Multiliteracies in ELA Classrooms

Entries Tagged as 'graphic novels'

My (even later) post about using graphic novels in classrooms

July 23rd, 2014 · No Comments



Tags: graphic novels

Literature & Image: Illustrated editions, graphic novels, anime and manga

July 20th, 2014 · No Comments

The origin of this form of story telling goes all the way back to the time of stained glass windows, narrative painting and art. The role of these images were to unfold a story, events and actions. To say that humankind hasn’t had a preferred eye for this form of art would be untrue. Images are universal.
The article ‘Using Graphic Novels, Anime & Internet in Urban High Schools’ by Nancy Frey & Douglas Fisher talks about the use of graphic novels to help students improve their writing. Graphic novels helped students practice their writing while giving them the skills to become competent writers. Through the activities performed the students were able to slowly become more comfortable with experimenting with longer sentences. The students were also given images as writing prompts.
Many of the students who were in this class were English Language Learners. Although I have never taught a Graphic Novel I can see how using them with ELL’s would be very beneficial. When I used to teach English in China I would rely heavily on images for beginner ESL classes. It was the quickest and less intimidating way for students to learn new vocabulary. One of the other benefits mentioned in the article that I agree with is that limiting the amount of text is easier for students to digest. Presenting a student with a novel can be daunting whether or not they are an ELL. I also think that the minimal text gives the students more opportunity to use their creative thinking and imagination to fill in any blanks. We naturally assume things when we read based on the words we are seeing. The less words we see, the more we can imagine. As mentioned in the article and above, the use of grphic novels can improve sentence quality but it can also be a conduit for reading. I think that the feeling of success after completing a graphic novel can encourage a student to read more and boost their confidence if they were having difficulty reading or creating sentences before.
The article also mentioned that one of the benefits of using Graphic novels in the classroom with ELL is that there are many social justice issues that are present in graphic novels that could be taught. I thought this was an excellent point. I think it’s important for the curriculum to touch on social justice issues so that students are aware of what is going on around them. I do not think that this beneficial for only ELL because there are some students who are born and raised here and are not familiar with what is going on here due to many factors.

In addition to the points mentioned I think that Graphic Novels are fun. They appear less intimidating and can appeal to may different types of students. The benefits of them are plentiful and I hope to one day teach one in my classroom.

Tags: graphic novels

Literature and Image

July 14th, 2014 · 2 Comments

While we focused mostly on the benefits of graphic novels in the classroom for our presentation, the article we summarized was mostly discussing the use of “image” in general and how any type of image when used in conjunction with the written text, can be of use in the classroom. For my part, what I find most beneficial with using imagery and text together is how it can help in differentiated learning. Literature and the written world is a very abstract thing. As readers we have to make sense of words that are placed one after in a sequential and logical order. However, the word is basically a symbolic thing. It is there to represent something else. For example the word “tree” is a representation of the actual object: tree. However, it is not the thing, the tree, itself. If we use the image of a tree, though, show a picture of have a student draw the object, this image in fact is closer to reality and less of a symbolic representation. As teachers, this becomes helpful to us when we are met with a student who has a more difficult time with abstract ideas and conceptual thinking.

By making understanding easier for kids we can make literature more accessible. This is what the image allows us to do. Students who would otherwise feel threatened or lack confidence because they have a hard time understanding a literary work can feel more comfortable and safe when they approach the same work through its images. But this accessibility isn’t only to learners who find the abstract challenging, nor, as at the article states, a gateway for language learners to better acquire linguistic skills. During my practicum I had the experience of being in a special education classroom, where the majority of students were diagnosed with high functioning autism. Now while many of these students were able to accomplish certain things in regular classrooms and in some cases excel in them, almost all had difficulty with understand and interpreting emotional cues, especially when that emotion was being communicated to them in the written form. so here what the special education teacher did was to use a separate sheet of paper with pictures of faces that expressed emotions like “sadness”, “surprise”, “anger”, etc. The teacher worked with the students over several hours to help them distinguish and differentiate between the facial expressions. He then would use the graphic novel, or images of certain texts, for example, the surprised face of the lead character in the graphic move Persepolis to help the students connect it to the face on their sheet. This then helped the student understand characterization and the emotional life of the main character in the story, where before when just reading the word “surprised” would not help them at all to understand what the character was feeling or expressing.

