7 Ways to Use Graphic Novels in Your Middle and High School Class

7 ways to use graphic novels in middle and high school


7 Ways to Use Graphic Novels in Your Middle or High School Class

by Tracee Orman

First, let’s end the debate on whether graphic novels count as reading: yes, they do! Graphic novels practice the same reading skills as traditional novels, PLUS they offer opportunities for implementing visual literacy skills. They can be much more engaging and appealing for reluctant readers, as well.

But how can you incorporate them into your classroom? Here are seven different ideas for using graphic novels in class:

1. ADAPTED WORKS: Read the adapted version after reading the original OR replace the novel with the graphic version OR offer the adapted graphic novel as an alternative to the original. There are so many adapted versions on the market right now to choose from, especially with classics. And The Hunger Games (which is my most highly anticipated adaptation!) comes out later this year! 

Adapted Graphic Novels

To use the adapted version as a comparison to the original, I have a great handout included in my Graphic Novel bundle. It covers the Common Core Reading Standards R.5 and R.7, in which you are comparing the same work in two different mediums or formats. It’s a perfect way to evaluate the treatment of the themes, tone/mood, and portrayal of the characters in each work.

Compare Graphic Novel to Original Novel

Graphic Novel handouts

2. BOOK CLUBS & DISCUSSIONS: Reserve one (or two) day(s) a month to have a book club day in class. Select several graphic novels for the groups. Students select which group they are in by which graphic novel they wish to read. Because they can be read more quickly than a traditional novel, students can read a portion together in class then discuss them in their groups. You can use my FREE Graphic Novel Evaluation handout during the book club. Students can either fill it out themselves, partner up, or fill it out as a group. 

Free graphic novel handout

3. CROSS-CURRICULAR CONNECTIONS: When ELA teachers are able to work with other departments, everybody wins. For example, choosing a work of literature set in the same time period that students are studying in history enhances their learning experience. It gives them even more context to make those connections. But teaching an entire novel can be too time-consuming. Instead, choose a graphic novel! It will give students both literary and visual examples. 

Cross-Curricular Graphic Novels

4. VISUAL STORYTELLING: Using a graphic novel as an example, have students practice writing their own stories using comic book templates or blank paper. Talk about how sequential art tells a story; how the panels work in sequence to narrate the story. This not only practices writing skills, but creativity!


5. CHARACTER ANALYSIS: Use a page or two from a graphic novel and have students evaluate the images for characterization. Ask questions like what can you infer about the character based on the depiction?  

6. TONE/MOOD: Students can also infer the tone or mood of the story based on the images: are they somber or happy looking? How does the use of color enhance the feeling you get from the images?

7. PLOT: Have students evaluate the plot based on the images from the graphic novel; how do the images move the story along? How do they create tension or conflict?

High Interest Graphic Novels

I could go on as the possibilities seem endless. I hope this post gives you some great ideas for incorporating and using more graphic novels and comic books into your classroom!

Check out these great ideas for teaching visual literacy from Jackie from Room 213 HERE!

5 ways to energize your students while they learn


You're in the middle of your school year and you're trying to keep your students motivated through those hump months. Or it's the beginning of a new semester and you want to make it clear that your classroom is a great place to be. Sometimes you just need something quick and engaging to get some engagement in the classroom, and the best way to do this is with short, activities that build skills at the same time. I've collected some of my favorite strategies here and am offering you 5 ways to energize your students while they learn.

1. Do it standing up

Many of the exercises we ask students to do can be done on their feet. When any human sits for long periods of time, the natural inclination to veg kicks in. If we build in opportunities for students to move a bit during class, you will be amazed at how it improves energy and engagement.

And you don't need to plan something elaborate to make this happen.

The think-pair-share is a well-used strategy in many classrooms: pose a question, give students time to reflect, then have them share with a partner. It's an effective way to get all students thinking. However, when I read the room and see that I may be losing the students, I'll get them to do a stand and share instead. It's exactly the same as the turn-and-talk, they just do it standing up.

And just giving students a few minutes to stand can do wonders for re-energizing them.

I used lots of activities that required students to work standing up. If you like the idea, check out these blog posts:

The Gallery Walk

Quote walk

Take it to the wall

10 ways to get students moving to learn

NOTE: the first time you get students to stand to work, you may have to cajole them into it. You aren't teaching physics but a body at rest does tend to stay at rest. Once you train them, however, your students will get into it. Trust me. I did it every semester with every group of students I had- and it works!

Now on to some other ways you can energize your students while they learn.

2. Energize with a Sentence Stem Challenge

If you'd like to help your students improve the discussions they have in class, try this sentence stem challenge.

Tbis strategy is the perfect way to energize your students because not only will they enjoy the competition of the challenge, they will also practice their skills for discussion. It's also something that can take very little time.

