teaching it felt that the racial slurs would be tricky for discussion), so kudos to you guys who are including it in your courses! As for activities, Susannah, would your students be able to reflect on their own racial/ethnic identity and to split their identity into three similar facets (a folk tale or myth, an "ideal" or "striving" representative of the group, and a "worst-case" ethnic embarrassment)? Could they imagine an "American Born African" or "American Born Irish" story, and if so, could they illustrate a few panels of such a story? Also, as I reached the stunning "revelation" in ABC, I remember reflecting--not for the first time, of course--that even positive stereotypes ("Asians are good at math") are limiting for individuals. Are your students able to articulate how they are limited by positive as well as negative stereotypes? Could they write a guide for members of other groups on "myths vs. reality about my group?"

Finally, there's a really funny book called Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions by Christian Lander

Your students might enjoy some excerpts from this.
Hey Susannah,
I love this book and was so excited to get the opportunity to teach it this year... because much of the book takes place at school and you're dealing with Jin's struggles with assimilation and "fitting in", we did a lot of work around how stereotypes exist in our lives and communities, within the school and in the community we live and work in. I thought that this way a great entry point for the kids, who do understand the desire to be cool and will change themselves to do this (like, when Jin perms his hair to look more white).

We used the book to really have a better understanding of stereotypes, and how they form, function and are perpetuated through media and culture. Because a lot of my kids don't have much interaction with Asian-American people, we looked at some historical images in the media (WWII propaganda, Warner Bros cartoons, Mr. Yunioshi from Breakfast at Tiffany's) and examined some stereotypes that we might have held about Asian people, and then turned it on ourselves to talk about how it feels to be stereotyped. Since my students are all Latino and African-American, they understand this pretty acutely... then we also did some role playing and I created school-based scenarios that played on stereotypes, so we could try to strategize for how to deal with people who are making assumptions about others based on their race, gender, sexuality, style, etc (these were based on themes/situations in the book, and also generated from students' real experiences at school, and was totally engaging for them).

The structure of the book is really interesting to me, as well. The way that the stories begin separately and weave themselves into one story, the fact that Jin literally divides himself into two characters to represent how it feels to be Chinese and growing up in America, the search for a place where he belongs and in accepting and loving his culture and in turn, himself... these were all discussions that we had. I could teach a whole class/unit on the character of Chin Kee. And even the monkey king gets into the stereotype theme (and fit in really well with the New York Post cartoon portraying the president as a monkey) when he is "just a monkey" from the perspective of the deities... Next year, I'd like them to write their own comics, and possibly use Comic Life, but I didn't get there this year.

I'd be happy to email you some materials, graphic organizers and such to get you going! Good luck and let me know how I can help!

Wow! You guys are so good. You have so many great ideas. I fall into the category of the teacher who doesn't feel totally comfortable with teaching this book. My students are mostly African-American and Latino with a few white kids in each class. I have one Vietnamese kid in one class (and the Latino kids call him "Chino"). I guess I worry that in this day and age when everyone is so TOUCHY that I'll be making a point about sterotypes and have angry parents calling me, "Your teacher said WHAT?!" I see that the book has plenty of potential for self-reflection. I'm just not sure how to handle a class discussion. I guess I will learn as I go hope no one gets offended.
Here is a podcast from that highlights American Born Chinese:
Hi there,

I know I'm responding to this post really late, but in case this info is still useful, there is a link on the publisher's website to some lesson plans:

John Isaacson



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