Using images in conjunction with text students can in fact learn the written text better and feel more comfortable and perhaps be more willing to engage with literature and a perfectly fine reason to incorporate any kind of “image learning” in a literature classroom.

Work Cited


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. Stable URL:


Tags: graphic novels · Uncategorized

Graphic Novel Project – Nic, Jessica, Erin

July 9th, 2014 · 1 Comment

For our first media project we created a graphic novel adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death.”

Media Project 1 Writeup

The Masque of the Red Death – Graphic Novel

Tags: graphic novels · Uncategorized

Graphic Novels. Can anyone teach them?

July 7th, 2014 · 2 Comments

By now, most of us heading into the field of English have—to some extent—learned that incorporating graphic novels into our classrooms is no longer a cutting-edge thinking, but rather a curricular imperative. However, having yet to study a graphic novel in a classroom setting, I’m curious about my own education, or lack thereof. By taking this on as an act of current appeal, I can’t help but wonder if I’m adequately qualified to validate this experience for my students. What do I know of this modality past the obvious? Does this even matter?

My unstable position on this is not a reflection of a traditional attitude with a hidden bias to preserve what I’m instinctively more comfortable with. The graphic novel seems to have a growing appeal; I am fascinated by this form and it’s myriad forms, concepts, codes and styles. I imagine my appreciation would greatly enhanced with some expertise—as with film, or other graphic art forms. But sadly, I didn’t learn this form. And because I didn’t take to comic books as a child or beyond, I now have trouble interacting with it; I don’t know how to read it. Increasingly I observe people around me engaged in graphic novels, and I feel one thing more than any other: envy.

I observed  a high school English lesson concerning Art Spiegelman’s Maus. The lesson involved a class discussion on the holocaust and more or less mimicked a typical discussion one might observe in a typical grade eleven classroom anywhere in Vancouver. Some students actively participated, some listened quietly, some stared out the window or texted on the their phones under their desk. What occurred to me was how similar the instructor’s approach was—he might well have been teaching any other novel; there was no particular focus on the illustrations or talk of the physical presentation whatsoever. It was centred, as usual, on plot and theme. This is not a criticism either, but it raises some potential questions about graphic novels and instruction. Is this just the same as teaching anything else? Perhaps we’re perfectly qualified, provided we know what’s going on and can guide a willing group through the material. Somehow I’m not convinced though.

There is no denying the power of appeal. Any teacher—ELL or otherwise—who can engage a class or excite new students with the graphic novel is sure to keep this in their repertoire. I note, however, that as we find ourselves in an age of emerging literacies and multi-modal teaching practices, we run the risk of putting more weight on variety in the classroom rather than on substantive instruction. This is not to say that graphic novels lack substance. This is to say that they are a different form and should be recognized as more than just a clever tool to teach ELL students or kids who like comics.






Tags: graphic novels · Uncategorized

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

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

July 6th, 2014 · 1 Comment

In their article, Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School, Nancy Frey and Douglas Fisher provide an interesting discussion on the use of graphic novels within the classroom as a way to develop visual literacy and writing skills amongst students. According to Frey and Fisher, graphic novels are a form of popular culture that has the potential to engage students in authentic writing and allows for the scaffolding of important literary skills by teachers. As a teacher candidate who used a graphic novel during my practicum, I found that they are an engaging tool for developing students’ writing skills and introducing them to critical visual literacies that are relevant to modern society. However, while Frey and Fisher have successfully demonstrated effective teaching approaches to using graphic novels in the classroom, they do not stress the importance of teachers being well versed in how to read and understand graphic narratives before they begin to teach it to a classroom of students.

