This fall, students in grade 9 humanities set out to  create their own comic book.  To accomplish this, and help them understand comic book/graphic novel techniques, a comprehensive unit of study was created.  Below are the steps and stages completed, with the attempt of personalizing learning for all students.

Step 1: Introduction

The following comic that a student teacher had found was placed on the SmartBoard:screen-shot-2016-12-23-at-12-05-02-pm

Students were given several minutes in their table group to talk about what they see.  Response varied, but included:

  • different reactions to getting out of bed
  • a boy excited for summer vacation, but not for school
  • mom has to “bug” the boy to get out of bed
  • fun versus school

Then, the following script was added to the slide, and the students were asked to revise their responses to what they saw:


Responses improved, with students becoming more critical of their examination:

  • We know it is summer in the first frame because the trees have leaves. It is not summer in the second because the trees do not have leaves.
  • We know the sun is brighter in the first frame because its rays go farther into the sky
  • We see baseball clothing on the chair in the first frame.
  • The lines around the boy and his smile in the first frame show excitement to get out of bed. The boy has a from in the second slide.
  • The thought bubbles are dreams the boy is having.
  • The message is that the boy is more motivated to get out of bed in the summer than for school

Step 2: Elements of a Comic Book

Lesson two involved students learning the various elements of a comic book including:

  • Script
  • Word balloons
  • Thought balloons
  • Panel
  • Open panel
  • Narratory block
  • Splash page
  • Close-up
  • Longshot
  • Sound effect
  • Gutter
  • Bleed

Examples of each of these were placed on the SmartBoard to provide a visual, much like the example below.


Step 3: Applying New Knowledge

To reinforce the learning in step two, I pulled a variety of comics and graphic novels from the learning commons and had students work in partners to identify all the comic elements. I reviewed the resources in advance to ensure they all include the elements address, and varied the reading level of the choices. Students worked in partners, and I circulated to check in with each group.  If students finished quickly, I had them swap with another group.

Step 4: Digging Deeper

To provide a framework for examining cartoons, the following framework was generated and provided to students. If you would like a copy of this, please contact me:


Using this guideline, we examined the following comic from a previous ELA 9 PAT exam, and then, as a class, answered the corresponding PAT questions:

Screen Shot 2016-12-23 at 12.27.45 PM.png

Once this was complete, students were required to go through the process with a second sample from a PAT exam. They wrote their answers on tabletop whiteboards with a partner. I circulated and checked for understanding.


Again, the corresponding questions were placed on the SmartBoard for students to answer. Students reported getting more answers correct the second time.

Step 5: Need to Know Vocabulary

As a must, we reviewed our key literary vocabulary. We did this as a jigsaw.


A sample of the jigsaw is illustrated below:


Step 6: SEXC Paragraph

At this point, it was time to ask students for a writing sample.  What better way to do this than to ask students to write about their favourite superhero power? First, they were taught the “SEXC” paragraph structure.

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Students were then given the following Hero/Villain paragraph task that corresponded with three ELA9 curricular outcomes:

  • 3.1.1 Synthesize ideas and info from a variety of sources to develop own opinions and general impressions
  • 3.3.3 Develop coherence by relating all key ideas to the overall purpose of the print text
  • 3.3.6 Choose specific vocabulary and use conventions accurately and effectively to enhance credibility

 Step 1: Fill out the following chart for three super heroes or villains by using the links below for research. You should have 3 pros and 3 cons for each power. (Complete in Word or use separate paper; your choice).


Step 2: Choose the power you think would be the best to have from your selections above (either to fight crime, create crime, or just in general with your everyday life).

Step 3: Use the paragraph planner – or a different planning method of your choosing to create your outline with a topic sentence. You must show this pre-planning before your begin writing your paragraph.


Step 4: Write a fabulously well-written and well-constructed paragraph (not an essay) below that follows the SEXC structure explaining why the power you chose would be awesome.

Step 7: Captain Canuck

For this task, students were assigned to reading groups and tasked with reading aloud the comic “Captain Canuck: Enter the Crime Stopper”. Once finished, on tabletop whiteboards, students had to identify the comic book elements used in the book and provide a page number so we know where you have found it. I checked this when complete. Then, with a partner, students were given a plot diagram and asked to plot out the storyline of the comic. This was to show they understand to the key elements required in a story.



Step 8: Creating the Comic

We finally have reached making our comics! Here, I provided a handout of the stages to making a comic, which I received from . Then, students were given the following summative assessment:


Students were assessed using the following rubric:


Below are some screen shot exemplars from completed work.  To personalize learning, I gave comic teams a myriad of options, including:

  • complete all by hand, with or without the provided storyboard frames.
  • Hand draw and then use Comic Life on either iPads or PC computers to upload & organize
  • Stop motion photography – photos can be uploaded into Comic Life
  • Tutorial links to Adobe Elements for photo editing
  • One student completed a detailed script with no illustrations as he worked on his own.

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Student results exceeded my expectations.  Because this was their first time, the intent is to turn this into an interdisciplinary project in the spring, connecting to Science/Math/Social Studies.  The same rubric would be used, as students are familiar with it.  However, criteria directly related to content in the added disciplines cold be added.



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