Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Visual Texts in the Classroom

July 4th, 2014 · No Comments

The use of alternative genres in the classroom can be a powerful tool for students to develop their literacy skills.  Texts such as graphic novels are motivating to read for reluctant readers, providing manageable amounts of texts while at the same time presenting complex issues and ideas.  Graphic novels contain many of the same literary elements as their written counterparts.  In addition, the analytic skills that students develop in thinking critically about the visuals in the text can be applied across all disciplines.  Gene Yang, the author of American Born Chinese also explains that since most students are immersed in visual media in their day-to-day lives, visual texts resonate more strongly with them.  Graphic novels, then, serve as a way to “bridge the gap between the media we watch and the media we read” (Yang 187).  It is an effective way to connect readers with a text while developing literacy skills.

While there seems to be an increase in the use of alternative genres in the classroom, it still often feels as though visual texts such as films and graphic novels are often overlooked in the curriculum in favour of written texts.  Perhaps there is still a stigma attached to genres such as the graphic novel, which may appear to some as merely a comic book with inherently less value than a traditional novel.  Particularly when an iconic, classic work of literature has a graphic novel equivalent, some tend to still place a higher value on the written form.  I think that these different versions of the same text offer an opportunity for effective differentiation.  I remember teaching Romeo and Juliet to a class comprised of English Language Learners, and using the graphic novel version of the play was an effective way of teaching many of the same concepts while at the same time exploring the interplay between text and image, and how the images supported the text and conveyed meaning.  When the students felt like the text was manageable, they were much more motivated and engaged with it.

Works such as Shaun Tan’s “The Rabbits” is also refreshing in that it provides students with a complex idea and presents it in the form of a beautifully illustrated text.  Introducing students to different forms of representation is a key aspect of literacy and encourages greater creativity.  I think that challenging students to use the same analytic skills used in reading novels and applying them to different genres of texts creates a more well-rounded literacy program.

In conclusion, visual literacy is a powerful skill that encourages critical thinking and deep analysis.  As an educator, I would definitely like to continue to learn how to incorporate a wide range of visual texts in a meaningful way in the classroom to promote literacy.

Adrienne Law

Questions for discussion

  1. How have you or might you use graphic novels in the classroom?  Consider also texts that have a graphic novel counterpart.  What are the benefits, and what might be some potential challenges?
  2. What skills would students develop with visual texts that would help them to succeed with other forms of literature?


Works Cited

Frey, Nancy. and Fisher, Douglas.  ” Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School.”  The English Journal.  93.3 (2004).

Yang, Gene.  “Graphic Novels in the Classroom.” Language Arts.  85.3 (2008).

Tags: graphic novels · Seminar Prompts · Visual Literacy

0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

You must log in to post a comment.