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Exploring Identity: American Born Chinese

Students explore the American experience through the story of a young boy's conflicted relationship with his Chinese-American identity.

Unit Summary

In this unit, students continue their year-long interrogation of the American Dream by reading the acclaimed graphic novel American Born Chinese, written by Gene Luen Yang. The reader follows protagonist Jin, the son of Chinese immigrants, as he navigates the standard experiences of being a young person coming of age in America, as well as the unique challenges of being Asian in a predominantly white community. His story is told alongside the traditional Chinese folktale of a Monkey King, desperate to transform himself into something other than who he is, and the story of Danny, (an apparently white American boy) whose life is turned upside down by the arrival of his Chinese cousin, Chin-Kee. American Born Chinese explores themes around identity, stereotypes, friendship, and self-acceptance through these three (ultimately intertwined) story threads.

This unit contains several supplemental nonfiction texts that explore the power of stereotypes and bias, the role of the media in creating and perpetuating stereotypes, and the impact of stereotypes on individuals—including the author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang. These texts provide students with schema around the concept of stereotypes, as well as necessary context to understand the specific history of stereotypes of Asians in America, which appear predominantly in our anchor text. Additionally, students will spend one day learning about graphic novels and how to read them, giving students the tools they will need to both understand and appreciate the unique features of this genre.

In this unit, students think about the impact of stereotypes on Jin and the way that he struggles to find his place and identity. Our writing tasks develop students’ engagement with these ideas as well as provide opportunities to reinforce skills in informational writing and literary analysis. In the first writing task, students will dive more deeply into the question of how stereotypes impact people, moving beyond the internal, emotional impact to the way that stereotypes can shape behavior. Students will read four informational articles on personal experiences and scientific studies related to gender and racial stereotypes, and then write an essay that synthesizes this information. Students will focus on the use of technical terms (W.7.2.D)—defining them when necessary for their readers’ comprehension—and including transitional and linking phrases in their writing (W.7.2.C). Students will continue to practice selecting strong evidence and using facts, quotations, and statistics to strengthen the clarity and impact of their writing.

The second writing task asks students to think about two different core texts from two different units, analyzing the ways in which these books provide insight into the experience of being a young person of color in the United States. Esperanza from The House on Mango Street and Jin from American Born Chinese both struggle to find their own identities, especially as they balance external expectations with their own self-conceptions. Students will first analyze the texts to identify a shared theme and then think about the ways that each author develops this theme (RL.7.2). Students will continue to practice with the use of transition/linking words (first introduced in writing task one) and continue their work on establishing and maintaining tone in analytical writing (W.7.1.D).

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials

Supporting Materials

See Text Selection Rationale


This assessment accompanies Unit 5 and should be given on the suggested assessment day or after completing the unit.

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • What does it mean to be fully “American”? Who gets to claim an American identity?
  • Where do stereotypes come from and how do they affect people?
  • Can a person truly change who he or she is?

Reading Enduring Understandings


  • Stereotypes are oversimplified—often offensive—ideas about specific groups of people. Media can create and perpetuate stereotypes and can have a significant impact on the way that people think about and treat one another.
  • Stereotypes can have a detrimental effect on the way that people in specific groups view themselves.
  • The experience of being a first- or second-generation immigrant in the United States can make a person feel torn between two cultures and aspects of identity.
  • Graphic novels are a powerful medium by which to explore ideas through words and images.
  • Learning to accept yourself as you are is an important part of coming of age.

Content Knowledge and Connections


  • Stereotypes/slurs of Asian people
  • Immigrant experience
  • “F.O.B”

Previous Fishtank ELA Connections

This text connects to many others that discuss the immigrant experience, as well as stereotypes and racial bias.

Notes for Teachers


  • This book contains discussions and depictions of a number of stereotypes about Asian people. Although the reader is meant to look at these stereotypes critically, it is essential that teachers frame this clearly for students, as they may be familiar with these stereotypes and even find them humorous.
  • Several of the discussion questions ask students to think about the role of stereotypes in their own lives—a subject that can be sensitive and emotional. Teachers should be very mindful of this if they choose to engage in these discussions with students, working to create a safe space in their classrooms.
  • Each lesson plan lists the homework for that evening; the vast majority of the time the assignment is for students to read and take notes on the pages of focus for the following day’s class. Additionally, there is a thinking task or question provided for each evening’s reading.  Students should come to class prepared with a literal understanding of the reading in preparation for closely rereading shorter sections of text during that class period. For homework accountability, it is recommended that teachers check students’ reading notes each day to ensure that they read and understood the gist of the chapter. Additionally, teachers may wish to assign a short written response to the homework thinking task to bring to class the following day. Another option is to give a quick homework check quiz at the beginning of each class (3-6 questions assessing literal understanding). 
  • Suggested additional resources for this unit:
  • Questions 3-7 on the unit assessment reference an excerpt from Level Up by Gene Luen Yang (see unit materials). Be sure to include this excerpt with the assessment.

