Teaching Visual Literacy


The 3 R's - reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic - have long been considered the three pillars of education; however, we now know that they aren't enough, especially in the 21st century. Our students are inundated with images every day, and so they need to learn to read those as well. That's why I spent more time teaching visual literacy with my students. Read on to find out about my three favorite ways to do so.

First of all, visual literacy is not only something to check off on the list of standards and outcomes; it's an important life skill and one that will help students with the ability to analyze text. We spend our days analyzing visual clues and interpreting people’s actions based on those clues. However, when it comes time to actually analyze similar things on a written page, students freeze up and decide that it's too hard.

Time spent on analyzing visuals can be a doorway to analyzing literature. That's why, when I start literary analysis, we begin by talking about visual clues (grab two free lessons)

I point out to my students that they are taking in - and interpreting - visuals constantly. And, they use them all 😉 the 🤣 time 😱 to capture a single idea. Emojis are actually a wonderful jumping off point for discussions about symbolism that's less scary than diving into it in poetry.

Those were my starting points, but I had three other ways that I taught visual literacy in my classroom.

Use graphic novels for teaching visual literacy

Not only are graphic novels excellent tools for teaching visual literacy, they are also so much fun to read. For many years, there were those who saw them as an inferior choice for an English class, or a text you would reserve for struggling readers. Luckily that attitude has changed, though, because the graphic novel offers a rich reading experience for students.

Because not all students are familiar with the genre, I gave mine instruction on how to "read" these texts. I did this by first teaching them the language of the genre, so they could use it in their analysis.

Once my students had an understanding of the terminology, we looked at a series of mentor texts to examine the ways that graphic novelists use images and text to tell their stories. We learned about importance of angles and perspective, for example, and how low and high angles can be used to develop character and ideas.

My students loved these discussions and, for whatever reason, they find analyzing visuals much less intimidating than literature. However, by teaching visual literacy, I was giving my students the confidence they needed to dive into the analysis of their other texts.

I highly recommend spending some time on graphic texts, whether you do a full class one or not. You can even use book trailers, like this one for the graphic version of Long Way Down.  With videos, even if you don't have access to the text, you can pause on the visuals and have students analyze the author's moves.

One-sliders are another way to teach visual literacy

Once my students understood how other writers use visuals to create meaning, I had try it themselves, first by creating their own visual narratives and then by using visuals to show me what they learned in other areas of the course.

One-sliders were one way they did this.  One-sliders are a digital version of the one-pager, and I. LOVE. THEM. I started using them during online learning and my students were so engaged, and they created such stellar work, that one-sliders became a fixture in my classroom.

One-sliders for distance learning

My students still did a lot of written analysis, but the one-sliders provided an option to visually represent what they learned about a novel or a character. I would also assign different chapters or characters to groups and have them create a slide that captured its essence.

My students were still doing a lot of analysis because they had to choose the images that best represented the ideas they wanted to capture.  They had to choose the best way to present the pictures and texts, so the viewer could easily get their message. Doing that well required critical thinking as well as visual literacy. Then, when they shared their slides with their classmates, they had to explain why they chose the images and why they presented them the way they did. This was an opportunity for more visual literacy for their classmates and a speaking opportunity for those presenting.

The best part? You get a break from grading papers - but your students are still learning!

👉🏻You can check out my one-sliders here:

Animal Farm One-Sliders

One-Sliders for Any Text

Research One-Sliders 

Poetic Device One-Sliders

Assign a visual essay

The success of the one-sliders lead me to try something new with research writing. When I introduced the process, I had students create a research magazine, complete with visuals and even videos to deliver their messages.

The research magazine

The research magazine has all of components of the traditional paper, but it can include images, graphs, and videos to enhance the writer's points. They are visually appealing and the students find them a lot more fun to create.  And, like the one-sliders, students need to think critically about how to present their information in a visually appealing - and easy to read - way. It also affords them a really interesting way to explore an idea and then to present it someone else.

