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Teaching Guide

Teaching Invisible Man

Where'd he go?


According to Ralph Ellison, it does matter if you're black or white. We're here to help you peel back the invisibility cloak on Invisible Man.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity for students to write journal entries…but not in invisible ink.
  • reading quizzes to be sure students are seeing all the words on the page.
  • discussion questions on power, control, and rites of passage.

And much more.

Our Invisible Man teaching guide has nothing to hide.

What's Inside Shmoop's Literature Teaching Guides

Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

Instructions for You

Objective: Written response is the cornerstone of any good literature class. That sounds important, doesn't it? Written responses give students a chance to think deeply about what they're reading. They also provide an opportunity for you to find out where your students are as readers and guide them toward higher levels of thought about the text. With this assignment, students will keep a "journal of invisibility" for the duration of their reading of Invisible Man. This journal will explore their thinking about the book's themes and document the ways in which they perceive themselves and others as visible or invisible.

This assignment will last for the duration of the reading. You might want to allow one class period for discussion at the beginning and another one or two classes for students to present some of their journal entries.

Materials Needed: A copy of Invisible Man and computer with Internet access for using Inbox Journal.

Step 1: Lead a discussion with your students about journals. Do any of them keep journals? How might keeping a journal or telling your own life story be related to the idea of visibility vs. invisibility? Why might it be helpful to write your thoughts down? (Yes, you do need to explain what's in it for them!)

Then introduce the Inbox Journal website. A spoonful of technology helps the homework go down. (It's a good idea to create your own account in advance and try the site out for yourself so you can guide your students on the process.) If you can get your hands on a projector, it would be best to have a "screening" of the website. This will make it easier to show students exactly what you want them to do and how to create privacy settings to protect their work.

Step 2: Easy homework assignment coming right up! Have students explore Inbox Journal at home, create their accounts, and write the first entry on invisibility. Students should read the first paragraph in the prologue of Invisible Man and write about how they can (or cannot) relate to the narrator's invisibility.

Step 3: Now students will create their journals as they do the reading. It's as simple as that! You decide the minimum number of entries required. You can also give students prompts or discussion questions or just allow them to respond to each chapter or two however they choose. The important thing is for written reflection to be an integral part of students' reading process. We also recommend you require each entry to refer specifically to the text at least once to keep their responses text-based.

Step 4: Sharing time! Have students present several journal entries in a creative format. They might create diary pages to hand out, post them on a blog, or create a video diary to share some of their most brilliant insights with the class. Don't miss opportunities for students' own work to spark deeper class discussions about the text.

Instructions for Your Students

You may have deduced that Invisible Man is about being invisible. However, it's not about being literally invisible, but figuratively. Have you ever felt invisible? Have you ever thought that no one really sees you or understands who you are? Have you ever had that lonely-in-a-crowded-room feeling? That's exactly how our narrator feels, and we're betting most of you can relate. To help you think about this idea of indivisibility and how it might connect to your life, you're going to keep a journal throughout the reading of the novel. We're not looking for your deep, dark secrets; we're asking you to get to know yourself better, and understand the narrator's plight and the book's themes a little better. The good news is that you don't have to write a ton. You just have to write a paragraph or two at a steady pace. That sounds doable, right?

Step 1: Do any of you keep a journal or diary? What about a blog? If so, why do you keep one? What can you learn from writing journal entries? Why might it be helpful to write your thoughts down? How might keeping a journal or telling your own life story be related to the idea of visibility vs. invisibility?

The truth is there are a lot of reasons for keeping a journal, but one important reason is that writing helps us think better. No joke. Have you ever felt confused or conflicted about something and then found that the answer became clear when you tried to write an e-mail or a Facebook post about it? That's because when you write about a topic, your brain is forced to organize your ideas into logical sentences and paragraphs. Organizing your thoughts this way can make complex or confusing issues more clear. By writing, you are helping yourself make sense of things. Pretty cool, right?

Now, we don't want you to be scared, but Invisible Man is a complicated book. There's a lot of important stuff going on, and we don't want you to miss any of it. That's why a reading journal is the perfect assignment for this book. By writing a paragraph or two every chapter or so, you'll help your brain sort out the big ideas in this book and why they matter. We want you to see how Invisible Man applies to your life, and the best way to do that is for you to consider the different ways that you might be visible or invisible and how that affects you.

Now, you didn't think we'd ask you to keep a boring old notebook journal did you? No way. You'll keep your journal online at Inbox Journal. Just follow the website's step-by-step guide to create an account, set your journal entries to be private, and start writing!

Step 2: Homework time, but this one is painless, we promise. Go online and explore Inbox Journal. You'll create your account and write your first entry on invisibility. Here's your prompt: Read the first paragraph of the prologue of Invisible Man and write about how you can (or cannot) relate to the narrator's invisibility. That's it.

Step 3: Now that you're off and running, you'll work independently to keep up with your journal throughout the reading of the novel. Procrastinators beware! This assignment will be no fun at all if you put it off until the end, but it's a piece of cake to write a paragraph every couple of days. Here are some things to keep in mind as you complete your entries:

  • You are using the narrator's words, thoughts, and feelings as inspiration to guide your writing about being invisible. As you read his story, put yourself in his shoes.
  • This is a reading journal, so be sure to refer to the text specifically at least once in each entry. Your goal is to relate the book to your life, but that can be as simple as reflecting on one quote from your reading that day. 
  • There are lots of ways to be invisible. For example, you may feel misunderstood by your parents, your friends might ignore you, or a teacher may pay more attention to other students. These are the kinds of things you can write about.
  • This doesn't always have to be about you. Observe the people around you and write about how you see them experiencing invisibility. What seems to make people visible or invisible to others? Who is invisible to you? You might even interview your friends and family about the ways they have felt invisible.
  • As you are introduced to new characters in Invisible Man, discuss their visibility/invisibility in the book. How do you think each character might perceive you?
  • How does the idea of being invisible relate to the major themes in the book? How do these themes connect to your life or the world you live in?

Step 4: Choose a few of your most brilliant journal entries to share with your classmates. You can present your journal as a diary, a blog, or a video. Go crazy! It's allowed here.


Check out all the different parts of our corresponding learning guide.

Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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