There are two ways you can do this:

The quickest and easiest version do when they are studying a text together - a novel, a short story, even a poem. Group your students and give them sentence stems for discussing author technique (👉🏻 grab it here).  Tell your students that they will be competing to see which group can come up with the most accurate assertions about the text in the time you give them.

Timing will depend on the age of your students and complexity of the text, so you'll have to be the judge of that. However, I'd probably start with five minutes and then circulate to see how they are getting along. Give them a one minute warning when it looks like most are getting to the end.

This is a great way to know only energize your students, but also to have them practice writing analytically.

You can do something similar with discussion stems: assign a topic that you think students will engage with, one that will have multiple points of view. For example, should we have school uniforms? Would a four day school week work? Should our screen time be limited?

First, start by giving students a handout with some sentence starters or stems. You can access some of mine here. Then, group them and tell them you want them to brainstorm how they feel about the topic. Then, you get reps from each group up to the front of the room to practice debating the issue using the sentence stems. You'll get more detail and direction here.

If your students like this, extend it with an argumentative or persuasive challenge (that's fun to do and easy to grade!)

3. Sagas or 100 word narratives engage students

These short, meaningful stories can pack a powerful punch that energizes even the most apathetic student. Most students love to tell their stories, and when you give them a short, focused way to do so, they'll get engaged. 

Start with a six word memoir: Tell the story of this class right now. Give them this example (or one of your own) as a jumping off point: Students look bored; must change something.  Or Bell's ringing soon. Time to dance. 

Next, you can move on to more words with sagas, short 50-100 word narratives that focus on point of view and conflict. My students used to have so much fun with these that they often begged to do more. Seriously.

Energize students with sagas

You can check out my saga lesson here. The New York Times also has lots of ideas and examples for 100 word narratives.

4. Create a fake TikTok video as a character in your book

If your school is ok with students using phones, have them work in small groups or pairs to create a fake TikTok video that captures some aspect of a character in a text you are studying together.

Tell them to pick one characteristic and that the content of the video needs to illustrate this trait without a) saying who the character is and b) what the trait is. Students will submit the videos to you and guess as a class who and what each group was trying to capture.

Your students will have a hoot - and practice their analytical skills at the same time.

5. Teach analysis with visuals 

If you want to build your students' analytical muscles, spend some time analyzing visuals. They find them much less intimidating than text. And, let's face it, many of them spend more time inundated with visuals than the ideas in the books we give them to read. So it makes sense to devote some time to analyzing them.

To do this, find some interesting visuals and ask your students to analyze what the creator was trying to achieve with it. Your students will enjoy the process and use skills they can transfer to close reading.

You  can get more ideas for teaching visual literacy here.

So there are 5 ways you can energize your students while they learn. Which one might you use with yours?

Here are more ideas from my friends here in the Coffee Shop:

8 Ways to get students moving

5 Ways to Promote Reading in the Classroom

Reading is a part of every English Language Arts classroom. Some students love it, some like it, and some dread it. While reading is a life-long skill for everyone, there are ways to engage your students in a classroom to ensure they are practicing reading skills, which will help them year after year. 


Consider starting your daily lessons with 10-15 minutes of reading time or ringing a DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) bell a few times a week; as well as this being a great 'settling' activity, this also means that students have to get in the habit of carrying a book with them at all times, just in case!

I have personally done book talks with my students and I have also invited our librarian to share some of the latest books with my students. This is definitely a great strategy, but sometimes students require a bit more action. So, to get everyone up and moving and learning about some new book titles that they might like to explore, I use this Reading Escape Room with them!

It sounds obvious, but if we want students to become enthused by reading then we first need to model this behavior ourselves!

This can be as simple as just creating a poster for your door which lists the books that you are currently reading and a brief summary of what they are about.

Students love competitions (especially when there are prizes involved!) so use some good old-fashioned in-class rivalry to get them reading!

A competition that works well with every age group is the 'Read your Height' challenge. This can be completed individually with students racing to read their own height in books, or it can be turned into a whole-class challenge with students competing against other classes in the school to see who can read an average height first. This also works great as a display board idea; when a student has finished reading a book, they can measure the spine and add it to the wall as a visual reminder of how close they are to meeting their target.


Are you tired of the same old paper and pencil tests at the end of a text? Are your students struggling with remembering the details from a novel or play that you have studied in class? Are you searching for a fun, collaborative activity?

Look no further! I have the solution for you!

I have written an informative blog post about this Whole-Class Novel Study Final Project!

Click HERE to access the project.

