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Free Unit for Persepolis

Updated: 3 days ago

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Persepolis is a graphic novel memoir by Marjane Satrapi. I first read it when I had to teach 10 Intensified English and this book was part of the curriculum. I enjoyed it because it is smart, but I also learned a lot about a part of the world that I had only known about through conservative media (while I was growing up in the 80s & 90s).


I taught the book a few different times and never felt that I landed 100% on a unit I loved, but on I went, anyway. I realized a few years later, after I was not teaching it anymore, that I really didn't have the world perspective I needed to do it justice. If you use the materials below, just keep that it needs some work in the perspectives area, but there's a lot of good stuff to get you started.


Since I was using this book in an intensified ("honors") class, there is a heavy emphasis on visual analysis. Although my students thought that reading a graphic novel was babyish (at first), they quickly realized that analyzing the art effectively was not easy (nor babyish). The skills they picked up during this unit were meant to help them with the visual analysis they would need to do in AP Lang & Comp.


I have taught this book in a few different ways over the years, so below I typed up my most recent unit. At the bottom are other activities that I've used in the past.



Persepolis Unit

(10 Intensified class)


Objective:

  • Students will be able to discuss the connection between elements of a graphic novel and meaning. 


Essential questions: 

  • What is "culture" and how does it mold one's perspectives?

  • How does art support an author’s message? Persepolis is a graphic novel. Why do you think Satrapi chose this genre to tell her story?



Day 1

Journal: 

  • What is “culture”? Define it the best you can and then describe a “culture” for me (10 minutes) 


Vocabulary: Below are the words from Persepolis that I chose to focus on. I chose them either because they were good SAT words or because they were necessary for understanding the story.

coup d’etat

subversive

frivolities

denounced

decadent 

clandestine

belligerent

opposition

flagellate

avant-garde

diabolical

veritable

chador

secular 

obligatory

bleak 

martyr 

cadaver 

liberated 

fundamentalist

intolerable

asylum 

optimism 

pessimism 

vengeance

degenerate

exiled

stupor

They are all typed up in the handout below, which I give kids a few minutes every day to work on. Thy need to come up with an example sentence and a visual for each word.



-Persepolis overview for kids

  • Briefly address difference between comic and graphic novel (a comic is a short snippet and a graphic novel follows a developed story arc.)

  • "Persepolis is a memoir. The main character, Marjane, grows up during the Iranian Revolution and during the Iran/Iraq war. What’s going on in her country greatly affects Marjane’s personal life. There are a few reasons that I like Persepolis: art, emotion, education."


-Persepolis 1st Page Analysis: Whenever we study a novel or a full-length piece of nonfiction, I always have kids do a close reading of the first page. I usually print the page for them so that they can annotate on it directly. They answer some discussion questions as a follow up. This takes about 20-40 minutes depending on the conversation.


This is also a good time to give kids a list of graphic novel terminology so they can start trying it out during the discussion of the first page.


-Give out books. 


Homework: Read pages 1-17 & STOP. There’s a lot of background to sort through next class. 



Day 2

Journal:

  • To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following quotation: “A critical approach to culture takes into account the power of culture over an individual, and the ways in which we express our individual differences. A critical perspective understands that a single identity can include a hybrid mix of cultures.” (10-15 minutes)


Vocabulary:

  • Continue working on Persepolis vocabulary handout.


Background Knowledge/Lecture: There is a lot of history to unpack in the opening pages of Persepolis, and a lot of it is unfamiliar to the kids so it takes a while to successfully sort through it so that the kids remember and understand. I have just taken to walking them through a lecture, but I had a student teacher who gave the kids articles about the history of Iran and had them create timelines with important events.


Field Trip to Library

  • Take students to the library and have them check out a graphic novel of their choice. Throughout the unit, I give students time to read their choice graphic novel, and at the end of the unit, I have them write a compare/contrast paper between Persepolis and their graphic novel. The only parameter I give them is that they need to choose a graphic novel that "merits study in an advanced literature class." This helps when kids want to read Bones (their favorite 2nd grade book), and I can remind them that they need something worthy of their advancing analysis skills. My other recommendation is to not let kids read Persepolis 2 as their book because it's hard to write a really great compare/contrast paper. Other than that, I've let kids picked whatever they are interested in and it has made for some really great papers at the end of the unit.


Excellent & Intelligent Graphic Novels

Maus 1 & Maus II by Art Spiegelman

March Series by John Lewis, Andrew Adin, and Nate Powell

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Homework: 

  • Read pages 18-46 “The Water Cell” - “The Party” 

  • Answer the following questions &  use pages #’s and text boxes to support your answer: What differing perspectives did you encounter in this piece of the text?