The engagement level was so much higher with this visual essay, the students learned a lot, and I really enjoyed reading them! (Read more about the research magazine here).

Let me know if you have any questions!

👉🏻 You can check out Nouvelle ELA's resource for analyzing photographs here.



Halloween Ideas for English Language Arts

 If you're looking for some spooky, engaging, and educational Halloween activities for your ELA classroom, the Secondary English Coffee Shop has you covered!

Halloween Writing Prompts

If there's one thing Addie Williams loves it's Halloween! She loves the fun of dressing up and the creativity that the holiday allows.  One of the ways she incorporates Halloween into her ELA classes is through Halloween Writing Prompts - they're quick and easy to use as a bell ringer, as a longer writing piece, for collaborative writing, poetry, and more!  She likes to dim the lights, use battery-powered tealights, and spooky music to set the scene when students write.

Spooky Short Stories

Presto Plans loves teaching spooky and scary short stories. The suspense, the twists and turns in the plot lines, and the sinister characters always seem to draw students in.  Whether you are inside the mind of a demented protagonist in the Tell-Tal Heart, avoiding a dinosaur attack in A Sound of Thunder, or suffering the consequences of wishes gone wrong in The Monkey's Paw, these plot lines and characters are sure to hold your students' attention. She's bundled all her favorites together in her Spooky Short Story Unit.


Halloween Symbolism

One of the ways Nouvelle ELA works a little Halloween into her class is by reading Masque of the Red Death by Edgar Allan Poe and teaching about symbolism using Tootsie Roll Pops. It's pretty much the best lesson of the year when you give students candy and tell them it's time to ANALYZE it. 

Halloween Career Project

The Classroom Sparrow created this Halloween Career Project as a fun way for students to learn basic skills and requirements for a job or career. This is also a great way to bring the Halloween spirit into a class while completing the course requirements creatively. Students will randomly select a Halloween-related career, then complete activities highlighting skills for their chosen Halloween job.

Halloween Coloring Pages

In today's stressful world, a calming activity like coloring can be very effective in class--especially for teenagers. Studies have shown that students who are given a chance to color and doodle during classroom teaching time or while listening to audiobooks are more academically motivated. Tracee Orman loves having holiday-themed coloring pages readily available for students for those moments in class when they need a stress reliever or brain break. Check out her Halloween Coloring Pages for a fun way to eliminate stress for students.

Halloween Grammar
The Daring English Teacher's students get pretty excited about Halloween, and one way she brings them back on track during the holidays is to focus on content. Her Halloween Grammar Worksheets work great as a Halloween station activity. Or, if needed, they also work well as an emergency sub plan!


Spooky Story Stations
The one autumn activity that Room 213 looks forward to EVERY year is the scary story her students write using these Spooky Story Learning Stations. Not only are these stations highly engaging, but they help the kids learn about literacy elements AND the importance of the revision process. The students love the activities, and the end results are always spooktacular! 

We hope you have a fun, safe, and spook'tacular Halloween!

For more ideas check out this BLOG post on SETTING THE SCENE FOR HALLOWEEN!

The Secondary English Coffee Shop

5 Hands-On Halloween Activities for ELA


Halloween is just around the corner, and by now, many of your students have likely already gotten into their parents' hidden candy stash. It's been my experience that students tend to have extra energy around this time of year. So much so that it can be difficult to keep students engaged in course content. You can put this extra energy to good use, however, by giving students hands-on ELA activities that get them up and moving around the classroom and working together. Over the years, I've discovered various activities that keep students engaged during this exciting time of year. I'm sharing my 5 favorite hands-on Halloween ELA activities below!

1. Zombie Escape Room

The Zombie Escape Room might be my favorite Halloween activity for middle and high school ELA. Not only is it an extremely entertaining way to bring the sprit of Halloween into the ELA classroom, but it is also content-based, so your students will be developing their ELA skills (homophones, spelling, etc.) at the same time.

