Standard Lesson

Comic Makeovers: Examining Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Media

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five 50-minute sessions
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Stereotyped images create false ideals that real people can't hope to live up to, foster low self-esteem for those who don't fit in, and restrict people's ideas of what they're capable of. In this lesson, students explore representations of race, class, ethnicity, and gender by analyzing comics over a two-week period and then re-envisioning them with a "comic character makeover." This activity leads to greater awareness of stereotypes in the media and urges students to form more realistic visions of these images as they perform their makeovers.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Our students are surrounded by texts, print and nonprint, that take advantage of the increasing options for combining words, images, sounds, and other media to create a publication. As these options increase, the capabilities that students must develop to be knowledgeable members of their literacy communities also increase. As the 1975 NCTE Resolution on Promoting Media Literacy states, "new critical abilities 'in reading, listening, viewing, and thinking' . . . enable students to deal constructively with complex new modes of delivering information, new multisensory tactics for persuasion, and new technology-based art forms."

Perhaps one of the simpler forms of media to explore in the classroom is the cartoon or comic strip. As Rocco Versaci explains, however, cartoons can be quite valuable in the classroom, for "placing a comic book-the basic form of which [students] no doubt recognize-into the context of the classroom . . . can catch students off guard in a positive way, and this disorientation . . . [can lead] students to become more engaged by a given work" (62).

Further Reading

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).

Materials and Technology

Daily copies of newspaper comics for a two-week period, or access to comics online (see Websites section for examples)



Note that this site does have ads.

Note that this site does have ads.

Note that this site does have ads.

Please check that comics are appropriate for your students before using this site.

Note that this site does have ads. Please check that comics are appropriate for your students before using this site.


  • If you have not discussed the use of gender-fair language with your students, it's useful to do so before they begin analyzing the cartoons and comic strips so that they are tuned in to the ways that language use can communicate bias and stereotypes. The Purdue OWL's handout on Non-Sexist Language is a good place to start. The ReadWriteThink lesson Avoiding Sexist Language by Using Gender-Fair Pronouns is another useful resource.

  • Preview available comics and choose a selection that is appropriate for your classroom. When you explain the comic makeover project to your class, you will need to explain how students will access the comics—will they go to online comics sites? will you provide them printouts? will they check the daily newspaper?

  • (Optional) If you're using online comics, you may want to print the comics that your students are examining so that you can cut away and discard bordering material on the pages (such as advertisements, some of which may be inappropriate for your class). Prior to the first class meeting, you may want to have students brainstorm a list of comics that they are interested in so that you can print selections that they will enjoy working with for this project.

  • Make copies of the Comic Strip Planning Sheet, Comic Makeover Project assignment, and, if desired, the Cartoon Analysis Worksheet.

  • Test the Comic Creator student interactive on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tool and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • discuss characteristics of various stereotypes in our society.

  • develop an understanding of the impact of stereotypes in television and print media, in particular cartoons and comic strips.

  • develop the insights necessary to evaluate critically the messages disseminated by the mass media.

  • practice applying a formal strategy for analyzing, critiquing, and rethinking print media that combines visual and text elements (in particular cartoons and comics).

Session One

  1. Share the Cartoons Still Stereotype Gender Roles Press Release with your class. Since it's a short piece, you can read it to the class, but they will benefit from a copy of the article or having the article's URL so that they can refer to it over the course of this project as needed. If you prefer to focus on a stereotype other than gender, useful Websites are available in the Resources section.

  2. Once you've read the press release completely, ask students to point out details from the piece that help prove the researchers' point that cartoons stereotype gender roles (e.g., male characters outnumber female characters; and female characters are flatter than male characters). Make a list of these characteristics on the board or on chart paper. Note that you will return to this list in later sessions, so chart paper would be preferred if your board is likely to be erased between sessions.

  3. Turn students' attention to other kinds of stereotyping—unfair or unrealistic representation of race, ethnicity, religion, and class. Ensure that students understand each of the terms. Customize the list to fit your class and other projects you're working on. For instance you might want to add ageism to the list of stereotypes to consider.

  4. Divide students into small groups, and have each group choose a television cartoon to explore in class. Students will need to be familiar enough with the cartoon to discuss its representation of characters; thus, it's probably best to let students select the cartoons themselves than to assign cartoons. However, you should probably remind students to choose a cartoon that is acceptable for class discussion (e.g., Powerpuff Girls, The Fairly OddParents, and SpongeBob SquarePants). If necessary, you might also point out cartoons that you deem unacceptable, telling students why so that they understand the limitations.

  5. Have students explore the cartoon that they've chosen for the stereotypes that have been identified in the discussion. Ask them to work with two large goals in mind:

    1. Look at the portrayal of gender in the cartoons, considering the list of characteristics gathered from the APA press release. Has the portrayal of gender changed since 1997, and if so, how?

    2. Look at other features of the characters in the cartoon—race, ethnicity, religion, class, and so forth. Create a list of the characteristics that demonstrate that the cartoon your group is examining is or isn't stereotyped.

