Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Graphic Novels, Technology and the Modern English Classroom

July 6th, 2014 · 1 Comment

The second half of the twentieth century saw the introduction of television and its transition into the Internet. With it a generation of people grew up with images being in consistent conjunction with the stories in our lives. In coalition with this technology has quickened our access to information and desire to connect our thoughts to images. I would argue more so than any generation before us, we are one that imagines self-created images less yet is more visually flexible. As a member of one of the first generations to grow up with the internet, I can understand how some students desire to be presented with not only words but images as well.

The article “Using Graphic Novels, Anime and Internet in Urban High Schools” by Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher articulates the authors practice of introducing images in order to support student’s writing. The students involved in the class were predominantly ELL and struggled with writing. Through the use of images as writing prompts, the students slowly became more comfortable with the writing process. I found it particularly interesting that as the students practiced they became more experimental and successful with their sentence length and word choices. Towards the end of the article the authors explain of their final assignment with the students, where they are asked to write in conjunction with images. I found this particularly appealing as I see this to be a good way for ELL learners to convey some of their ideas even though they can’t always articulate them. By telling a story in this way I feel the challenge of writing seems more manageable.

The article was written in 2004. Students today are much more attached to technology than those a decade ago. While the article mentions use of the internet for the projects, there was very little of it in comparison to a class today. If one were to do similar projects today it would be important to remember that students have an even greater attachment to images, but more importantly, video. While I like the idea of using graphic novels/stories for writing prompts, I would like to extend these ideas to using video, perhaps silent, to have students generate dialogue and explanations for stories. If technology and resources permit, it would be great to possibly have students act out their own short stories on video. Writing would of course still be significant, but it would be an adaptation to an ever-changing literature world.

It is important for English teachers to clearly articulate that English is not simply a study of books that were written a century or more ago. It should be clear that English is thriving and around us constantly. It is not just a language and for communication, but a chance to think creatively, argue your ideas, interact with others and develop yourself. With a changing world that seems to just keep speeding up, it is significant that students of today are flexible enough to adapt to the world of tomorrow. Fortunately there are many ways to approach the teaching of English, and the use of images can be a helpful tool.

Dalyce Firby


Is it more important to teach the classics or how to think?

What ways can we use images to teach English?

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): 19-25.

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1 response so far ↓

  • aniak // Jul 6th 2014 at 2:54 pm

    As a former ELL student, I appreciate the effort being made to incorporate popular culture, anime, graphic novels and the internet, as a technique to meet students at their current ability levels, yet at the same time, gently scaffolding them towards becoming confident writers. I remember being overwhelmed at a young age, not only at the prospect of learning a new language, but also at the thought of being evaluated, judged and rated based on my performance with words I had never encountered.

    The fantastic thing about incorporating materials such as graphic novels, is that based on Frey’s and Fisher’s findings, written-communication is improved both in English-language learners and Native English speakers. This is a huge discovery and an invaluable knowledge to those entering into the teaching profession. I remember on my extended practicum, struggling with how to create a lesson where I could simultaneously scaffold all of my students, despite the fact that they all clock in at different levels of comprehension and writing ability. Frey’s and Fisher’s article gives me hope and proves that a teacher does not have to create an entirely separate lesson for those students who may require additional assistance. By incorporating popular culture and other educational techniques into their lessons, teachers will prime student comprehension and provide additional context at times when words alone would overwhelm.

    I agree with Dalyce’s observation regarding how students today are much more attached to Technology than a decade ago (I didn’t even have facebook in 2004?!) and how students are now even more affected by not just images, but also video. During my practicum, I noticed increased student engagement and enthusiasm when I incorporated YouTube videos or GIFs (Graphics Interchange Format) into my lesson plans, compared to lessons when I would include still photos or images. I always made sure to involve some form of visual imagery in my lessons and based on my observations, by the end of the practicum I was relying heavily on solely videos and GIFs to supplement my lessons.

    -Anna Kasprzak

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