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Using graphic stories

July 25, 2013 by Nora Nagy

Graphic stories have never been more popular and relevant than now. Visual and textual narration support each other in graphic stories  and make them  one of the most engaging educational tools in reading classrooms. What are graphic stories and what advantages do they have? How can we use them and what are the best activities that work with them?

Jacquelyn McTaggart in a study on graphic novels says that 'all graphic novels are comic books, but not all comic books are graphic novels'. Graphic novels practically mean any story (book) that has frames, words and pictures to 'convey meaning and tell a story'. Helbling Fiction Graphic Stories are a combination of exciting texts, lively illustrations and exciting comic book spreads that help struggling readers and entertain experienced readers by giving them a successful and enjoyable reading experience.

Illustration from Zadie's Big Day by Martyn Hobbs. Illustrated by Lorenzo Sabbatini. © Helbling Languages

Here are some activity ideas you can use with graphic stories.

1 Writing activities

  • Ask your students to write their own dialogues for the frames.
  • Ask them to write a story for the frames.
  • Show a single page and ask students to write down what happened before the scene, and what happened after that scene.

2 Speaking activities

  • You can print sample pages from graphic stories and cut up the frames. Ask your students to put them in the correct order. You will find sample pages from the graphic stories David and the Great Detective and Rick and the American Girl here.
  • Ask them to discuss facial expressions to describe how the people in the frames are feeling, describe the setting, what they are wearing and what they are doing.
  • You can also ask them to tell you about their favourite characters and create dialogues between them in groups.
  • Ask them to choose a character and to draw  or describe him/her. Then with a partner they can see if they can guess the other's character.
  •  Ask them to guess the sentences and words in the speech bubbles or frames. Compare their guesses with the original ones.
  • You can also use a comic written in other languages. Simply eliminate the text and then you and your students are free to create your own story.

3 Grammar activities

  • Ask your students to change direct speech in the dialogues to reported speech.
  • Ask them to change the verb tenses from Present Continuous to Past Continuous when they describe a story.
  • Give them time phrases to use when they tell a story based on the images.

4 Listening activity

  • Describe a frame or a page and ask students to find which one you are describing.
  • Ask the students to listen to the dramatised track for the cartoon frame and report to a friend what is happening.

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