Lesson Map


  • “Prejudice and...” — 2:00-4:00

  • “Where Bias...” — first 6 paragraphs, “Where Does Bias Begin” section


Define stereotypes and explain how they impact human behavior.


  • What is...

  • “How to...” — (up to header “What Ody-C Does So Well”)


Explain the basic features of a graphic novel, approaches to reading a graphic novel, and how structure contributes to meaning.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 7 – 20


Identify different characters’ points of view and explain how the author uses both text and illustrations to develop them.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 23 – 40


Explain how Gene Luen Yang uses both text and images to develop meaning in American Born Chinese.


  • “That's Not...”


Identify stereotypes of Asians in the media and explain the impact that these stereotypes have.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 43 – 52


Explain how Gene Luen Yang uses the structure of a sitcom to create meaning in American Born Chinese.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 55 – 84


Identify, compare, and contrast the points of view of different characters in American Born Chinese.


Informative Writing

  • “The Terrifying Power...”

  • “Scientists Not...”

  • “It's Not...”

  • “That's Not...”





Gather appropriate evidence, including facts, quotes, and statistics to develop an essay.


Informative Writing

  • “The Terrifying Power...”

  • “Scientists Not...”

  • “It's Not...”

  • “That's Not...”



Use transitional phrases to clarify the relationships between ideas.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 87 – 106


Describe how characters are impacted by events and other characters in American Born Chinese.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 109 – 129



Identify characters’ perspectives and explain how author Gene Luen Yang develops and contrasts these perspectives through text and images.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 133 – 160


Determine developing themes in American Born Chinese.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 164 – 198


Describe how characters are impacted by events and other characters in American Born Chinese.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 201 – 223


Explain the overall structure of American Born Chinese and how this contributes to meaning in the text.


  • American Born Chinese pp. 123 – 133


Determine overall themes in American Born Chinese and explain how these are developed over the course of the text.


  • “This Chinese...”


Identify events and experiences that impacted American Born Chinese author Gene Luen Yang and explain how and why these experiences affected him and his text.


Socratic Seminar

  • American Born Chinese

  • Socratic Seminar Guide



Engage in a Socratic Seminar with classmates, using previous feedback to set goals and reflect on performance in the seminar.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • American Born Chinese

  • HOMS





Determine a shared theme between two texts and how this theme is developed in each text.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • American Born Chinese

  • HOMS




Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion between ideas within a literary analysis.


Literary Analysis Writing

  • American Born Chinese

  • HOMS




Revise own essay to ensure consistent use of a formal tone and academic language.


2 days


  • “Level Up Graphic Novel (Excerpt)”

Common Core Standards

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.7.3 — Analyze the interactions between individuals, events, and ideas in a text (e.g., how ideas influence individuals or events, or how individuals influence ideas or events).

  • 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.

Reading Standards for Literature
  • RL.7.1 — Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.

  • RL.7.2 — Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the text.

  • RL.7.3 — Analyze how particular elements of a story or drama interact (e.g., how setting shapes the characters or plot).

  • RL.7.5 — Analyze how a drama's or poem's form or structure (e.g., soliloquy, sonnet) contributes to its meaning.

  • RL.7.6 — Analyze how an author develops and contrasts the points of view of different characters or narrators in a text.

Speaking and Listening Standards
  • SL.7.1 — Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 7 topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.

  • SL.7.1.b — Follow rules for collegial discussions, track progress toward specific goals and deadlines, and define individual roles as needed.

Writing Standards
  • W.7.1 — Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

  • W.7.1.a — Introduce claim(s), acknowledge alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

  • W.7.1.b — Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using accurate, credible sources and demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text.

  • W.7.1.c — Use words, phrases, and clauses to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among claim(s), reasons, and evidence.

  • W.7.1.d — Establish and maintain a formal style.

  • W.7.1.e — Provide a concluding statement or section that follows from and supports the argument presented.

  • W.7.2 — Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content

  • W.7.2.a — Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information, using strategies such as definition, classification, comparison/contrast, and cause/effect; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

  • W.7.2.b — Develop the topic with relevant facts, definitions, concrete details, quotations, or other information and examples.

  • W.7.2.c — Use appropriate transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.

  • W.7.2.d — Use precise language and domain-specific vocabulary to inform about or explain the topic.

  • W.7.5 — With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach, focusing on how well purpose and audience have been addressed.