The Surprising Benefits of Student-Created Graphic Novels

By Shveta Miller, published on Cult of Pedagogy, 2019

Graphic novels are wonderful for reading, but when students use this form for their own writing, incredible stories can emerge.

There is no shortage of ways we all can benefit from teaching graphic novels. They engage reluctant or struggling readers, they are gateway texts for more complex literature, they build necessary background knowledge, and they develop visual literacy skills. 

But another important reason to teach students to read, analyze, and create a graphic novel is that the form invites them to express hard truths about themselves and their experiences in a way that is different from what they can do with pure prose. 

And perhaps a more surprising reason is for the impact it can have on a teacher’s relationship with students. Teaching the graphic novel to my high school English students wasa way for me to see that there was pain in my classroom and the role I might be playing in students’ difficult experiences. 


I taught my first unit on the graphic novel in my high school World Literature classes. We read Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis, in which a young Marji describes her experience growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. For their culminating project, students created their own graphic memoirs about a significant experience in their lives, using Persepolis as their mentor text. 

As I turned page after page of each student’s story, I discovered that this unit had accomplished a goal I never intended. I didn’t expect so many students to delve into deeply personal, often traumatic, experiences from their past. I had read engaging personal narratives from students before, but this was different. Some used the project to announce an aspect of their identity they had kept secret. Others revealed the reasons behind certain challenging behaviors they exhibited in class. They created stories that would be healing for them and, in some cases, for their relationships with me. 

What is it about the graphic novel form that made this possible?

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A Strategy for Giving Corrective Feedback to ELLs

By Shveta Miller, published on Edutopia, 2020

Using sentence frames and explicit feedback thoughtfully can provide the right balance of structure and scaffolding for English language learners.

When I started teaching English language learners, I avoided addressing my students’ language errors in class because I was just grateful that they volunteered to speak at all. I was also unsure how to provide feedback in the moment. On top of that, I thought that I simply lacked the time to address all the errors that students were making.

One day, I had the chance to explain to a student why he needed the article a before certain nouns. He told me this was an “aha” moment for him, and I was reminded of the value of corrective feedback.

Here are some ways to address students’ language errors in class while also building their confidence with spoken and written academic language.


Teach and practice how a vocabulary word is used in different situations: When introducing a new vocabulary word, I also teach the correct conjugations, prepositions, parts of speech, and collocations of the word when used in different contexts. (A collocation is a series of words that are often found together. For example, after defining the word indicate, I explain that it’s typically paired with thatwhy, or how.)

If the word is a verb, we practice using it in different tenses and paired with different subjects. I include the correct prepositions alongside the vocabulary word on our class word wall. If students use the word with an incorrect preposition, I direct them to the word wall and ask them to choose one of the correct pairings.

Explicitly model how to correctly complete a response frame: Language teachers commonly use response frames to model the academic language their students need to practice. For example, to practice using the word persuade, we might use this frame: “Citizens can persuade political leaders to _____.”

I improve the quality of students’ shared responses when I demonstrate how to generate the correct language in the blank. In this example, first I clarify the meaning of the word citizens. Then I highlight the word to as a grammar clue in the sentence. When paired with persuade, the word to signals that next we need a base verb (an action word with no changed endings). I write improve public transportation in the blank as I think aloud, “People are late to work because the buses don’t arrive on time. Many people want to persuade our mayor to improve public transportation.”

I recite the completed sentence aloud, modeling the correct pronunciation and emphasis. I prompt students to repeat out loud together so they will be more comfortable sharing their own examples. With this added step, students build fluency.

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