AmericanBornChinese.jpgAmerican Born Chinese: A Unit Dealing with Alienation and Stereotypes


This unit is designed to address alienation and stereotypes, using the graphic novel American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang. This unit would be ideal for 9th graders who will be exposed to alienation due to there grade and age.

Teaching Unit

Standards to be Addressed:
CE 1.1.3 Select and use language that is appropriate (e.g., formal, informal, literary, or technical) for the purpose, audience, and context of the text, speech, or visual representation (e.g., letter to editor, proposal, poem, or digital story).
CE 1.1.7 Edit for style, tone, and word choice (specicity, variety, accuracy, appropriateness, conciseness) and for conventions of grammar, usage and mechanics that are appropriate for audience.

CE 1.1.8 Proofread to check spelling, layout, and font; and prepare selected pieces for a public audience.
CE 1.2.2 Write, speak, and visually represent to develop self-awareness and insight
(e.g., diary, journal writing, portfolio self-assessment).
CE 1.2.3 Write, speak, and create artistic representations to express personal experience and perspective
(e.g., personal narrative, poetry, imaginative writing, slam poetry, blogs, webpages).
CE 1.5.1 Use writing, speaking, and visual expression to develop powerful, creative and critical messages.
CE 2.1.2 Make supported inferences and draw conclusions based on informational print and multimedia features (e.g., prefaces, appendices, marginal notes, illustrations, bibliographies, authors pages, footnotes, diagrams, tables, charts, maps, timelines, graphs, and other visual and special effects) and explain how authors and speakers use them to infer the organization of text and enhance understanding, convey meaning, and inspire or mislead audiences.
CE 2.1.8 Recognize the conventions of visual and multimedia presentations (e.g., lighting, camera angle, special effects, color, and soundtrack) and how they carry or influence messages.
CE 2.2.2 Examine the ways in which prior knowledge and personal experience affect the understanding of written, spoken, or multimedia text.
CE 2.3.1 Read, listen to, and view diverse texts for multiple purposes such as learning complex procedures, making work-place decisions, or pursuing in-depth studies.
CE 3.1.3 Recognize a variety of plot structures and elements (e.g., story within a story, rising action, foreshadowing, flash backs, cause-and-effect relationships, conflicts, resolutions) and describe their impact on the reader in specific literary works.
CE 3.4.1 Use methods of close and contextualized reading and viewing to examine, interpret, and evaluate print and visual media and other works from popular culture.

A Description of the Unit Plan

As someone who spent so much time travelling around the world I noticed a certain commonality in the way that many adolescents behave, I am not saying that all adolescents are the same (because that would be stereotyping) I did notice that there were similarities in behavior. One factor that was highly recognizable as someone who spent much of his time as an outsider was the feeling of alienation and the ever-present standards that were presupposed upon me through stereotypes. These two words hold quite a lot of weight, and tend to be two sides of the same coin (a cliché but a classic); students tend to suffer from unwarranted harassment due to stereotypes that have been previously assumed to be true. In my case the stereotypes that led to my alienation were that Americans are dumb, loud, and uncultured. No matter where I went this could not be avoided thus leading to alienation, fortunately no permanent damage was done, and I sit before you today attempting to compose the beginning ideas of a solution to a problem.

In a way I linked this issue with the way it affects my students and the world, but only sort-of. The reason a unit that discusses stereotypes and alienation is important to a 9th grade classroom is that chances are in some way or another they are a part of this system of alienated and alienator, stereotyper and steroetypee. In a grander scheme of things you could even say that the world as a whole allows itself, even after thousands of years of attempted co-habitation, to fall within this largely idiotic cycle. This issue is important on a small and large scale because we are all perpetrators, and knowing that leads to change.

The works that I intend to look at for this unit are the graphic novels Understanding Comics by Scott Mcloud, and American Born Chinese (ABC for short) by Gene Luen Yang. I will also have a couple movie days where the class will be watching the movie The Joy-Luck Club.

Ideally Understanding Comics will be given a short unit to itself, because it is a rich text that deserves attention, it also helps students improve their visual lexicon, and become adept at describing graphic novels in a more scholarly way. It is also a really cool book for any comic geek to teach in a classroom. If I do not have the time or support to teach this as a separate unit I would certainly use excerpts from the book, especially focusing on the chapter entitled “Blood in the Gutter” as it discusses movement and motion in the unseen spaces between frames, a technique that Yang uses heavily in ABC.

The major focus of this unit will be on American Born Chinese, this story is a very complex meta-narrative that covers three major storylines and four significant characters: The Monkey King, Chin-Kee, Danny, and Jin. Each of these characters will help to almost flawlessly illustrate my points about alienation and stereotypes. The basic theme of this story is fitting in, and what cost it may have on a person, and what one may have to sacrifice in order to be “normal.”