While on practicum at John Oliver Secondary, I decided to use the graphic novel Maus in my Communication 11 classroom in order to help develop writing techniques and visual literary skills of my students. During our exploration of the text, I found that simple elements, like the quality of cartooning, served as a basic yet helpful tool to teach my students about literary devices like hyperbole and metaphor. By analyzing these intentional features of the text, my students developed a better understanding of these literary devices and how cartoonists use them to create meaning in their graphic novels. During our study of Maus,we also explored the historical ramifications of the Holocaust, and critically analyzed certain reappearing themes in the graphic novel like family, memory, guilt and war. Thus, while graphic novels are helpful tools to develop writing skills, I also found that they could be linked to certain cultural or social issues for the purpose of class discussions.

In many ways, I agree with the root argument put forward by Frey and Fisher; that graphic novels can be an effective and inexpensive way to introduce critical literacy concepts and develop writing skills. However, early in the article Frey and Fisher state that “students seemed reluctant to discuss [graphic novels], perhaps because it would disclose a literary form belonging to their generation” (Frey & Fisher, 19). While this may be the case for many adolescents, I found that most of my students lacked a basic understanding of how to read graphic novels as well as the visual literacy skills needed to critically analyze the text. Therefore, I think that before students can use graphic novels to improve their writing skills they must be taught how to engage with a graphic novel properly. Teachers must understand the specific form of integrated literacy that is required to elicit meaning from a graphic novel and must also be well versed in how to read the text before they can begin to teach their students. Before my students started critically analyzing the main themes of Maus or using the text to develop certain writing techniques, we discussed the basic elements that graphic novelists use to create meaning on the page. Whether it is the style of lettering, the ordering of the panels, or the use of a speech balloon to set mood or tone, each element in a graphic novel is carefully chosen by the author as a way to communicate their message to the reader. Students must be aware of these elements prior to reading a graphic novel in order to fully understand it.


-Cody Macvey



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.

Tags: graphic novels · Visual Literacy

“Using Graphic Novels […] in the Urban High School” Response and Prompts

July 6th, 2014 · No Comments


Frey and Douglas do a succinct job of explaining how graphic novels are useful educational tools in the classroom. It was also interesting to see the themes and ideas within the texts being transferred into the students’ own written works. Though it is not explicitly stated, the authors seem to imply two main ideas: that graphic novels (and popular culture in general) are only resonant in the urban/diverse classroom in cities like San Diego, and that students must find some sort of personal connection or parallel to the text in order to enjoy and make use of the literary-visual materials they are given as classroom texts. With increasingly “wired” classrooms, distances between urban, suburban, and rural classrooms are decreasing.

While they do not explicitly deny the universality of graphic novels within popular culture, they do not include this idea in their discussion. It is also important to acknowledge that there is a boundary between what was/is taught and what specific media students take personal cultural ownership of. As educators we should certainly respect what students claim as their own and what would not be fruitful to teach.

With the risk of stating the obvious, graphic novels and other media (film, television, art, etc.) are not only enjoyed and read worldwide but these stories –  those outside the reader’s frame of reference – can leave a lasting impression. An experience or narrative that does not fall within ones own purview can often teach us the most. Art Spiegelman’s MAUS (being an easy example) shows us the experiences of those persecuted and those who witnessed genocide first hand in World War II. This is a text that is often taught in classrooms, and not only within urban and inner-city contexts. Students may have trouble taking perspective and connecting to seemingly distant experiences but it is our job to bridge this gap. Once this division is diminished, what can be gained becomes all that more expansive to the reader.

Question(s) to ponder:

1. Can there not be an intersection between what is “teachable” and appropriate and what students already have a pre-existing interest in reading/viewing? How do we tread through material that students may want kept out of classroom analysis and dissection? What sort of consultation should we doing with our classes?

2. Where is there more value in literature (graphic or otherwise)? Do we take more from a recognizable narrative or from one completely outside of our own knowledge? Do we take different ideas and meanings from both, to the point where we are comparing “apples to oranges?”


