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.

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Texts and Materials

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Core Materials


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

Unit Prep

Essential Questions


  • Where do stereotypes come from and how do they affect people?
  • What might motivate a person to reject aspects of their identity, and what are the risks of doing so?

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.
  • 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. 




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To see all the vocabulary for this course, view our 7th Grade Vocabulary Glossary.

Notes for Teachers


  • This book (and unit) contains discussions and depictions of a number of ugly, racist stereotypes about Asian American people. Although students will be thinking and talking about these stereotypes through a critical lens, they nevertheless have the power to cause harm. It is essential that you create an environment where all of your students—but particularly your Asian American students—are safe.  Students must understand that stereotypes and prejudice can lead to serious, real-world consequences for the people.
  • There are several examples in this text of “casual” homophobia, sexism, and sexual harassment. We recommend pointing these incidents out to students, so that they do not go unnoticed and unnamed, and therefore normalized (as they so often are).
  • Suggested additional resources for this unit:

Lesson Map




Compare new ideas to prior knowledge and reflect on new understandings




Identify the features of a strong personal narrative and begin to craft own.




Add compelling dialogue to narratives and craft a strong conclusion.





Differentiate between simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.


2 days


Common Core Standards

Language Standards
  • L.7.1 — Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • L.7.1.a — Explain the function of phrases and clauses in general and their function in specific sentences.

  • L.7.1.b — Choose among simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences to signal differing relationships among ideas.

Reading Standards for Informational Text
  • RI.7.2 — Determine two or more central ideas in a text and analyze their development over the course of the text; provide an objective summary of the 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.a — Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.

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

  • W.8.3 — Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.

Spiral Standards