Day 3


Entrance slip:

  • Summarize the changes in power in Iran, starting with how the Father of the Shah got power. Describe the different perspectives that led to the power changes. (5-10 minutes)


Vocabulary:

  • Continue working on Persepolis  vocabulary handout.


Lesson Objective: Students will be able to identify the dominant techniques in a panel and discuss their relevance. 


Introduce panel analysis assignment:

  • Have students take out their list of graphic novel terms. 

  • Assign students a partner and a panel

  • Go over the directions for the assignment (below).


Assignment Directions

  • Prepare a mini presentation with an analysis of your given panel. 

  • Open a PowerPoint. 

  • Don’t worry about titles or anything… 

  • Start by showing your panel and explaining the context. What is happening in the book around this particular panel?  (1st slide)

  • Then, tell me your observations of the graphic novel techniques. What graphic novel techniques are used in this panel? (2nd slide) 

  • Then, get into your analysis. What do the graphic novel techniques highlight? (3rd slide) 

  • Connect the panel to the big picture: Why is this panel important? Is it important to the story? Is it important to someone’s identity? Do we learn about a culture? Do we learn about someone else’s perspective? (4th slide) 

  • 5th slide: Questions and comments. Let your peers ask questions or develop your analysis. 


Good Panels For Analysis:


Homework: Read pages 47-71-“The Heroes” to “The Sheep”



Day 4


Vocabulary:

  • Continue working on Persepolis  vocabulary handout.


Persepolis Analysis Presentations

  • Have students share out their analyses


Homework: Read pages 72-110



Day 5


Vocabulary :

Choose your activity: 

  • Write and perform a song that involves at least 10 of your vocabulary words in a “meaningful” way (2 people only)

  • Write and perform an original poem that uses at least 10 of your vocabulary words in a “meaningful” way. 

  • Create a dramatic talk show: Choose an outgoing and reliable student to be the host, and let that student interview other students, who pose as guests. (no more than 3-4 in a group; create skit on Google doc first and them present. 12+ vocab words )

  • Vocabulary PowerPoint: Choose 7 words that you do not know that well.  For each word, on each slide:  1. The word   2. Pronunciations 3. Antonyms  4. Situations where you would use the word 5. Synonyms   6. What the prefixes and suffixes of the mean (if there are any)


Lesson: Revolution Effects & War/Visual Analysis (Go over Persepolis pages 80-102)


Lesson: Visual Analysis Writing

Lecture/model how to write a developed visual analysis paragraph and then have students write an analysis paragraph about an important panel from the previous night's reading.


Homework:

  • Finish Persepolis

  • Bring your choice graphic novel to class



Day 6


Vocabulary Practice Quiz: I always give the kids a practice vocabulary quiz before the real quiz. My standard vocabulary quiz is to have the students plug the word into a blank in a sentence. My Persepolis vocab quizzes (practice & actual quiz) are for sale in my TpT story.




End of Book Discussion:I give kids a handout with the discussion questions and give them 10 minutes or so to jot down some answers. Once everyone has something to say, I put them into groups of 4-5 and have them share out their answers.


Introduce Compare/Contrast Paper: Thoroughly go over the assignment sheet with the kids and answer any questions.


Homework:

  • Start reading your choice book.

  • Study vocabulary for quiz the class after next.

  • Study Persepolis. Reading test next class (character/plot based)



Day 7


Persepolis Reading Test: I know I am evil for giving the kids detailed reading tests but I don't really care. When I watch them study for these types of tests during study hall, they are scouring the books in small groups, making sure that they know all the characters and plot events. This sort of attention to detail-driven by the fear of my reading quizzes-makes it so that our analysis lessons are a lot more productive (because the kids have actually read the text).


The test I use is below and is for sale in my TpT store.





Compare/Contrast Paper Workshop time 

1. Choose a choice book. 

2. Start reading your choice book

3. Choose your panels.


Homework: Study vocabulary words for vocabulary quiz next class.


Day 8

Vocabulary quiz



Start Compare/Contrast Paper

I always spend a lot of time on hard papers because I like to conference with the kids and give them ample time to work on the paper in class. I would usually start each class with a mini-lesson. After the mini lesson, I would conference with some and let the others work on their paper. I would always leave them a list of steps and then add to it as we completed mini lessons.


Getting the kids to write high quality compare-contrast papers is very hard, so I have hand-outs/mini lessons for the early stages. They have a really hard time connecting the visual art to a theme (as they well should-it is hard), so we spend a lot of time on it.


After the kids have finished reading their choice graphic novel, they need to brainstorm the panels they are going to use for the paper. The handout below helps them walk through that thinking.


