In order to read visual texts, students need to understand the way visual language works to convey meaning. We must help our students think critically about the images that make up their world. Many of the same strategies used to make sense of print can be used to understand a visual text. Like print, visual language has its own genres, features, codes and conventions, all of which work together in the construction of meaning. Many of the texts we encounter in daily life are in fact multimodal ensembles. These texts combine written language, elements of graphic design, and visual images. Illustrated novels, comics, graphic novels and picture books all incorporate these elements.

Students at all levels can appreciate visual texts. Click here to see a few examples of Illustrated texts for secondary students.

Visual texts can be used:

  • to launch a genre study

  • as mentor texts for author’s craft

  • as writing prompts

  • to introduce complex themes and issues

  • as a prompt for expository writing

  • for engaging students in critical literacy

  • to explore media literacy questions

  • to engage students in the response process


One way to introduce students to the skills they need to analyze visual texts is to lead discussions using open-ended questions. An example of this approach is the Visual Thinking Strategy. Instead of telling students about the image they are viewing ask:

  • What’s going on in this picture?

  • What do you see that makes you say that?

  • What more can we find?

Developed by Abigail Housen and Philip Yenawine, the Visual Thinking Strategy is an approach that encourages critical thinking skills that can be transferred to other texts and applications.


Frank Serafini offers a variety of approaches to reading and analyzing visual texts, For example, teachers might use an illustrated text and model analyzing a page or a double-page spread for students prior to inviting them to try it with another text.


Top 10 Picture Books for the Secondary Classroom by Kim McCollum-Clark is an amazing blog full of ideas for secondary teachers.

Teach with Picture Books, a blog by Keith Schoch, offers resources and recommendations for using picture books with secondary students.

Teacher Nathan C. Phillips shares his approach to teaching with visual texts in "How to Ruin Your Students’ Reading of Visual Texts (and Still Sleep Well at Night)"

Learn about using Visual Thinking Strategies in the classroom by reading "On Using Museum Methods in the Classroom: A Case Study With VTS" published by Rutgers University.

Reading the Visual by Frank Serafini is a comprehensive guide to working with visual texts.

Frank Serafini’s Picture Book Image Analysis includes questions and ideas for approaching picture books.

Québec Reading Connection is a website that offers information on books, including illustrated books suitable for readers at all levels, along with teaching and learning strategies tied to to the QEP.


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