Graphic Novel Geeks Only: Create Your Own After-School Club by Sarah FitzHenry and Megan Grant
If you’re a reading teacher, librarian, or parent, then you probably already know: graphic novels are all the rage. They’re fun to read, they’re deep and evocative, and they engage all kinds of readers at first glance. If you’re not convinced yet that graphic novels are real and worthwhile texts to bring into your classroom, school, or family library, please take a moment to read these two articles to learn more about why we love having these rich and engaging texts in our classrooms: Not too Easy (Pernille Ripp) and The Research Behind Graphic Novels and Young Learners (Leslie Morrison). Then, go take a look at how taking graphic novels seriously shaped our readers and library at St. Anne’s-Belfield School specifically: The Great Graphic Novel Experiment and I Learned that Graphic Novels…
For the record, we’re not graphic novel experts. Neither of us has ever written or illustrated a graphic novel, or even taken a course on the subject. We do, however, read graphic novels voraciously, feature them in our classrooms and libraries, and teach them as part of our school curriculum. As a reading specialist and a school librarian, we are in unique positions to learn not only what skills and techniques students need to become successful readers, but also what motivates and helps them fall in love with reading. Much like poetry or nonfiction, reading a graphic novel correctly takes practice and a specific skillset. When students rush through a graphic novel or can’t show adequate comprehension, teachers and parents are often quick to blame it on the graphic novel – but we’ve found that readers just need some guidance to enjoy and understand them correctly.
So this year, we decided to work together to create a special after-school workshop for our graphic novel lovers to come together to read, celebrate, and create their favorite kind of books. While they knew they were doodling and giggling, they had no idea that they were developing critical skills to become stronger readers, writers, and students. Below, you’ll find all of the details of our six-week workshop, including our format, goals, and week-by-week essential questions and plans. You’ll also find links to directed drawings that we used for illustration practice, and a list of popular mentor texts that we referred to as we worked. We share these resources with the hope that you will feel inspired to recreate our graphic novel club in your school or library and celebrate the books that your readers love.
- After school club; 1 hour total, once per week
- 16 students ranging from kindergarten – 4th grade
- Each meeting was broken into roughly 10 minutes of recess and snack, a 5-10 minute mini-lesson, 15-20 minutes of free reading, sharing discoveries, and asking questions, 15-20 minutes of drawing (directed drawings, character creation, and eventually, drawing our own graphic novels)
- help students and families legitimize graphic novels, take them more seriously, and see them as “real books”
- help readers to understand how graphic novels work and how to read them correctly
- help readers to slow down and take in more details in their graphic novels, getting more from the stories
- create connections with readers that love graphic novels (often reluctant readers that might not connect with librarians and reading teachers otherwise)
- use graphic novels that they’ve already read as inspiration to create their own characters and plotlines
- understand the planning that goes on behind the scenes of their favorite graphic novels and how much work they are to construct
- reinforce skills and vocabulary they’ve learned in RLA classes and writing workshop
Favorite Mentor texts:
- Three Thieves
- Phoebe and Her Unicorn
- The Baby-Sitters Club
- A Wrinkle in Time
- Binky the Space Cat
- Real Friends
- Student-favorite authors like Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Doug TenNapel
Plans & Guiding Questions
Week 1 – What do you know about graphic novels? How are graphic novels different from traditional books?
- Invited students to tell us what they know about graphic novels
- Listed similarities and differences between graphic novels and traditional novels
- Asked what questions they had about graphic novels that we could answer together
- Independent/buddy reading time
- Illustration practice: Directed drawing Dog Man
Week 2 – How do you read a graphic novel correctly?
- Looked at one page spread of a graphic novel with text removed, then turned off screen and just read the text from the same page spread
- Which one made the most sense? Can you get the full story? Why or why not?
- Pulled up complete full page spread and pointed out all of the pieces (panels, dialogue and speech bubbles, narrator text, setting and background, color)
- How should your eye should move along the page? (Left to right, top to bottom)
- What should you do first – read the words or look at pictures? (Whatever you want, as long as you’re doing both!)
