Reading and Writing: A Graphic Story


Bone: Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Asterix by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot

Are any of these books familiar to you? Are any of them in your school library? These four very popular titles are part of an ever-growing segment of the publishing world—the graphic novel.

“Graphic Novel” is a term used to describe a novel-length book that is written and illustrated in the style of a comic book.

They are now becoming mainstream reading material (especially for boys) and are an essential part of many school libraries (and responsible in some cases for an increase in circulation). The illustrations provide prompts that enable reluctant readers, readers struggling with language acquisition, special needs students—readers at virtually any level of ability—with access to a diverse range of reading materials.

Knowing that graphic stories are a powerful tool for motivating students to read, I reasoned that they might also be useful in prompting the writing process. The following activity grew out of that thought. Although I used the sea otter as the subject for this activity with my grade four class, and linked it into the theme we were working on at the time, the process can be adapted to other topics and grade levels.


  • Each student will write a graphic story about a sea otter pup.
  • The story will include factual information.
  • The story will follow criteria set by the class.
  • a collection of graphic stories and novels
  • a copy of Welcome to the World of Otters by Diane Swanson
  • a copy of  Sea Otter Inlet by Celia Godkin
  • chart paper
  • a fact sheet about sea otters (one fact inside each box)
  • a large sheet of construction paper for each student
  • a formatted page for writing the graphic story for each student


  1. I gathered a wide range of graphic novels, graphic storybooks, and graphic non-fiction books from the school library. The students looked through the books and partner talked about the types of illustrations they found, the text features of the books, etc.
  2. We listed the text features on a chart (speech bubbles, thinking bubbles,  sidebars, bold words, italics, etc.).
  3. The students set themselves the goal to write a graphic story that included facts about a sea otter pup.
Fact Finding
  1. I read Sea Otter Inlet by Celia Godkin and Welcome to the World of Otters by Diane Swanson aloud.
  2. The students webbed sea otter facts as I re-read the stories.
  3. Each student put together a booklet of sea otter information using a large piece of construction paper folded in half. The front cover was illustrated with a labelled drawing of an otter diving for sea urchins. The students were then provided with a fact sheet about the animal, which they cut apart. They sorted the fact boxes into groups. After making a heading for each sorted group, the students glued the fact boxes to the inside of the booklet. The webbing activity was glued to the back cover.

    (A sea otter pup fact sheet is available online at

Setting Criteria

With a booklet of sea otter information in hand, the students were eager to start their stories. We began by making a list of criteria. Each story must have:

  • a catchy title that fits the story
  • a clear beginning, middle and end
  • a sea otter pup as the main character
  • at least one talking bubble in each frame
  • big pictures (that fill the frame)
  • bold pictures (at least 3 relevant details)
  • bright pictures (at least 5 colours)
  • at least five facts about sea otters embedded in the story
  • filled every frame in the template
  • filled only one template page
  1. The students began by thinking through their storylines and titles and then partner talking their thinking.
  2. Over several days, the students developed their stories. After checking with the list of criteria and adjusting their stories if necessary, they began the colouring process.
  1. Students rehearsed reading their stories out loud.
  2. Students rotated through a number of partners to share their stories.
  3. Students were invited in small groups to share their stories in other classes.

Writing in the graphic story genre proved to be a strong motivator for my students. They were really invested in learning the factual information so that it could be incorporated into the plot line. It was also a great assessment tool for me!


Brenda Boreham
Brenda has been teaching for over 30 years. She uses literature based themes in her classroom and is actively involved in her school and district literacy committees.

This article is from Canadian Teacher Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2011 issue.

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