Visual Storytelling in Upper School English

This year, the walls outside of Mr. Slack’s English classroom are papered with stories and drawings. But these are no simple art project. They are complex reflections crafted in a unique, visual storytelling medium: the graphic novel.

Sophomores in English 2 dive into this distinct genre through cross-curricular study, learning about the Holocaust in their history class while reading related works in English. They begin with Art Spiegelman’s Maus, a staple of the graphic story genre that visually depicts the experiences of Spiegelman’s father during the Nazi invasion and occupation of Poland in World War II. In addition, students read Elie Wiesel’s poignant concentration camp narrative Night, a traditional book format that reinforces the power of personal memoirs.

In order to deepen their understanding of the key characteristics of graphic novels and narratives, Slack’s English 2 students create an original, two-page graphic story. They are encouraged to address a fictional situation or a real-life scenario about overcoming a challenge, learning a valuable lesson, or remembering an interesting experience. Slack encourages experimentation with visual elements such as panels, images, texts, and transitional blank space.

Students tapped into their artistic sides to share their stories, including depictions of their daily lives, vacation escapades, the challenges of being a twin, and the tale of an AIS parent’s journey from her childhood home in the former Soviet Union to the United States.

“The girls’ feedback about the project and process is incredibly valuable,” Slack remarks. “Having them reflect on their work — including rewarding elements as well as any challenges — provides insights into what resonates with students, as well as what they value.”

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