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. Comics, picture books and graphic novels all incorporate these elements.

Graphic novels lend themselves to being 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 encourage authentic discussions in literature circles or inquiry groups


Author Gene Luen Yang introduces the elements of comics and graphic novels and discusses their use with students in his TEDx presentation.


Comics and graphic novels have a language all of their own. It is important that students understand the visual cues that are proposed by these graphic texts. Knowledge of some of the common elements of graphic novels allows readers to engage with the texts on a deeper level and make meaning.

Introducing Codes and Conventions

In this video Secondary Cycle Two students are first introduced to the common conventions of graphic novels and are then invited to read and discuss a brief excerpt from a graphic memoir.

Using Conventions to Make Meaning

Secondary Cycle Two students discuss War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon E. McKay. Through talk in a small group, they explore the way the conventions of graphic novels are used to make meaning. Click here to view.

Using Conventions to Make Meaning

In this video Secondary Cycle Two students discuss Essex County by Jeff Lemire and use the conventions to discover the memoir’s big ideas.

Students Talk About Crafting Choices

In this video, Secondary Cycle Two students discuss the author/producer's crafting choices in The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson. .


Splash Page

Often the first page of a comic or graphic novel, a splash page, is a full page panel that is used to relate the setting, main characters, and to establish a mood or context for the narrative. Inset panels (such as the memory in the thought bubble) are sometimes used to convey another time or place.


Transitions are used to create different effects such as slowing down an event to mark its importance or to highlight a switch in perspective.

  • Moment to Moment

In this type of transition there is relatively little change that takes place between the panels. It is used to slow down an event and hightlight an important scene.

  • Action to Action

The actions of a single subject are shown through a series of progressive actions.

  • Subject to Subject

The action transitions between different subjects in the same scene, a common transition, paricularly for conversations between characters.

  • Scene to Scene

The action transports the reader across different times and spaces. It an be used to convey a flashback or a switch of perspective.


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)"

Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang explains the way visual elements can be used to tell a story.

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

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is a primer on reading and working with comics and graphic novels.


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