Dec 16 2011

Technology Offers a Novel Way to Teach Writing

Using technology to assemble words and pictures into a graphic novel makes writing fun for students.

Students communicate by writing nearly every day. But in an increasingly visual world, they also must learn to express themselves through imagery. With digital cameras and online image collection and manipulation tools, students can open the door to a whole new world of storytelling.

Lesson Description

This collaborative effort between the language arts instructor and teacher-librarian (TL) transforms a traditional essay assignment into a creative, technologically rich activity. The project, in which students write stories about their “personal heroes” in a graphic-novel format, should take three to five class periods to complete.

The classroom teacher should begin by asking students to consider what makes someone a hero and then record their ideas either graphically or with words. Once this is done, the TL should explain the storyboarding process. (Storyboards sequentially organize the images that make up a story. They “pre-visualize” how the story will unfold, much as an outline maps out a written essay’s structure.)

To facilitate students’ understanding of what storyboards can achieve, set up a display showcasing a variety of graphic novels. Have students examine carefully each novel’s design, color, mood, tone and purpose. They should then refer to their brainstorming notes to make and record connections between the displayed titles and their own concept of what it means to be a hero. For homework, ask them to begin storyboarding the graphic novel they will create about their personal hero.

Once the storyboarding process is under way, introduce the tools that students will use to create their graphic novels, including BeFunky (a free website that allows users to upload, alter and download pictures without having an account) and websites such as morgueFile and Creative Commons, which offer free stock photos. Explain to students that they can include images with free or extended copyright allowances — with the proper citation language.

Be sure to approve students’ storyboards before giving them cameras or computer time to work on their images. When students have finished their photo alterations, have them print and arrange the images into storyboard panels using Microsoft Word, Publisher or PowerPoint. Conclude the project by having students share and explain their novels to the class ­using a document camera.

Subject Area

This lesson focuses on English/language arts subject matter. It was created for eighth-graders but can be adapted for students in grades 4 through 12.

Curriculum Standards

This project fulfills several English/language arts Standards for the 21st Century Learner established by the American Association of School Librarians (AASL), along with select National Educational Technology Standards for Students established by the International Society for Technology in Education.


Grading Rubric

Students’ grades should be based on whether their work contains at least two dialogue bubbles per picture; develops characters effectively; creates and resolves conflict; includes imagery that matches dialogue with action; includes at least 10 pictures and five pages that were created using technology; and demonstrates creativity.

Teaching Tips

  • Preregister for a BeFunky account so you’ll have photos uploaded and ready to alter during your site demonstration.
  • Give students the option to include scanned personal drawings, along with photos, in their graphic novels.
  • BeFunky is the preferred photo editing website for this lesson because it’s easy to use and doesn’t require an account. Learn about others at
Image Source/Glow Images