Skip to contentContribute to ReadWriteThink / RSS / FAQs / Site Demonstrations / Contact Us / About Us



Contribute to ReadWriteThink

ReadWriteThink couldn't publish all of this great content without literacy experts to write and review for us. If you've got lessons plans, videos, activities, or other ideas you'd like to contribute, we'd love to hear from you.



Professional Development

Find the latest in professional publications, learn new techniques and strategies, and find out how you can connect with other literacy professionals.



Did You Know?

Your students can save their work with Student Interactives.

More more

HomeClassroom ResourcesLesson Plans

Lesson Plan

Pictures Tell the Story: Improving Comprehension With Persepolis

E-mail / Share / Print This Page / Print All Materials (Note: Handouts must be printed separately)


Pictures Tell the Story: Improving Comprehension With Persepolis

Grades 9 – 12
Lesson Plan Type Standard Lesson
Estimated Time Four 40-minute sessions
Lesson Author

Janet M. Ankiel

Basking Ridge, New Jersey


International Literacy Association


Student Objectives

Session 1

Session 2

Session 3

Session 4


Student Assessment/Reflections



Students will

  • Gain knowledge by learning vocabulary and techniques associated with cartoons and graphic novels

  • Apply their knowledge of cartooning strategies and skills to improve their reading comprehension of the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi by
    • examining specific pages and layouts to draw conclusions about the author's purpose and choices

    • exploring how the visual cues support or enhance text comprehension and inform the reader's understanding
  • Synthesize what they have learned by collaboratively preparing a brief oral presentation with an effective visual aid that focuses both on specific elements of graphic novels and key motifs of the text

  • Practice speaking effectively to the whole class in order to transmit thoughts and conclusions

back to top


Session 1

1. Distribute Graphic Novel/Comics Terms and Concepts to students and review it. For this introductory session, focus on the following terms: frame, panel, gutter, graphic weight (tonal difference, patterning, and saturated colors), and text features (captions versus speech balloons).

2. Activate prior knowledge about the situation in the Middle East, the role of religion, and the strictures placed on women. Set deepening students' understanding of these things as their purpose for reading Persepolis and explain that you will use an exploration of the techniques they have just been discussing to accomplish this.

3. Distribute copies of the book and ask students to open to page 3, which is the first page of the story. Direct their attention to the simple lines that frame each panel. Note that gutters are consistent. At this point, life is safe and predictable with a sense of order echoed by this visual regularity. Tell students to watch for changes in the gutters as the story progresses. At what point do they note changes in the gutters? Why does the artist choose to alter the gutters at this time? What emotions do such gutter changes evoke?

4. Ask students to look carefully at the panels on this page (you might have them number the panels from 1 to 5, starting in the top left corner). How many panels are there? How are the panels the same? How do they differ? Why do they think the author made these choices?

5. Ask students to read the captions on page 3. What does the reader learn from the captions? Direct their attentions to the second panel where the author is sitting with a group of little girls all wearing veils. The caption reveals that we can see only a little bit of the author's arm. What is the significance of this caption to the other captions on this page? What is the author foreshadowing?

6. Ask students to look at the third panel that shows a number of people protesting. Ask students to read the caption and then ask them what they notice about this panel when it is compared with the other panels on the page. Why do they think it is darker? What does the darkness symbolize? What emotion is the author representing here? Is this representation effective? What does it tell them about what will happen in the book?

7. Panels 4 and 5 see the addition of various speech bubbles. Ask students what the reader learns from these bubbles. What do the children have to say about the veils? Why do students think they are saying these things? What do the pictures show students doing with their veils? Why?

8. Examine the captions of the various panels on page 3. How do the captions differ from the speech bubbles? What kind of information is provided in the captions versus in the things the characters say?

9. Now that students have an idea of the complexities present in this graphic form, take a few minutes for them to reflect on the challenges this genre represents. Encourage them to produce a free write that explores any feelings of discomfort or confusion (text-to-self connection), connects this book to a previously read text (text-to-text connection), and links the subject matter to current news and events (text-to-world connection).

10. Instruct students to read through to page 9 noting the content of various panels and how they contribute to the understanding of the story. Specifically, they should look for how the graphic elements reveal the narrator's experience with God and religion and how her understanding of the term prophet informs her beliefs. What does it mean that the author wants to be one? What is the significance of her reasons for wanting to be a prophet?

Note: You may want to explore the term prophet further, checking for students' understanding of the concept. Depending on students' experiences, you might conduct a think-pair-share where students recount their understanding of prophet and the roles prophets have played in history, religion, and society. Be prepared to provide direct instruction that includes the following definitions: A prophet speaks by divine inspiration, sometimes predicts the future, and serves as a spokesperson of a movement or cause. You might wish to discuss that the second of the three divisions of the Hebrew Bible is called Prophets. Another example that relates to recent pop culture is the role of prophecy and prophets in the Harry Potter series of books and movies.

11. After about ten minutes of reading, students should spend five minutes discussing what they have discovered with a partner. Each partner will listen attentively so that he or she can report what a classmate discovered, thought, and questioned, and then report to the class. As a closing activity, sample responses for a few minutes.

back to top


Session 2

1. Using the Graphic Novel/Comics Terms and Concepts sheet, continue with an overview of various techniques. Highlight the layout concepts of figures, faces, foreground, midground, and background. When discussing figures, you can begin by referring generally back to the text of Persepolis to talk about how Satrapi portrays faces and what she does with hands and feet.

