Maus chapter 1: In the Beginning, Life is Good

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SWBAT analyze how characters develop over the course of a text by creating two character timelines for Maus.

Big Idea

Students juxtapose the young and the old. How does history change a person?

Lesson Intro: Personal Bias and Fears about Teaching the Holocaust

The first time I taught  Holocaust literature, I was teaching 8th grade.  It was the play version of The Diary of Anne Frank.  Most of my students understanding of the Holocaust came from movies not an academic study in a social studies class.  I did not have any Jewish students nor did any of my students admit to knowing any Jews.  In order to explain some of the cultural references in the play, I revealed to the class that I am Jewish.  My Jewish skin is not a skin I am comfortable wearing.  As we worked though the play, the majority of the students were interested and respectful.  However, I had one student who had some aggressive opinions about both Jews and the Holocaust.  

I did not want to stifle discussions however it became increasingly difficult.  So I called home after school.  His dad called me a Jew bitch and said that his son was the only person in the class speaking the truth.  It was pretty late in the afternoon and I needed to process the conversation and decide how to proceed.  I decided that I would talk to my principal when I got to school first thing in the morning.  

The next day, I arrived at school and went directly to the principal's office.  I told her what happened.  She was concerned but not sure how to proceed.  I was not sure what I wanted her to do.  While I was in her office, two girls from my first period class came to the office.  I heard my name so my principal and I walked into the exterior office to see what was going on. The girls were telling the security monitor that someone has trashed my door.  

My principal and the monitor accompanied me to my classroom that has a door that is open to the outside.  A giant swastika with the words die Jew bitch is painted on the door. 

This incident has forever changed my attitude about teaching Holocaust literature.  I believe it is both necessary and terrifying.  Now I have three Jewish students in my class.  I don't want them to ever feel the anxiety and insecurity I felt when I looked at my classroom door.  I have to be hyper vigilant about the discourse in my class not just for me but for the non-Jewish and Jewish students who deserve a safe place to learn.

Let's Get Stared: Draw a Plot

15 minutes

The students' cultural presentations are done--we are finally completely finished with the carry over presentations from the second unit.  The students are used to the first 30 or 40 minutes of class being reserved for presentations, but now with them completed, I want to get moving on the lesson right away.

I tell my students we are starting with notes and that they have one minute to write a definition of the word PLOT.  Maus is nonfiction, however, it is the fist novel of the year.  Therefore, I want to review the basic structure of plot and the terminology associated with it. I expect students to use the vocabulary of this content area, and if there are inconsistencies, I will clarify the correct terms so we have a common vocabulary (L 9-10.4).  

Next, I go over the objective for the day and I show them a plot map which I ask them to draw and label.  Plot and plot maps should be review so I expect this task not to take much time. 

After a few minutes, I move to the board in the back of my classroom.  I draw the plot map and ask them to help me label it.  Students call out the Parts of the plot as I label them on the board.

Next, I decide to also review conflict.  I ask them what are the types of conflict.  I write them on the board.  This background knowledge will help students as we begin to read Maus today.

Building Knowledge: Parts of the Plot

20 minutes

Even though my students could name all the parts of the plot.  I want to make sure everyone understands the definitions and purposes of the parts of the plot, so I quickly review the definition for each term.  The students write it down in their notes. Now, all of the students have a reference in their notes for review. 

Building Knowledge: The Voice of Art and Valdek Spiegelman

15 minutes

With the vocabulary housekeeping finished, it is time for the good stuff.  I am hyper focused on my students understanding that this may be graphic novel, the characters may be drawn as animals, but it is a true story and these are real people.  I use the book Meta Maus and the CD-ROM that comes with the book as a reference.  I can put each page of the novel on the smartboard and it also contains audio clips of Art and his father Vadek speaking. Listening to Art Spiegelman explain his narrative choices based on his father's recorded interviews will help students analyze the structure of the text (RL 9-10 5).

Before I put the book up, I have them listen to an audio piece on Art Spiegelman talking about writing Maus.  The students have to answer the following questions. 

•What prize did Spiegelman win for the graphic novel? How many years did it take him to write it?
•Why did Spiegelman chose to write a graphic novel instead of a traditional book?
•Why does Speigelman call cartooning a basic language?
•Identify a fact that interested you. 

After listening to the piece, the students compare their answers in case they missed something.  Next we report out to the class.  


Spiegelman, Art, and Art Spiegelman. MetaMaus: A Look inside a Modern Classic, Maus. New York:Pantheon, 2011. Print. 

Building Knowledge: Timeline of Events

30 minutes

Next, I put the first pages of Maus on the Smart board.  I ask the students to analyze the preface to chapter one and make predictions about what the preface says about Art and Vadek's relationship.  

Then we discuss how the chapters are divined into two plots:  the present (Art interviewing Vladek) and the past (flashbacks to Valdek's story).  In order to track the development and notate how the characters change over time in the novel.  The class will create a timeline of events for each plot in Maus. As the students read Maus and add to the timeline, they will be able to analyze how the characters change over time and the how these changes impact the plot (CCSS RL 9-10. 3).

Finally, I ask them to work in groups to create a timeline of the two plots in Maus.


Closing: In the Beginning for Art and Valdek

5 minutes

I ask for volunteers to share their timelines of Art's life in chapter one with the class.  As the students give me details, I write the information on the giant timeline on the board.

Next, I ask about Valdek's life. I have a student volunteer write the information on the timeline.  The goal is to create a timeline of each character's life and show how they develop and change over the course of the text (CC RL 9-10 3). Each chapter the students will add to the timeline. The information on the timeline will clarify the plot and help to develop the discussions the class will have on characterization.