- Modeled reading a page, stopping to look it all over and piece the clues together
- Independent/buddy reading time
- Illustration practice: Directed drawing narwhal and jelly
Week 3 – What author and illustrator clues are you missing in your graphic novels?
- Had two page spreads scanned and printed for each group
- What clues do authors and illustrators leave for the reader? Why do most readers miss them? How can they help you understand the story better?
- Split into small groups with pencils to circle and label clues
- Came together as a group to share clues and make a list of all of the tiny details on those two pages alone
- What do these clues mean about the characters, setting, and story? Why does it matter if you rush by and miss them?
- Independent/buddy reading time
- Illustration practice: Directed drawing monster
Week 4 – How do you learn about characters in graphic novels?
- What do the way characters look tell us about them and their stories?
- Study multiple graphic novel covers and list character inferences from that one image (example: Hilo has glowing hands, so he must have special powers; Roller Girl’s face makes her character seem confident and excited)
- How do line style, color choice, movement, sharp vs. round angles, and other design choices impact the character?
- Create a character. Write a list of three character traits, then drew the character using our drawing techniques to incorporate that characterization
- Illustration practice: Directed drawing cartoon boy and girl (optional; readers could continue working on their personal characters)
Week 5 – How do you build a story in a graphic novel?
- What are the elements of a story? What happens in the beginning, middle, and end?
- What is a plot, and why is it important? What is a climax, and how can you build suspense and tension before the resolution?
- What kind of ending will your story have? A cliffhanger, happy ending, sad ending, or something different?
- Plan your story’s plot. Write an outline including beginning, middle, and end on a separate sheet of paper. Your plan can include pictures.
- Illustration practice: After your plan is complete, begin your final graphic novel! Teachers provide various graphic novel printable panel templates as a resource.
Week 6 – How do you put it all together to create your own graphic novel?
- Continue working on your final graphic novels!
- Teachers available to answer questions, help with outlines and drawings, etc.
- How can you turn your graphic novel into a real book? Option to create construction paper covers and “bind” with staples
- Short on time? Take home extra template pages and covers to complete
Sarah FitzHenry believes that libraries and the books they hold are critical tools to help create the next generation of citizens and leaders. Sarah’s K-8 student-centered library encourages young readers to take control of their learning, pursue their passions, and experience the world beyond their comfort zones. As the voice behind library blog Fitz Between the Shelves, Sarah writes and speaks internationally about school libraries, technology, student empowerment, and the joy of making really messy mistakes. Follow her adventures on Instagram @fitzbetweentheshelves and Twitter @fitzbtwenshelves.
Megan Grant is a K-6 Reading Specialist at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, VA. She also coaches Varsity Swimming and Girls on the Run. You can follow her on Instagram @ms.grants.rla and Twitter @megangrant87.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I do a similar club with our third , fourth and fifth graders. This has given me some food for thought on activities that we can do in our club meetings.
This is a really great idea and format! I’m wondering if you found any difficulties with having such a broad age-range (k-4th) in regard to planning/engagement, etc.. Did students buddy-up by grade? Thank you for sharing!
That was something we thought a lot about when we first started planning! We are a small school, and our campus is K-8, so we not only know our students very well, but they are used to acting as older buddies and role models for younger students. When we got our roster, we took a moment to speak to each third and fourth grader alone about how, because of their increased experience and knowledge with graphic novels, we hoped they would act as teaching assistants to the little ones. They were all excited about the idea, so when the time came to meet, they naturally offered to read aloud and help with writing and planning. When they needed breaks to do their own thing, we stepped in to support (it really helped that there was two of us!). It was so awesome to see the older kids as leades. They were so proud, and I think it added something special for them to get to teach and lead!
This is simply fabulous! Thank you for sharing. I’d also like to recommend The Cult of Pedagogy podcast, episode 126. It goes into great detail about both reading graphic novels and using them as mentor texts.