2. Have students refer to Persepolis, directing their attention to the upper-right panel on page 8, which offers an iconic version of God as an elderly, bearded wise man.

3. Contrast page 8 with page 11. Ask students what they notice about the human faces. How are they different from the image of God? Ask students to talk about why they think the author has chosen to represent the figures in this way and what the significance is to the story.

4. Finally examine the bottom panel on page 9. What do students notice about the faces in this panel? What do they think the figures here represent?

5. To move into a discussion about layout, remind students that understanding text structure can help them to comprehend more deeply. Make an analogy between the devices of poetry or fiction and those of a graphic novel. The poet organizes the poem into stanzas, the traditional novelist uses paragraphs and chapters, and the graphic novelist relies on panels and art in addition to chapters. Understanding these conventions and techniques will enhance the reading experience.

6. You might have students look at the following examples of different layout elements:

a. Page 11, top panel. The image offers a fine example of background providing information that is outside the text of the story.

b. Page 12, middle row, right panel. Placing the figures in the center of the panel with nothing in the background allows the reader to focus on them with no distractions.

c. Page 15, the larger of the two panels. The size and foregrounding of the suffering, flaming figures is powerful and commands attention.

d. Pages 16 and 17, depicting the hands and feet of various characters. Note how they convey many emotions. This next section provides some fine examples of how the artist reveals information about various characters.
  • Page 16, upper left. Father's folded arms suggest resolve

  • Page 16, upper middle. Marij's hands on her hips reveal determination

  • Page 16, bottom left. Marji strides purposefully toward her destiny

  • Page 17, middle left. Marji enumerates key points with her finger

  • Page 17, middle right. Father uses his hand to cover his face in sorrow.
7. Have student pairs read the chapter you have been discussing ("The Bicycle," pages 10-18) and discover additional visual elements that contribute to comprehension. As students read, they should annotate (in their notebooks or using sticky notes) any additional strategies and techniques that you have not already discussed. This guided practice offers you the opportunity to assess students' abilities to make the various necessary connections. Monitor student pairs and listen to their discussions to check for understanding. If time permits, some quick whole-class processing might be helpful.

8. Conduct a whole-class discussion where you summarize the concepts students have studied during Sessions 1 and 2. There are various ways you can do this:
  • Ask students to reflect on the opening pages of the book. Can they identify various emotions that the author reveals both in the text and the art? How does the art help transport them to the world of the main character?

  • Have students select a panel that confuses them and discuss it with a partner. What strategy can they use to improve comprehension?

  • Have students identify panels that variously provide humor, show a character's conflict, teach history, clarify the setting, and underscore the importance of religion.
You might conclude by asking students for predictions about the next chapter of the book.

Homework (due at the start of Session 3): Students should read "The Water Cell" (pages 18-25) and use sticky notes to identify as many graphic elements as possible. On a separate sheet of paper, they should list these elements and link them to the (a) character of the narrator, (b) the role of religion, (c) the political realities of the time period, or (d) the narrator's family relationship as appropriate.

back to top


Session 3

1. Have students get into groups of four to share their observations and conclusions from their homework.

2. Distribute the Oral Presentation Criteria to students and review. Explain that each group should select a specific element (layout, figures, or text) and topic (narrator's character, role of religion, political realities, or the nature of family) from the text they have read so far to present to the entire class. One student will lead the small-group discussion; another will record comments; a third will prepare a visual aid; and the fourth will prepare to present to the class.

3. Students should spend the rest of the session working collaboratively on their presentations. During this cooperative learning segment, observe and record information about how each student completes the assigned tasks using the Anecdotal Observation Form. You should visit each group and set the expectation that everyone must participate (this encourages both individual accountability and collaborative work).

Homework (due at the start of Session 4): Students should prepare for their presentations as necessary.

back to top


Session 4

1. Groups should present their findings. During the presentations, students should exhibit appropriate audience behavior and record notes. Each presenter is in essence teaching an assigned topic to the class. Students need to record key information from each group.

2. Students pose any additional questions they may have about the text they have read so far, the use of the terminology on the Graphic Novel/Comics Terms and Concepts sheet, and background information that is confusing to them.

3. Students should now be ready to complete their reading of the novel and to do any additional assignments on it that you would like to give them. You may want to conclude with a discussion that includes the following questions:
  • How does the author indicate a change in one of the characters?

  • Which technique seems the most successful in revealing the turmoil of the changes in the society?

  • How does the author use diction effectively?

  • How is the role of religion in this book similar to that in your own community? How is it different?

  • In what ways is the family in the book similar to yours? How is it different?

  • What similarities and differences can you identify between the politics of the Middle East and those in our country?

  • These questions might also make good journal prompts for students as they read the rest of the book.

back to top



Students can test how well they learned the terms and concepts associate with graphic novels by completing a crossword puzzle. Visit the online Crossword Puzzles tool and select "Play One of Ours" and the tab labeled "9-12". In the drop-down menu you will find a puzzle titled Crossed and Double CrossedóComic Speak. Students can solve the puzzle online or you can print it off and give them blank copies. For more information about the puzzle, see Playing Puzzles: A Guide for Teachers.

back to top



  • Collect studentsí notes on their peersí presentations and review to see that they have correctly identified key concepts.

  • Observe studentsí participation in discussions during Sessions 2 and 3. Check for studentsí comprehension of the various concepts you have taught, their use of the terminology, and their ability to apply this terminology correctly to the text.

  • Use the Oral Presentation Criteria sheet and Anecdotal Observation Form to assess studentís work individually and in groups.

back to top