George Takei’s Graphic Novel They Called Us Enemy full novel study lesson can be found on Teachers Pay Teachers by clicking HERE.
George Takei’s graphic novel They Called Us Enemy is a powerful, thoughtful story about the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. It offers an important window into one of the most shameful periods in American history and provides a valuable lesson for teachers on how to discuss racism and injustice with their students. Let’s explore how to approach this book in the classroom.
Introducing Students to Takei’s Story
The best way to introduce ‘They Called Us Enemy’ to students is by setting up a discussion around key questions related to the story. This can be done through pre-reading activities such as having students read excerpts from Takei’s autobiography or researching other examples of discrimination throughout US history. In addition, you may want to show photos or videos of Japanese internment camps so that students have a better understanding of what life was like for internees. By providing context before diving into the text, you’ll help your students make more meaningful connections while they read.
Facilitating Discussion About Japanese American Internment Camps
Themes of racism, discrimination, and civil disobedience are woven throughout Graphic Novel They Called Us Enemy and can be used by educators to generate thoughtful conversation with students about these issues. To start off a lesson or unit on Japanese American internment camps, teachers can ask students what they know or think about this topic before introducing them to George Takei’s graphic novel. After reading the book together as a class (or assigning it as homework) teachers should encourage students to discuss the emotions that arise when reading such an emotionally charged story. This could be done through group work or student-led discussions while the teacher facilitates.
Lesson Plans Around Themes in They Called Us Enemy
Educators can also create lessons around themes found in Takei’s graphic novel. For example, students could research how other minority groups were treated during World War II by exploring writings from African Americans and Jewish Americans who were affected by racism at that time. Another lesson plan might focus on how individuals protested against injustice such as those who refused to answer questions on the U.S. Census Bureau’s loyalty questionnaire sent out to all Japanese Americans living in internment camps during WWII or those who wrote letters advocating for the rights of their fellow internees. As part of this lesson plan, teachers could also assign projects where students design protest posters inspired by events in They Called Us Enemy or write persuasive speeches on why no one should ever have their rights taken away due to race or ethnic origin.
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Exploring Characters and Conflict
As your students move through the text, focus on exploring its characters and themes. Have your students consider the complexities of Takei’s relationships with his family members and ask them to consider what it must have been like for him growing up in an internment camp. You can also discuss the various conflicts that arise throughout Takei’s journey—from his struggles with identity and acceptance, to his activism against racial injustice—and how these issues are still relevant today.
Addressing Contemporary Issues
Takei’s story provides a unique opportunity for teachers to address topics such as racism and xenophobia in an engaging manner. Ask your students if there are any similarities between Japan’s treatment of internees during WWII and America’s current immigration policies or treatment of minorities today. Encourage them to think critically about these issues and discuss potential solutions for creating a more equitable society moving forward.
George Takei’s ‘They Called Us Enemy’ is an invaluable resource for educators looking to teach their students about racism and injustice in America. By introducing this book through conversation starters about key characters and conflicts, exploring contemporary issues, and encouraging critical thinking about potential solutions, teachers can use this graphic novel as an effective tool for teaching empathy and understanding in their classrooms. With its thought-provoking narrative, ‘They Called Us Enemy’ provides an important window into one of the darkest moments in US history—one that warrants further exploration in today’s classrooms.
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