Learning Plans & Activities
Developing Visual Literacy with Graphic Novels

In this lesson, students will examine visual and textual elements of graphic novels to determine the author/illustrator's intent and the impact of the visual decisions on the story.


Language arts




Classroom teacher, reading specialist


Students will identify visual and textual elements in graphic novels.

Students will determine the author and illustrator's intent in using specific visual and textual elements in a graphic novel.

Students will discuss how specific visual and textual elements impact the reading of a graphic novel.


Multiple graphic novels that are familiar to students that display one visual and/or textual element.

For this lesson focusing on how panels in graphic novels explore elements of time, these are suggested titles and pages:

Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (Penguin random House 2009), pg. 2

Cleopatra in Space: Target Practice (Scholastic 2014), pg. 13

Secret Coders: Paths & Portals (Roaring Brook Press 2016), pgs. 4 and 33

Scarlett Hart Monster Hunter (Roaring Brook Press 2018), pg. 90

Amulet: The Stonekeeper's Curse (Scholastic 2009), pgs. 16 and 17

Bone: Eyes of the Storm (Cartoon Books 1996), pg. 9-11

Substitute other titles as your collection allows.


One 30 minute lesson


AASL Learner Framework

I.A.1. Learners display curiosity and initiative by recalling prior and background knowledge as context for new meaning.
I.B.1. Learners engage with new knowledge by following a process that includes using evidence to investigate questions.
V.A.1. Learners develop and satisfy personal curiosity by reading widely and deeply in multiple formats and write and create for a variety of purposes.

Common Core Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.4.1 Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.

Instructional Procedure

Introduce the lesson by posing a question: How do authors let the reader know that a small or large amount of time has passed?

Students may respond with phrases that authors use such as, "the next day" or "a short time later." Pose a second question: How do graphic novel illustrators let the reader know that a small or large amount of time has passed? Take student responses.

Share with students that they will study the illustrative storytelling of multiple graphic novel illustrators. Let them know that they will not be reading entire stories, but just a few panels from a book.

From each, they will want to investigate:

  • What changes across the panels?
  • What stays the same across the panels?
  • What words would you use to describe this change in time? Is it a long moment? A short one? Does it seem to happen quickly or slowly?
  • What does that illustrator show you that makes you think this?
  • Could the illustrator remove one or more panels in this series without drastically changing the story? Which ones?
  • How would removing those panels impact how you feel about "time" in this moment in the story? (See the question above for reference.)
  • Could the illustrator add one or more panels in this series to change how we perceive time? What might that look like?

With the question prompts and paper to document their thinking, and in small groups, students should rotate through as many of the six examples as time will allow in ten minutes. Encourage quiet conversation if students need to verbalize ideas, reactions, or wonderings about the illustrated panels.

With the remaining time, have a class discussion on each of the selection of panels. If possible, project the panels for the class to see using a document camera or other device. Give about three minutes per example focusing on different question prompts for different examples.


Use selected panels from different graphic novels to show the passage of time or have students explore graphic novels on their own to find panels that show the passage of time.

If students will be distracted by other panels of the comic, block them with cutout cardstock to focus their attention on the panels that demonstrate the focal element of the lesson.


Give students one of two options as an exit slip:

Tell in words or show in panel drawings how graphic novel illustrators show time as a visual storytelling technique. Use your own examples in your explanation.

Additional Resources

Learn more about fostering graphical literacy in Tom's editorial, "Tools for Reading and Creating Graphic Novels in the Library."

McCloud, Scott and Mark Martin. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. New York, NY: William Morrow, HarperCollins Publishers, 2018.

Tom Bober

MLA Citation Bober, Tom. "Developing Visual Literacy with Graphic Novels." School Library Connection, March 2020, schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2243249?childId=2243250&topicCenterId=1955265.

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Entry ID: 2243250

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