  6. Allow students the rest of the session to work on their analysis. Explain that they will present and discuss their findings with the rest of the class during the next session. Each group will have up to five minutes to share their findings.

  7. Circulate among students as they work on this project. The purpose of this activity is for students to practice the skills that they'll use in the focused, individual examination of the comic strip; therefore, provide positive feedback on the analytical skills that they'll need to use in later sessions. Likewise, make suggestions for issues that students may be missing in their observations of the cartoons (e.g., what do the different species of sea life represent in SpongeBob SquarePants?).

  8. For homework, students may want to watch the cartoon that their group is analyzing. (That's one homework assignment that they're sure to enjoy!)

Session Two

  1. Remind students of the goals of their group analysis of a television cartoon. Answer any questions students have.

  2. Give students five to ten minutes to make last-minute preparations and to practice their presentation.

  3. Have groups present their findings, sticking closely to the five-minutes-per-group guideline that you've established. As students work, ask them to connect to the list of characteristics created during the previous session.

  4. Ask students to listen for details from the presentations that help prove whether the cartoons stereotype gender roles, race, ethnicity, religion, class and so forth.

  5. Once all presentations are complete, ask students to point out details from the piece that help prove the groups' points that cartoons stereotype (or don't). Make a list of these characteristics on the board or on chart paper. Again, you will return to this list in later sessions, so chart paper would be preferred if your board is likely to be erased between sessions.

  6. By the end of class, arrange the lists into a series of checklist questions that students can use to analyze comics.

  7. (Optional) This can be a good opportunity for a minilesson on parallelism. Note how to make sentence structure and verb tense match as you revise the brainstormed list into the checklist. Talk aloud as you write the sentences so that students understand the composing choices that you are making. Provide positive feedback when students create parallel items for the checklist themselves.

Session Three

  1. Review the checklist of questions that students composed during the previous class session. Answer any questions, and make any corrections or additions.

  2. Share the Comic Makeover Project assignment with students. As you discuss the assignment, explain how the checklist that you've compiled can be used to analyze the comic strips for the project.

  3. Add details on the comic strips that students will use and how they will access them (online, printed handouts from you, daily newspaper, and so forth).

  4. (Optional) If you have not pre-selected the comics, remind students of any content guidelines for the comics that they choose. Let them know if any comics are completely off-limits as well.

  5. Explain the timeline you've chosen for the analysis. Students can gather and analyze the comics over the next two weeks, or students can gather the comics for two weeks from online comic archives, saved newspapers, or printouts that you provide so that they can begin the analysis immediately.

  6. Demonstrate the process of summarizing and evaluating with a sample comic strip.

  7. Divide students into small groups and allow them to begin their work on the project in class. The groups should support each other and share ideas. Circulate among students as they work.

Session Four

[Note: These next two sessions take place after two-week analysis of the comic strips is completed. Depending upon the timeline you've chosen for the project, you may allow additional time for students to work in class prior to this session, where they use the Comic Creator to rewrite their comic strips.]

  1. Distribute the Comic Strip Planning Sheet.

  2. Demonstrate the basic steps for rewriting the comic strips using the Comic Creator.

  3. Allow students the remainder of the class period to plan their makeover using the Comic Strip Planning Sheet. Alternatively, you can share the planning sheet and demonstrate the Comic Creator and then have students use the Comic Strip Planning Sheet to plan their makeovers for homework.

Session Five

  1. Review the use of the Comic Strip Planning Sheet and the Comic Creator.

  2. Students will use the Comic Creator during this class period to create their revised and rewritten comic strip. Keep the focus of this session on revising the character's behavior and language as well as the plot, rather than worrying about the visual representation of the comic strip character. It's unlikely that the characters in the Comic Creator will be an ideal match for the characters in the comic strips that your students are making over. Let this part of the project focus on the way that words and situations can create biased or unrealistic representations. Alternatively, you can print blank comic strip panes and have students draw their revised comics.

  3. While students work, again encourage them to interact with one another, to share and receive feedback on their plans for comic strips.

  4. After the comic strips are printed out, students can decorate them with markers or other classroom supplies.

  5. Depending upon the pace of the project, you may need to give students additional time in-class or at home to complete the other parts of the project. Ask students to turn in two copies of the comic strip, along with one copy of the supporting materials for their project (one copy of the strip is for you to evaluate, and the other copy can be posted and shared in the classroom).


Student Assessment / Reflections

For formal assessment, use the Comic Character Makeover Rubric which is tied to both the analysis of the existing comics and the revision of that comic strip.

Additionally, you can ask students to freewrite on the following reflective question: As you examined and revised your comic strip, what did you realize that you didn't notice before about your particular comic strips or comics and cartoons in general?

Informal feedback from students who read the revised comics and discussion of various stereotypes are also valid outcomes. Provide support for the recognitions about misrepresentation in the media that students make during this project.

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