I was a novice with a literature and print background. I read graphic novels by only reading the words. Boy was I missing out. I learned first-hand that image and word do not operate the same way in terms of conveying information, and that if anyone is going to be an effective multi-media communicator you need to have the tools of the trade to do it purposefully. So, give it a go, and enjoy learning alongside your students. I did!

Mary Sauvé, Secondary Teacher

We all know what comics are. Most people learned to read and love comics long before they entered school. But what exactly is a graphic novel? As of now there is no clear answer to that question. One definition is that a graphic novel is any book in comic format that resembles a novel in length and narrative structure. However a trip to a book store, or a search on Google shows us that this is not really accurate. Graphic novels include a wide range of genres including outstanding memoirs, historical fiction, nonfiction, poetry, biography, science fiction and more.

Graphic novels integrate images and text and they cannot be read without the reader paying attention to everything on the page. Comics and graphic novels are excellent texts to introduce students of all ages to visual literacy.

Teachers who are considering using comics and graphic novels in their classrooms will find the projects and classroom ideas in this section of the website helpful in getting started.


This nontraditional type of literature—often dismissed by educators as superficial and shallow—is highly visual, contains complex literary elements, and lends itself to critical examination of moral, ethical, and social issues.

B. Norton - The Reading Teacher, #57, p.140 (2002).

The following ideas can be used to help students acquire the literacy skills necessary to understand the unique way in which words and images work in comics and other graphic texts to convey meaning. Beginning with immersion into text prepares students for reading and production activities in the ELA classroom.

Many of these activities can be adapted to use with students at various grade levels. As is true with most learning activities it is preferable to have students working in pairs or small groups.


  • Have students compare a cartoon, comic strip and a page from a graphic novel. What are the similarities? The differences?

  • Give pairs of students a variety of graphic texts and have them brainstorm the structures and features that help readers make meaning.

  • Discuss ideas. Help the students understand that comics draw on commonly understood meanings to communicate.

  • Have them try to illustrate some concepts e.g. heat, cold, surprise etc., with their own ideas.


Because comics are such a highly visual medium it is easy to find examples of symbolism. Students can explore the use of symbolism in comics. What is its purpose? Why is it used?


In small groups have students explore how we use reading strategies for reading graphic texts. See more ideas under Reading Comics.


  • Students explore how sound is depicted in a graphic novel or comic strip and consider how it contributes to the meaning.

  • Students can experiment with their own use of sound effects in a comic panel or strip by producing the same event or scene with or without sound effects.

  • Students can create a dictionary of comic book words that represent different sound effects. Check out Ka-Boom! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia by Kevin J. Taylor

  • Younger students can compare the way some of their favourite authors, like Robert Munsch, use comic book sound effects in illustrated picture books. Students may use some of these in their own writing.


Students explore examples from graphic texts to discover how the author represents emotion. Encourage them to look beyond the obvious words and facial expressions. For example ask them to look a the shape of word balloons, font styles, symbols, etc. Then ask students try to draw their own representation of an emotion: anger, madness, joy, etc.


Have students create their own original comic strips These can be done by hand or digitally using a free online comic strip creator.


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