Finally the class will watch The Joy-Luck Club, I believe that this movie not only perfectly complements ABC because of its threaded storyline, and general themes, but it also gives the students a chance to look at some of the differences in messages that are present in the two stories. One example of this is that many of the characters in The Joy-Luck Club are seeking to escape tradition, while one of the themes of ABC is embracing tradition.

As far as differing perspectives go, ABC is perfect for looking at a book from many different angles, each storyline provides the reader with a different perspective that eventually comes to the same conclusion, and students will find themselves on the sides of different characters during different storylines, which should lead to some very interesting and engaging debates.

Controversy is also something that ABC attempts to deal with, and has become the victim of. Gene Yang has actually been threatened due to his portrayal of the stereotypical “Chinese” immigrant that he presents in the character Chin-Kee, just his name is play on the form of the derogatory word for a person of Chinese descent. I believe that this character is an important member of the narrative, it is a character that was designed to make people laugh and them hate themselves for it. I think that Chin-Kee in particular will lead to some very thought-provoking debates that will have many students exploring stereotypes like they never have before.

Overall this unit hold the students to a high standard because of the very nature of the topic, it would be very easy for students to turn this into a Comedy Central Roast, and completely miss the point of this unit, however, I am holding the class to a higher standard and expecting a very high level of maturity in order to address an issue that effects everyone. Especially since, as freshman in high school, they will be experiencing alienation and stereotyping from the older students around them.

Goals of the Unit

· Help students gain awareness of differences, and accept them.

· Discuss the effects of exclusion on the well being of others.

· Learn what stereotypes are and how to work together to remove them from everyday life

· Create a personal story that teaches about stereotypes and alienation.

· Develop a greater visual lexicon, and understand the value of visuals and words together.

Reading Expectations

One of the nice things about this unit is that it involves reading a graphic novel. That does not make the reading simpler, and it should definitely not be an easier unit to teach. What it does do is make the reading more accessible. I have often found that students who have trouble reading will attach a book with more visuals with the same veracity as students who read two or three books a week. The words are broken up into manageable parcels, the visuals are clear and engaging and the pages provide excitement. In the same respect this can be a welcomed challenge for students who have never attempted to read a graphic novel before, the things that seem common knowledge to the comic geeks (such as myself) are often lost on people who have never read a graphic novel before. The “flow” of the page is not yet second nature, and they have to actually work to pick through each panel or frame. In this way I believe that each student will be provided with the opportunity to become active participants in this activity and everyone will have the chance to show their true potential as literary scholars.

Syllabus (Sketch)

Past Unit (hopefully): Scott Mcloud’s Understanding Comics

Lesson 1 – Introduction to ABC

Lesson 2 – Discussion of Introduced Characters

This part of the unit will allow the students to begin discussing their initial understand of stereotypes. By the time the class has reached this point in the story they will have already been introduced to the main characters involved in the book. Which includes the controversial character of Chin-Kee, in order to gain the best experience from this novel the student will debate the merits of Chin-Kee as a character. As far as they can tell is he a necessary component of the story, or is he simply there for (incredibly ill-meant) comic relief. Do the students think that this character is offensive or hysterical, and how does he compare to the other characters within the story.

Lesson 3 – Discussion of Visuals

This lesson will center around discussing the use of visuals in a narrative, what value does it have, and does it make for a better story. This will give the traditional novel readers a chance to express their feelings of the genre. This lesson is also invaluable in allowing the students to actively involve themselves in creating a visual. In this lesson they will be asked to Pantomime a scene from the story and have other members of the class guess where it came from. This will hopefully illustrate the old adage “a pictures worth a thousand words.”

Lesson 4 – Lab Day

This lesson is dedicated to using the website this website allows students to create a comic that is up to six panels long, in one go, if necessary they can add more to create a longer story. This lab time and experimentation time will be invaluable in helping them create their final project.

Lesson 5 – Viewing of Joy-Luck Club

Lesson 6 – Viewing of Joy Luck Club

Lesson 7 – Discussion of Major Themes Common to Both

Lesson 8 – Final Project Due – Present Finished Product to Class

Final Project

The final project for this class will be one that involves creativity, writing, and the ability to get across a strong and serious message and a unique way. The students will be expected to create one of three things either; compose a comic through, hand draw a comic, with color or shading, or write a short story with several pictures either created online or by had that will accompany that story.

The stories that are created should show in some way how stereotypes and alienation have affected the student’s life. I want to see a lot of thought and passion put into their projects, and if there is one thing you can tell when you assign a drawing with writing it is how much time was spent on the work. I expect my students to bring to class pieces of work that are thoughtful and well done, that does not mean I expect Michelangelo around every corner, but I do expect the work to be clean and up to par with their skill in both drawing and writing. Also the students must remember that this is about stereotypes and alienation and how it has affected them personally.

The final product will be presented in front of the class and will be judged based on completion, effort, and theme. The students will also write a short, one paragraph, piece on which comic struck them the most and why.


Created By:

Bryan Stevens, English teacher hopeful, comic enthusiast, liver of life.