A Lesson Plan on Maus

I made this for a class (er, one I was in a student in, rather than one I taught.)


Preliminary Information
Lesson Two of Twelve Date:  Tuesday Month/ Day 2015
Grade: Eight Number of Students: 30 Course/ Subject: English Language and Composition
Unit/ Theme: “The Victims of the Holocaust” Period/ Time

Estimated Duration: 40 Minutes

Where in the unit does this lesson occur?

Beginning of the unit √

Middle of the unit

End of the unit.

Lesson Materials:

Structures or Grouping for the lesson. Check any that apply.

Whole Class  √

Small Group √


Other (Specify): Independent work √


Lesson Two: “Maus Chapter One”

  • Central Focus: The central focus of these lessons is for students to consider the ways individuals can tell the stories of other people, and some of the artistic decisions Art Spiegelman makes in telling his father’s story the way he decides to tell it in his grahic novel Maus. The first chapter of Maus covers how Art Spiegelman’s parents, whose experiences are the center of the saga, meet in Poland just prior to the rise of the Nazis. There are three central questions. What has Art Spiegelman revealed about these individuals? That leads to a related question about why he decided to also reveal some of their flaws. Vladek, Art’s father, spends four years romantically involved with a young woman he has no intention of marrying partly, because she has no dowry. In portions of the story set decades later, Vladek is rather miserly and does not have a close relationship with his only son. Art’s mother’s appearance is described in unflattering terms in the 1930s sequences, and it is casually mentioned that she has committed suicide by the time Art decides to tell the story. The final question is about whether Art was right to have devoted time and resources to the years before the arrival of the Nazis, which is what the book is about.
  • Context/ Rationale: This lesson is part of an interdisciplinary unit on the Victims of the Holocaust, as a way to utilize the advantages of Curriculum Integration (Beane, 1999.) The utilization of a graphic novel has numerous benefits, particularly to ELLs (Cary, 2004) but it is a new way of considering unfamiliar material. The first chapter of Maus is about introducing the characters, rather than about any major historic event. In the next lesson, covering the second chapter of Maus, historic events such as the rise of the Nazis in Poland, and conflicts with communists play a major role in the narrative, so that students will be able to incorporate what they are simultaneously learning about this period of European history in their Social Studies class. Later ELA lessons in the unit would cover the remainder of Maus, and also use elements of Spiegelman’s Metamaus. The latter features commentary and supplementary material on Maus, including interviews with writer/ artist Art Spiegelman on three questions the class will consider at different points (Why did he use the comic book medium? Why did he depict the Jews as mice? Why did he write about the Holocaust?), his primary sources (transcripts and audio of interviews) and a DVD rom with earlier drafts to consider questions on artistic decisions.

Prior Academic Knowledge and Experiences

  • Prior Knowledge: The first English lesson of the Unit will cover the vocabulary of Graphic Novels/ comic books/ comix (Art Spiegelman’s preferred term for the medium) to prepare students for what is likely their first academic study of this particular art form. On the same days, they will also cover the era in which the book is set in their History classes.
  • Gaps in Knowledge: In order to proceed with the lesson, students have to be accept the premise of Maus: a meticulously researched work about real people in which everyone is depicted as an animal. There are terms that like “hosiery factory” and “gefilte fish” that might confuse the students. Vladek speaks in a slightly grammatically incorrect way characteristic of Eastern European immigrants which might be seen as an artistic error by some of the students. There is also a concern that Early Language Learners might conclude that this is appropriate academic language.
  • Common Misunderstandings: The story jumps around a lot chronologically, with an opening prologue in 1958 when the author was a boy, while Chapter One is bookended by a conversation in the 1970s which features extended flashbacks to the mid-1930s (and there’s also a flashback within that flashback). The text is in English, but characters often speak in other languages, and there is one scene in which a character switches from English to Polish for humorous effect. These transitions might take some getting used to for the students. Later chapters will address the symbolism of the representations of various nationalities (Jewish individuals as mice, Germans as cats, Americans as dogs) but this may be a difficult topic to table for later discussion, as it is the most prominent example of artistic license in the work. It may be difficult for students to keep track of the characters, and they might not understand particular frames of reference. Given that this might not be an example of a culturally responsive curriculum (Cramer, Bennet 2015) it is possible that many students will not connect with the experiences of Jewish immigrants and their families in the 20th

Learning Objectives

  • In this lesson, students will be able to discuss artistic decisions about what was included in an informational text, and how those inclusions augment the whole.