Students will begin by watching a beautiful hand-drawn video (made by John Spencer) that introduces the escape room backstory. The premise is that they arrive at school and learn that their teacher has been transformed into a zombie. It is up to them to turn you back to your human form.

This is a super hands-on activity! Students will be up and moving around the classroom, visiting stations, and completing puzzles and other tasks to find the ingreidents needed to save you. Some teachers have pushed the hands-on element even further by dressing up as a zombie that day—one teacher even hid in her closet to scare the students. Now that's commitment!

2. Spooky Found Poetry

Another hands-on Halloween activity you can do is spooky found poetry. There are a number of different ways you can do this, but the idea remains the same. Students will arrange "found" words from a source text to write a poem of their own. As for the source text, I suggest using a spooky short story or poem!

One way you can do this is by giving students a paragraph of text from a scary short story—like W.W. Jacobs' "The Monkey's Paw" or Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Art", for example—and getting them to cut up words to create their own found poetry. If you go this route, just be sure to provide students with enough text for them to make their own unique poems.

Another option is to hand out photocopies of a page of text from a spooky poem or story and have students emphasize words by drawing shapes or omitting words using a black marker. If you go with this option, encourage students to really get creative with how they emphasize their "found" words and tell them to make it as haunting as they can!

3. Crumpled Pumpkin

This next Halloween activity is one that will have even your most reluctant students putting pencil to paper. With the crumpled pumpkin, each student will be given an orange-colored worksheet with a unique Halloween-inspired story prompt.

Students will start the activity by writing a story using their given prompt, and then, after an allotted amount of time, they will stop writing, crumple the story into a "pumpkin," and toss it to the front of the room. Another student will then retrieve the "crumpled pumpkin" and continue writing where the other left off. The process repeats, and eventually, a completed story will return to the original writer for them to edit and finalize.

My favorite part about this activity is how easy it is to implement, and the collaborative element seems to really help students avoid having students stuck staring at a blank page. The crumpled pumpkin is also super hands-on! Students really love the part where they get to crumple up their stories and toss them across the room.

4. Reading Mysteries

Who doesn't love a good mystery? Another one of my favorite activities for this time of year is Halloween-themed reading mysteries, such as the Mystery of the Halloween Prank and the Mystery of the Missing Halloween Treats. All your students will use reading comprehension skills, critical thinking, and text evidence strategies to solve high-interest mysteries. 

You will start either mystery by putting up the Halloween-themed poster on your door to build anticipation. Then, when students enter, you'll put them in small groups to work together to solve the mystery. The presentation slides will guide you and the students through each element of the lesson.

One of the best parts of the mysteries is they come with a wide variety of hands-on evidence for students to work with and use to support their predictions throughout the activity. Once each group has made their final predictions, you will use the presentation slides to reveal the guilty culprit(s) and go through each of the suspects to show the evidence of their innocence or guilt. 

5. Halloween Sensory Activity

Finally, you can also do a Halloween sensory activity with your students. To do this, you can prepare boxes that students cannot see into but that they can put their hands inside to feel its contents. Fill the boxes with food and other generic items but create labels that make students imagine that the boxes are filled with different creepy, Halloween-inspired things! 

For example, you can label one box "Zombie Brains" and have cooked spaghetti in it. Another could be labeled "Monster Teeth" with popcorn kernels inside, and so on. One with grapes can be labeled "Spider Eyeballs." Use golf tees with the label "Vampire Teeth," nuts and bolts with "Frankenstein pieces," and raisins with "Witch Warts."  Grab some FREE labels to use on the boxes here.

After feeling inside the boxes, students will write descriptive texts describing how each creepy thing felt—using tactile imagery of course. Encourage them to also use figurative language in their descriptions. If, for sanitary reasons, you don't want to have each student reaching into the same boxes, you can do this using a bunch of individual boxes (or containers) placed on each student's desk. 

There you have it! I hope you found this helpful. Need other Halloween activity ideas?  Check out some of the other Coffee Shop blogger ideas below! 

Halloween Coloring Pages by Tracee Orman

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