Graphic Novel as Prompt

During my B.A. at SFU, I was exposed to a few different graphic novels. The one that stuck out for me the most was Ann Marie Fleming’s The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. Fleming uses the – very open – format of the graphic novel to explore and display her own personal and familial history. The narrative is centred around the author’s relatively mysterious/unknown great-grandfather Long Tack Sam, a world famous vaudevillian in the early 20th century. The text is also accompanied by a film where a lot of the images have been taken and adapted from and put in the novel (and vice versa). What is most fascinating about the text is its intersectionality and how it transcends genre. Within about 160 pages we see: memoir, autobiography, biography, geographic exploration, history (Canadian and international), cultural interaction and exchange, etc. All of these themes and ideas are doubled (or squared, we might say) in the format of the film.

This overt openness of the graphic novel genre and format leads back into the idea of the graphic novel as prompt. Again, there is a value and importance in students taking an assigned text and turning into something of their own. Not only does this move us away from the passive mode of simply reading and accepting a text but it also encourages students to continue the narrative in a direction that they find meaningful. The students can also have endless choice in how they want to present their resulting creative texts.  Some may wish to work alone, other collaboratively. Some may wish to follow the children’s book format (e.g. Sendak’s The Miami Giant), others in an audio visual format (E.g. Long Tack Sam). Students can have constraints on what topics they are considering/presenting, and how much time they get, without being limited by how it is presented. With increased accessibility through the internet, such assignments/projects can more easily be created and shared worldwide.

Possible assignments/prompts:

  1. Create a children’s book based off of a Shakespearean play, such as Julius Caesar.
  2. Create one page of a comic book/graphic novel translated from a canonical text, e.g. To Kill a Mockingbird.
  3. Adapt a frequently studied graphic novel/comic/picture book into a one/two/three act play, e.g. Death of a Salesman as a generic guideline.
  4. One group creates a video/theatrical representation of a graphic novel, the other a text-based representation.
  • What does this transfer do to the story? What is lost or gained in this translation? Which genre/format does what for the reader/viewer? -> How can students be meta-cognitive of the process of creation/publication?

Discussion prompts:

1. Fleming ends up doing a lot of self discovery in addition to revealing more about her family’s past. Is it feasible to get our own students to do similar kinds of research and the self-reflection and -realization that comes out of this searching? There is undeniable value in bringing everything back to the self. How or should we ask this of our students?

2. What graphic novels or visual narratives do we connect with? Are these the same kinds of texts we would want to adapt into our own perspectives and narratives?

3. How might a graphic novel prompt be used when classroom resources and technology are limited? Seeing as how the genre is open, how can we as educators work around these sorts of limitations while still giving students to opportunity to, as Ezra Pound said , “[m]ake it new”?

-George Frankson

Works Cited

Fleming, Ann Marie. The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

Frey, Nancy, and Douglas Fisher. “Using Graphic Novels, Anime, and the Internet in an Urban High School.” English Journal 93.3 (2004): 19.

Some suggested texts to use as prompts (which will be brought into class for our perusal and consideration):

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie | | Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Biography by Chester Brown | The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam by Ann Marie Fleming | The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé | The Last Musketeer by Jason| Watchmen by Alan Moore | The Miami Giant by Arthur Yorinks & Maurice Sendak

Tags: adaptations · graphic novels · Seminar Prompts

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

A “Graphic” Novel: Safran Foer’s Tree of Codes

July 4th, 2014 · No Comments

American author Jonathan Safran Foer recently published his own interpretation of one his favourite novels. He took The Street of Crocodiles (originally written in Polish, translated into English) by Bruno Schulz  and completely gutted it by die-cutting out the majority of the text. It is basically impossible to read but it is visually stunning and shows us how we can adapt the written text into an interactive art piece.

It is not graphic in the standard sense but it is still visually arresting for the reader/viewer.

There is a especially fascinating video (the bottom video) showing the production of the work, something we take for granted or do not always consider.

Take a closer look at this fascinating piece of work:

-George Frankson

Tags: adaptations · graphic novels