Common Core State Standards (ELA Grade Seven)

  • RI 7.5 “Analyze the structure an author uses to organize a text, including how the major sections contribute to the whole and to the development of the ideas.”

 Academic Language Demands

  • Key Academic Terms: Context, Flashback, Interpretation
  • Language Functions: Students will successfully participate in discussions by considering the other ways in which this story could be told from a plot perspective. Some of those discussions will be in an Accountable Talk format, requiring the students to demonstrate an ability to utilize academic language.

Evidence and Assessment of Student Learning

  • Homework (Formal baseline): The students will hand in a homework n which they wrote about what they’ve learned about the character of Vladek Spiegelman.
  • Do Now (Informal Baseline): In the beginning of the class, the students will be asked to come up with words to describe Vladek, which they can support using the text. This builds upon the homework, and gives a sense of whether the class has been able to understand an unconventional narrative.
  • Accountable talk (Informal formative): The students will engage in a conversation in the Accountable talk format based on the probing question: Was it right for Art to reveal these bad things about his parents in a story about the things they suffered through? A follow-up question will indicate the relevance of the topic on current events.
  • KWL Chart (Formal Formative): Provides a sense of the students’ level of awareness about the material.

Instructional Strategies and Learning Tasks

  • Launch/ Motivation (~5 Minutes): For the Do Now, the students will go up to the board and write words they would use to describe Vladek Spiegelman, based on the reading. They would then answer a few questions about the words they chose and why.
    • For the homework, the students will have been expected to read Pages 5-24 of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which consists of the introduction, and the first chapter. They were supposed to write about what they learned about Vladek (Art Spiegelman’s father), using supporting evidence from the text. The launch builds on the homework, and leads into the first phase of the instructional strategies, as much of the discussion regards how Vladek is shown in the comics, and whether is was appropriate for Art to reveal these things about his father.
  • Class Discussion (~12 Minutes): A class discussion (Accountable talk format) would follow as students discuss whether it was appropriate for Art to expose his parents’ shortcomings, given the incredible things they would go on to suffer.
    • Key Question: Was it right for Art Spiegelman to show unflattering information about real people in a story that is about the horrible things that happen to them?
    • Rationale: Accountable talk (Resnick 1999) provides a frame for larger class discussions, in which the teacher can guide the discussion if need be, but not dominate it. The question has students analyzing the text, encouraging higher-order thinking, as they learn to be more critical about information in a memoir.
    • Key Question: Should the media be more respectful about unsavory details of people who suffer bad experiences?
    • Rationale: This would also tie the events of Maus and the ethical considerations into current events, in an effort to make the material more relevant and culturally responsive. (Cramer, Bennet 2015) A contemporary example of that question would be the shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina, and whether the media had any business reporting that he owed money in child support. This gets the kids to consider the question from a new perspective.
  • Groupwork (~10 Minutes): Students will get into smaller groups (4-5 students) to consider a difference in the point of view between the father and son. Vladek says that he doesn’t want the opening material in the book, because it has nothing to do with Germany or the Holocaust. Art disagrees, because it’s more real. The groups would later share their findings with the rest of the class.
    • Key Question: Should the story have started at a later point?
    • Rationale: Students are taught to think critically about another decision made in an informational text.
    • Key Question: Why would someone feel differently?
    • Rationale: This would encourage students to look at the question from a different perspective, even if they all strongly believe one side to be correct.
  • Independent Work (~7 Minutes): Students will then make a Preliminary KWL chart about what they know, and what they’re interested in learning about Vladek’s experiences.
    • Rationale: This engages the students’ metacognition and awareness of what they have learned.
  • Closure (~3 Minutes): For the Exit Ticket, students will describe three things about either Anja or Lucia (two other characters in the narrative) using supporting evidence from the text.
    • Rationale: Much of the class discussion was about the father/ son relationship that inspired several questions about artistic decisions. This gets the students to remember that there’s more to the story than that.

Differentiation and Extension

  • Differentiation: Students will learn from one another in small-group discussions and class discussions. Accountable Talk provides a frame for students struggling to use traditional academic language. The questions allow for a variety of answers.
  • Extension: A major aspect of the unit is the consideration of the artistic decisions made by Art Spiegelman.

Accommodation and Student Supports:

  • Whole Class: If I notice numerous students have the same misunderstanding, I would pause the class to cover that material and make sure that everyone is on the same metaphoric page.
  • Students with similar needs: The lesson includes a small group activity which allows me time to find students who require one on one explanations to better understand the material.
  • Individual Students: The class guided Accountable Talk, small-group discussions and various writing assignments would allow me opportunities to check in on individual students.

About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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