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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 can be 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 


Visual Thinking Strategies

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 PhilipYenawine the Visual Thinking Strategies a an approach that encourages critical thinking skills that can be transfered to other texts and applications.


Analyzing Illustrated Texts

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


Illustrated Texts for Response 




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)"

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

Quebec Reading Connection is a website that offers information on books, including illustrated books suitable for Secondary ELA, and teaching and learning strategies tied to to the QEP. 

Learn about using Visual Thinking Strategies in the classrom 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.