Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Response to “Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School”

July 7th, 2014 · 3 Comments

I find the topic of incorporating graphic novels into the English classroom fascinating. Growing up, I had wide access to this type of literature – from the Sailor Moon manga to Archie comics. However, I was always informed that it was not considered “real” reading, because you were only looking at pictures with minimal text.

As I became more exposed to graphic novels, I soon realized that this genre was largely underappreciated, even though it was so widely read. During my practicum, I noticed how even struggling readers would enjoy reading comics, but they would never admit that to their English teachers.

To combat the stigma associated with graphic literature, I designed a lesson all about comics for my ELL class. I provided an example of a comic strip I had written, a blank template, and a procedure for designing their comic strip. I was thrilled with the results. The students were engaged during the lesson, and they were noticeably intrigued by the concept of writing a story with images and limited text. Many of the students enjoyed using a different type of creativity in their assignments, which was evident in the detailed drawings they had. Even students who were initially hesitant to draw ended up enjoying the use of a different genre. There were also drawbacks to the assignment. The topic of the comic strips was “superheroes”, and students had the chance to develop their own superheroes. However, because of time constraints, the students’ stories were very brief and lacked depth and character development. Therefore, if I was to do the same assignment again, I would ensure that there was enough time for students to write a well-developed story.

With that experience, I strongly agreed with Frey and Fisher’s intentions. As teachers, we are constantly seeking new ways to engage learners, and using students’ interests in the classroom is a great idea. As we are increasingly using technology and social media in an educational setting, it seems reasonable to use alternative forms of literature and entertainment as well. Choosing a topic that is interesting to students minimizes the challenge of getting learners to be engaged, allowing teachers to focus on the designing the lesson. It is also important to have students recognize the importance of multimodality, and encourage them to think critically of the media around them. The truth is that our world is changing constantly with the development of new modalities, literacies, and technologies; as teachers, we should have students explore these new opportunities rather than just stick with traditional content.

If someone had told me when I was a kid that reading comics was a valid form of reading, I would have read even more than I did. I believe that hesitant and struggling readers would benefit greatly from a more positive relationship with graphic novels.

Tags: graphic novels

3 responses so far ↓

  • rahelanayebzadah // Jul 7th 2014 at 6:27 pm


    I agree with you for believing that Frey and Fisher were putting down such literacies (anime, graphic novels, comic strips, etc…) while also trying to promote them. At times, the article did seem to present itself contradictory.
    However, drawing particularly on the two quotations you cited, I would like to draw your attention to the issues that I took away from the quotations.

    Quotation #1: “Having begun with the idea that graphic novels were comic books at best and a waste of time at worst, we now realize the power they have for engaging students in authentic writing”(24).

    When I read this quotation, I was quite disappointed because I found that the authors were saying that graphic novels are successful because of their engaging factor. While I do not disagree with the fact that graphic novels are engaging, especially to adolescents, I find it problematic to credit graphic novels strictly for its engaging factor. Or, to argue for the complete opposite, what’s wrong with texts that are read just for engaging purposes? It seems that we (and by we, I mean adult readers as opposed to young adult readers) discredit young adult literature for its engaging purpose. Why is engaging on the bottom of our list when choosing texts to read?Now, I would like to turn your attention to the second quotation you cited:

    Quotation #2 “Using graphic novels to scaffold writing instruction helped students practice the craft of writing and gain necessary skills to become competent readers”(23).

    While I completely agree that graphic novels can be used as a “starting point” or a writing prompt, I also seem to be uncomfortable by such a claim. Why cannot graphic novels be treated as a text on its rather than as a prompting text?

    I also disagree with the fact that graphic novels are especially successful with ELL and immigrant populations. I believe that graphic novels can help all students, not just students with language learning challenges.

    Frey, N. and Fisher, D. (2004). Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School. The English Journal, 93(3), pp. 19-25.

  • Kelly // Jul 12th 2014 at 9:52 pm

    I agree with you. I think graphic novel is a great way to engage students, especially ELL learners. Since there are students with different learning styles in our class, as teachers, we should try to introduce materials in different ways to help students learn.

    Also, graphic novel is another literacy that can get students to learn. Now the world is bombarding us with more visual. It is necessary for students to develop knowledge on how to interpret images that we see everyday. What kind of emotion is the image trying to convey to the audience? I think graphic novel allows teachers to facilitate a discussion around this more easily.

    As for ELL learners, even though I agree that graphic novels will be a beneficial tool for them, I still have concerns as to how we can introduce them, so ELL learners would not feel like graphic novels are for people like them. During practicum, I gave Shaun Tan’s The Arrival to my ESL class to read and interpret. Since it was just a picture book, they instantly thought that this was for dummies. I tried to encourage them to read the layered of meanings within the text. Then, they were more into it. However, I am not sure how to introduce such a rich text to my ELL class without them feeling bad.

  • chanmi33 // Jul 22nd 2014 at 9:53 pm

    I agree with Frey and Fisher that “using popular culture builds on students’ multiple literacies.” Not only it is useful for ELL students, I have used a graphic novel during my practicum for task analysis lessons for English grad 10 class. I used a part from Persepolis and articles on the topics dealt in the graphic novel to teach writing a synthesis paper. I had to provide a number of background information and pre-reading activities to prepare them before they actually read the graphic novel because it covered various topics that might have been a bit heavy for grade 10s. I think it was easier for students to comprehend and connect more because of the form of the text. They really enjoyed reading it, and the visualization made it easier for students to find evidence from the text, which was one of the most important parts for a synthesis paper.

    On the other hand, I am not sure about using graphic novels to teach ELL students. Yes, the images will support their understanding of the storyline, but there is a limit to their understanding without fully understanding the text. Although graphic novels or comic books are usually written in conversational or less formal language, ELL students not only have to decipher the text (with more slangs), but also translate the culture imbedded in the images as well. Unless it is children’s book with images, the level of the language still a barrier.


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