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Reading Illustrated Texts

Rarely, if ever, do we encounter visual images all by themselves. -Frank Serafini


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.

Illustrated texts lend themselves to being used:  

  • to lauch 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


Below, author Gene Luen Yang introduces the elements of comics and graphic novels and discusses their use with students.


In order to make meaning of illustrated texts, students need to understand the way visual language works. 

Introducing Illustrated Texts


Illustrated Texts for Response (Cycle I)


Introducing Comics and Graphic Novels

Jessica Abel and Matt Maden created this comic to explain some of the conventions of graphic novels. Do a read-aloud with this text to model the ways to read graphic texts.

Jessica Abel 


Reading Graphic Texts:

Graphic texts have a language all of their own. It is important that students understand the visual cues that are proposed by graphic texts.  Knowledge of some of the common elements of graphic texts can help readers make meaning of these visual texts.


Conventions of Graphic Texts

Splash Page

Sometimes the first page of a graphic novel or comic, a splash page is a full page panel that is often 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 though bubble) are sometimes used to convey another time or place.

Blankets by Craig Thompson



Transitions are used to create different effects such as slowing down an event to mark its importantce 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.

Blankets by Craig Thompson


Action to Action 

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

Blankets by Craig Thompson


Subject to Subject

The action transitions between different subjects of the same scent. A common transition, paricularly for conversations between characters.

Blankets by Craid Thompson


Scene to Scene

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

Blankets by Craig Thompson


Additional Resources

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 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)"

99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden can be used to encourage students to engage in multiple readings of graphic texts.

Jessica Abel and Matt Madden's DW-WP blog is particularly offers teaching resources for working with comics and graphic novels.

Frank Serafini's Picture Book Image Analysis includes questions and ideas for aproaching picture books. 

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.