Once they get through the brainstorm, I walk them through the outline options. Because these are pretty bright kids, I let them choose between three organizational options. I walk them through all three and then let them decide.




Days 9-15

After the outline, we move into workshopping thesis statements. This is very hard and takes forever, but I think the challenge is worth it. The biggest mistake kids make is forgetting to connect the literary devices to meaning (or, at least, a developed one.) They usually get it after looking at some examples.


After this point, the kids tend to separate in their production speed: some are way ahead and some get stuck on the brainstorm. It is what it is and I try to conference and move kids along the best I again. Once I notice a pattern across outlines or rough drafts, I'll stop to do a mini-lesson. These lessons range from going over the "Known-New" contract or improving assertions.


For the kids who are workshopping and not conferencing, students follow the workshop steps on the board and pick up where they left off the class before.


Typical "To Do" List for a Workshop Day

1. Choose a choice book. 

2. Start reading your choice book

3. Choose your panels/Fill in brainstorm sheet

4. Fill in outline sheet

5. Type up rough draft


When most kids are close to a rough draft, I pick a "rough draft" due date and have the kids peer edit with the rubric. Once we cross that milestone, they are just a day or so from turning in their final copy.





Day 16

Last (and best), I have the students create their own "graphic novel excerpt." It's one of my favorite assignments of the whole year. Basically I tell kids to pretend they are writing a memoir of their life in graphic novel form, and then from there to choose one moment to depict on a 8x11 page. They do not have to be artists, they just need to be purposeful in the way they design the page. I have read many sad, funny, and powerful stories over the years. Enjoy!


Once the kids finished their graphic novels, I had them write an analysis of their own work and hang it on the wall with their graphic novel "excerpt." Then we did a gallery walk. Here are the directions and the gallery walk handout.


Gallery Walk Directions


-Walk around the room and read everyone’s graphic novels. 


-Choose 5 favorites and leave positive comments for the creator on the comment sheet. This is not a peer review, so focus on what the creator did well. Focus on the creator’s use of panel, gutter, camera angle, page layout, graphic weight, text box, speech bubble, or sign text. Comment on how the style emphasized/underscored the message of the story.


-After commenting on a style element, feel free to tell the creator which panel was your favorite or why you enjoyed the comic overall. 


-Write down the name of the comics you commented on and turn this sheet into me. 


Comics I Commented On

1. 

2.

3.

4. 

5.






Extension Materials





Articles



Persepolis Reading Guides

(Big Chunks)

I have also taught Persepolis to a summer school class as well as a 10 Integrated class (during COVID). For both of these classes, it was easier to make a concrete reading guide. The first set of reading guides is from my summer school class. We had a long day (4 hours), so they were able to read Persepolis in much bigger chunks, so the reading guides were stretched out accordingly.





Persepolis Reading Guides

(Small Chunks)

This set of reading guides was for my 10 Integrated class. They had to digest Persepolis in smaller pieces, so the guides are for a shorter amount of pages than the guides above. I even got the page numbers next to a fair amount of questions, which must have meant I was on my game at some point.





Movies

The Persepolis movie is very fun to watch because it feels like the art was lifted off of the page and brought to life, but the content also sticks very close to the novel so I don't feel like it expands out study of Persepolis.


Since then, I have been on the lookout for other movies that fit well with Persepolis, are engaging, and are also school appropriate, so my go-to movies over the last few years have been Wadjda and Offside.




Wadjda is directed by Haifaa al Mansour, the first female Saudi Arabian director.  (Here is her interview with The Guardian.) Wadjda is about a girl growing up in Saudi Arabia who wants a bike. It's such a simple wish, but because of the society she lives in, she may as well be wishing for a ride to the moon.


After the movie, we spend 15-20 minutes informally discussing Wadjda, and I award participation points to those who jump in.


We discuss the following:

1. How is Wadjda similar yet different from Marjane?

2. How is Wadjda's mother similar yet different from Marjane's mother?

3. How is Wadjda's father similar yet different from Marjane's father?


Offside is an Iranian film directed by Jafar Panahi. In the movie, a group of girls who want to watch a professional game in a stadium, a place where they are not allowed. This movie, although a bit long/slow at some points, was good overall and a good pairing with Persepolis.



What movies do you enjoy pairing with Persepolis? Please comment below.






Assessments



I am a big fan of the multiple choice reading quiz, but I found these gems in my reading quiz folder. At some point, I got a little spicy and asked the kids to analyze individual panels that we had studied, asking them to talk about what happened before, during, and after the panel. This was a really good way to assess all of the analysis work that we were doing in class but they obviously took me a lot longer to grade. If I had the time, this kind of quiz was worth doing.








More materials to come for the "extension activities," so please check back. 


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