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Lesson Plan

Making It Visual for ELL Students: Teaching History Using Maus

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Making It Visual for ELL Students: Teaching History Using Maus

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Unit
Estimated Time Fourteen 50-minute lessons
Lesson Author

Christian W. Chun

Toronto, Ontario

Martha Atwell

Los Angeles, California


International Literacy Association



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From Theory to Practice



This unit for secondary English-language learners (easily adaptable for reluctant readers) is designed to develop students' confidence and sense of autonomy in reading through the intellectually substantive graphic novel Maus. Maus deals with the traumatic history and enduring legacy of the Holocaust through multiple narratives of a father, mother, and son.

Ongoing lesson activities involving vocabulary study and reading strategies support students' comprehension of the novel. Since Maus is the story of a son telling his father's story, students make personal connections to the text as they interview a family member and retell a story about that person's past. Students use websites listed in the lesson resources for research into World War II, the Holocaust, and human rights. Structured discussion encourages students to relate human rights concepts to events in the novel, historical events, and events in their own experience.

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Maus (Vols. I & II) by Art Spiegelman (Pantheon Books, 1986; 1991)

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Chun, C.W. (2009). Critical literacies and graphic novels for ELLs: Teaching Maus. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 53(2), 144153.

  • Teaching graphic novels can be an alternative to traditional literacy pedagogy, which ignores the dynamic relationships of visual images to the written word.

  • The multimodalities of graphic novels such as Maus and Persepolis, along with their engaging content reflecting the diverse identities present in many classrooms, work in tandem to help deepen students' reading engagement and develop their critical literacies.

  • Making connections between these stories and students' own experiences, and drawing on their outside multiliteracies practices aid literacy development.


Guthrie, J.T. (2004). Teaching for literacy engagement. Journal of Literacy Research, 36(1), 130.

  • Students' engaged reading is "often socially interactive" (p. 4). These interactions are clearly evident in the reading club, chat room, blog, and posting activities that have flourished in the wake of recent phenomenally popular books among adolescent and adult readers.

  • Students' increased engagement with particular genres (in this case, graphic novels) can facilitate their entry and apprenticeship into important social networks that amplify opportunities for academic success in mainstream classes.


New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 6092.

  • One approach that fosters reading engagement involves a pedagogy of multiliteracies with its four dimensional instructional framework:
    • Situated practice, which draws in part from students' own life experiences

    • Overt instruction that introduces meta-languages to deconstruct the myriad and multimodal ways in which meaning is constructed

    • Critical framing of the cultural and social context in which meaning is disseminated and understood

    • Transformed practice that aims to re-situate all of these meaning-making practices to work in other cultural sites or contexts

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