Graphic Novel Unit Plan

Instructor: Shanna Fox

Shanna has been an educator for 20 years and earned her Master of Education degree in 2017. She enjoys using her experience to provide engaging resources for other teachers.

Engage your high school students in advanced literary, historical, and cultural concepts by using this graphic novel unit. Students will explore various graphic novel texts and the power of the illustrations and symbolism found within them.

Graphic Novels

Graphic novels are an excellent way to reach students who are resistant to reading full-text novels. However, they offer much more than that! In this graphic novel unit, high school students explore the cultural and historical context of Maus and American Born Chinese. These graphic novels tackle difficult topics, such as the Holocaust, in an accessible and engaging manner. Students will explore the details of the power of the art and symbolism of graphic novels. It's important to address tough topics with students. When you can do so with the high-interest layout and accessible text of a graphic novel, students relate and connect not only to the characters and plot, but to the contextual issues surrounding the content.


Kick off the unit with this Graphic Novel Lesson Plan, which explores the characteristics of this genre. This lesson plan is a great way to reach both struggling learners and advanced students, as its content is simple yet packed with meaning.

Although the summary of the lesson involves student creation of a graphic novel, consider moving this portion to the end of the unit so students stay focused on reading and comprehending the authors' works. Instead of focusing on creation of their own graphic novel, help students build a visual of the graphic novel genre by providing an organizer for them. They can list the characteristics of graphic novels, illustrated books, and text-only novels, as well.

Students can also do some research of their own. Give them a list of graphic novel authors, illustrators, or titles and ask that they research and report back to the class. They can explore the life and work of an author or illustrator, especially how they started in crafting graphic novels. Was it a childhood passion? Did they start out as children's book illustrators and move into graphic novels later? Students can track the path the author or illustrator took to achieve success and use this as an example for their own lives.

Cultural Context

Both the graphic novels highlighted in this unit have a great deal of cultural and historical significance. Explore this Cultural Context in Literature Lesson Plan to frame the literature. Students can explore the cultural and historical themes within the two novels before reading them. Provide them with a list of topics and resources they can use to learn more. Consider adding a short project, in which students write a newspaper-style article about one of the historical or cultural issues addressed by the novels.


Preface the reading of these graphic novels with this Symbolism Lesson Plan to activate prior knowledge and build a foundation to help them understand the deeper meaning of the novels. Add some fun with these Symbolism Activities & Games to get students involved in the topic and ready to use it during reading.

Novel Study

As students read the novels, use these Graphic Novel Discussion Questions to guide their thinking. Give adequate time for processing and discussion between partners or within teams. The heavy topics within these two graphic novels call for periodic debriefing and reflection. Consider asking students to keep journals and record their thoughts as they read. Alternatively, they can also write a diary from the perspective of one of the characters.

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