1. Read & discuss
Provide students with a copy of The Invisible Man, by Ralph
Ellison. Have students read the book in several sections, and conduct
classroom discussion after each section. Students could also be asked
to keep a learning journal for the duration of the book & subsequent
Start the first discussion with the following quote from the novel:
"I am an invisible man.
No, I am not a spook like those who haunted Edgar Allen Poe;
nor am I one of your Hollywood-movie ectoplasms.
I am a man of substance, flesh and bone, fiber and liquids -- and
I might even be said to possess a mind.
I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see
Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it
is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting
When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves,
or figments of their imagination -- indeed, everything and anything
except me." (Ralph Ellison)
As you go through the novel, discuss each major character and how
he or she interacts with the protagonist. How does the character see
or not see the protagonist? How does the protagonist see himself in
these situations? How does his "invisibility" affect this
character? What are some of the strategies he uses to deal with it?
Upon completion of the novel, return to the quote about invisibility.
Hold a discussion in which the students sum up the ways in which the
main character is seen and not seen. They can refer to their learning
journals to refresh their memories.
2. Essay project
Assign students to write an essay on the following topic. When and
how in your life have you felt invisible? Encourage them to explore
why they felt that way, and what strategies they used to handle the
situation. (See Student
This could be a homework assignment, but it would be a good in-class
writing exercise as well. Writing in-class for 30-45 minutes may help
students bring up fresh ideas on the subject. Essays should be evaluated
by the teacher, and possibly sent back to the student for revision,
but they should not be shared with the class. Make sure students know
the essays will be private up front, so they feel comfortable working
in autobiographical space.
3. Group project
The final component of this lesson is a group project where students
identify a group of people in their own community that might be seen
as "invisible". Start by leading a discussion on how, in
Ralph Ellison's novel, the personal experiences of a fictional character
ripple outward, describing greater social conditions in a very vivid
way. The students can discuss their own essays, sharing examples of
how a personal feeling of invisibility can be part of a larger social
Next, have them break up into groups of 3-4 students. Each group
will select a group that they see as socially "invisible".
Circulate among the groups to help them make an appropriate selection.
Some examples might be: people who work at night, homeless people,
stay-at-home mothers, children, the elderly, or a particular ethnic
group that lives in the community.
Once the topic is selected, the project group will create a multimedia
essay "revealing the invisible." This might be done as a
posterboard project, incorporating photos, magazine cut-outs, short
essays, poetry, quotes, and drawings. If you have the facilities,
this would be a great Web project, with each group creating their
own "Revealing the Invisible" Web page. See Student
Organizer 2 for more information on the assignment.
Students will be assessed on the quality of their participation
in class discussions and in the group activity, and as well as on
the quality of the essay and the final group project. Students can
also assess one another for the group activity. Points should be given
for understanding of the more abstract aspects of this lesson, i.e.
invisibility as an element of societal structure.
- Connect this lesson plan to other American Masters lessons to
develop the theme of "what makes an American Master."
- This could be part of a larger study of African-American literature.
- Students could write and perform a play on the subject of invisibility
in their own community.
- This topic could be the foundation for a literary project, such
as a themed collection of poetry and short fiction.
- This lesson could be extended to include taking action to address
and assist one of the groups brought to light by the class. You
could bring in community leaders to talk about the social actions
being taken on behalf of that group, and to help students formulate
an action plan of their own.
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