Check out some other reading activities and resources for your classroom:

- Engaging Reluctant Readers in the High School English Classroom

- Getting students to read

How to Implement Writing Bell-Ringers in ELA

By: Presto Plans

It’s no secret that the more students write, the better they become at writing. However, it's also easy to get bogged down in the sheer number of writing standards to “cover” over the course of the year.  This is why writing bell-ringers are a total game-changer. By spreading out the work of teaching writing over an entire school year, the task seems much less daunting. Students get a low-stakes, predictable, and structured routine that helps them hone in on essential skills related to descriptive, argumentative, expository, and narrative writing. On the teaching side, this also means more opportunities to gauge student progress, fewer late nights of marking, and less time dedicated to planning.

Here's how I like to use the paragraph of the week writing bell-ringers in middle and high school ELA.

Day 1: Musings Monday

As students make their way into the classroom on Monday, I like to provide them with a thought-provoking prompt, inspiring them to craft a powerful paragraph. Personally, I like to change things up, switching the focus between argumentative, narrative, expository, and descriptive writing prompts each week. With ten weeks devoted to each of the four writing types, you have the freedom and flexibility to focus on specific skills in any order you choose!

It’s important to remind students that the purpose of Musings Monday is to generate ideas. Writing freely, without judgment or worry about being graded, is the best way to get the creative juices flowing! I also like to set a timer for this task. It’s essential that writing instruction doesn’t “take over” - then you’re right back to getting bogged down in writing at the expense of the other important learning that needs to happen in ELA! Once students have a basic paragraph to work with, it’s time to set it aside until tomorrow.

Day 2: Transform Tuesday

Now that students have a paragraph draft to work with, it’s time to really see the magic of writing bell-ringers at work. Transform Tuesday is an opportunity for students to look back on their writing and begin to make improvements to it. For example, if your focus is descriptive writing, you might start this mini-lesson by reminding students that good writers show, rather than tell. 

You can use your slides to guide this lesson, providing examples to illustrate how students can spot areas to improve in their writing. For instance, “showing” might look like this:

  • I found myself in a lush jungle. It was very hot.

By contrast, a “telling” example might look more like this:

  • The air was thick and heavy, carrying the scent of damp earth and lush foliage. Beads of sweat formed instantly on my brow and trickled down my face.

With this new learning in mind, students can look back over their paragraph and identify at least one sentence where they are “telling” and revise it so they are “showing” instead. Again, you may wish to set a timer for this task to keep everyone on track!

Day 3: Wordsmith Wednesday

With fresh eyes, students can revisit their paragraph on Wordsmith Wednesday. This time, their focus is on elevating their writing through rich and vivid word choices. At this stage of your writing bell-ringers routine, you may wish to teach a brief mini-lesson on different literary techniques, including figurative language terms. Using the provided slides, I like to show examples of simile, metaphor, or other figures of speech and how they could be applied to the weekly paragraph. 

Here, it’s important not to overwhelm students - there are 40 weeks of school in a year, after all! I usually choose to just focus on one targeted area of improvement per prompt. Students can wrap up this lesson by tweaking the language in their paragraph.

Day 4: Technical Thursday

Daily writing bell-ringers serve two really important purposes. Firstly, they provide daily low-stakes opportunities to focus on writing skills, and secondly, they reinforce the importance of the editing and revision process. With this in mind, it’s time for Technical Thursday!

Today’s class begins by focusing on an element of writing mechanics, grammar, or sentence structure. For example, you might use the provided slides to prompt students to look at the variety of sentence lengths in their paragraph, or at subject-verb agreement. Middle and high school ELA students can use Technical Thursdays to help identify and overcome common writing issues, such as syntax errors, or repetition of words or phrases. 

Day 5: Finalizing Friday

It’s the last day of the week, and the paragraphs are nearly ready to go! As students work on their good copy of their writing, I like to provide them with a quick final checklist of what they should focus on to ensure they are producing their best work. 

To wrap up this writing bell-ringers program, there are a few different options for assessment and reflection. My personal favorite is to have students file all their weekly paragraphs in a personal portfolio, and then select one to be graded at regular intervals (perhaps once a month, or once a quarter, depending on your schedule). 

Alternatively, students can complete a brief periodic reflection of their growth as a writer, or conference with you individually or in small groups to discuss their writing progress. Or you could collect paragraphs by writing category (descriptive, persuasive, narrative, or expository) all year long, tracking growth in each style of writing. 

As you can see, the beauty of the writing bell-ringers is the structure, predictability, and flexibility they can offer in middle and high school ELA classrooms! 

Ready to try out writing bell-ringers in your ELA classroom? Learn more about the full-year program by clicking here!

Looking for more writing activities and routines for ELA? Check out some of the other Coffee Shop blogger resources below:

Sentence Combining Bell-Ringers by The Daring English Teacher
Bell-Ringer Journal Writing Prompts by The Classroom Sparrow


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