About Heath Graham

I'm a teacher who has worked at independent and state schools. I have primarily taught English and Humanities, but I have experience across the curriculum. I have a special interest in working with learning difficulties and in cross-curricular learning.

The three literacies of comics

Updated: Here’s the recording of the webinar on comics and literacy held on 10 September. This post introduces some of the ideas and resources discussed.

Comics are often misunderstood. Many people, when they think of them at all, think of them as being the preserve of superheroes and three panel gag strips in the newspaper. Comics embrace works of all genres and they are increasingly finding a place in classrooms around the world.

A commonly used definition of comics is “sequential art.” Images, when viewed in order, give a sense of the passage of time.


Image source: http://scottmccloud.com/1-webcomics/carl/3a/02.html

This simple two-panel comic from Scott McCloud, the author of Understanding Comics, demonstrates this point. By “reading” the placement of these images as a time sequence, we build a narrative.

The art form of comics imposes no boundaries on genre, content, or indeed artistic merit. Art Spiegelman’s Maus, telling the story of his Holocaust survivor father, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Reading comics is an engaging experience that embraces traditional literacy skills, but also brings other skills into play as well.

Literacy skills

Most comics have words, in the form of speech, captions, or both. These written elements become uniquely engaging through their embedding in the comics medium.  Many of the core concepts of literacy learning can be explicitly addressed. Sequencing and ordering of ideas is at the very heart of comics, and inference and deduction from context are also well supported by the inclusion of visual imagery. This additional visual support provides another way in to a story, and can provide an often much-needed boost to visual learners.

The use of comics in literacy teaching is finding increasing support in academic circles, as these studies show:
Comics Are Key to Promoting Literacy in Boys, Study Says
For Improving Early Literacy, Reading Comics Is No Child’s Play

Visual Literacy

Comics not only have to be read as literary texts, they also have to be read as visual texts. The artistic choices made in producing a comic shape the experience of the comic. To appreciate a comic fully requires an understanding of the elements and principles of visual design.   These elements provide a common vocabulary to talk about images that can be used across the curriculum. This allows students to think about the composition of an image in the same way they consider the composition of a written text. This idea can be expanded by considering individual panels of a comic like shots in a movie. What is visible in the shot? How is it framed? Why were these choices made?

Comics literacy

Comics are constructed in a particular way, and they use their own grammar and syntax. Each image in a comic is called a “panel”, and the space separating them is known as the “gutter”.  Speech is enclosed in “balloons” and internal dialogue is often placed in “thought bubbles”. Panels are read in the same direction as usual reading order, which can often come as a surprise to first-time readers of Japanese comics!

Most of us are so familiar with reading comics that these procedures become transparent, but they are learned skills, and a vital part of reading comics.

Tools and resources

Given the place comics can have in class, here are some online tools and resources to help you and your students make their own:

Comic Life – one of the most popular comics makers, which is now bundled with EduStar for use in public schools. A simple drag and drop interface allows you to create comics with your own images.

ToonDoo – free online comic creator. Use images from the site, share your creations, and view comics made by others

A great site for news and reviews about comics is No Flying, No Tights, which as the name suggests, looks well beyond the usual superhero fare.



Film and video resources: Making History & 15 Second Place

Today’s guest post comes from Heath Graham, Education Officer at the State Library of Victoria. Heath explores two sites designed to help students create special kinds of online videos.

In 2010 – 2011, Innovation and Next Practice at the Department of Education funded the development of a range of highly engaging and interactive online educational resources from cultural institutions around Victoria. The focus for these projects was on content production by students, for sharing with their peers and the wider community. Two of these projects allow for online video creation. They are Making History and 15 Second Place.

Making History

Museum Victoria’s Making History is a resource for producing and sharing digital histories. Digital histories are short digital stories based around an historical inquiry. Students choose a topic, conduct their research, then produce and upload their story to the site, where it can be viewed and commented on by members of the community.

The site offers four broad themes for students to follow:

  • Living with Natural Disasters,
  • World Events; Local Impacts,
  • Cultural Identity; Migration Stories
  • Family and Community Life

These topics are broad enough to find a home in many parts of the history curriculum and allow great opportunities for students to conduct some original research.

Student research is well supported by Making History. Videos and tutorials from professional historians and museum curators cover each of the themes suggested by the site, as well as more general videos on oral history, conducting an historical interview, storyboarding, filming tips, and guides on how to upload your finished story.

Making History also has a space for students to upload and share their work with the community. Users can comment and give feedback on the videos. Digital histories uploaded to the site range form grade three to VCE, and the focus is from myths and legends to the story of a German immigrant coming to Australia after World War II.

15 Second Place

ACMI’s 15 Second Place allows students to create and share very short films that capture the mood or theme of a location. The films are geotagged, so they can be linked directly to the place they were made. The recommended length for these films is only fifteen seconds, which might seem impossible, but it’s well worth checking the site out and seeing how much you can capture in that time.

Fifteen seconds is not enough time to develop a narrative, but it is long enough to give a sense of place, capture a particular mood or tone, or address a theme. The site has several suggested themes that you can use.

Films can either be shot onsite with a mobile device and directly uploaded from the free iOS app, or they can be uploaded via the website. Once they have been shared, they can be viewed through a map interface on the site. The videos are geotagged (this happens automatically if uploaded from the app), and other tags can be added as well. Other users can comment on videos they have viewed. They can also follow other creators, mark favourites, and share to other networks.

The 15 Second Place site contains teacher’s notes and support material for using the site effectively with students. Also included are curriculum links, activity suggestions and a link to the ACMI Educator’s Lounge.

These projects are all accessible through the FUSE educational portal.  All FUSE content can also be found through the Ultranet under the Resources tab.

ANZAC Day resources

Go to ergo World War 1

It’s well known that personal connections foster empathy for others. Online access to the collections of cultural institutions, coupled with online tools for students to share their thoughts, provide many new opportunities to build these connections. With ANZAC day approaching, here are some resources to engage students in the first global war.

State Library of Victoria – The ANZAC Spirit

This gallery showcases images from the collection of the State Library of Victoria illuminating the human side of the War. See images of soldiers training, relaxing, exercising, or even getting a haircut. Links to the catalogue records for the images give access to further details for research.

Go to SLV ANZAC Spirit gallery



ergo – Australia and World War I

This site combines extensive digitised primary source material with short essays and external links to provide deeper context for Australia’s role in this global conflict. Topics covered include the role of women, propaganda, controversies around recruitment and conscription, life on the front lines, and the fate of returned servicemen. Primary sources include printed material, photographs, and one-of-a-kind diaries and letters, showing personal stories as well as the larger picture. The site also features material about World War 2.

Go to ergo World War 1


1000 Poppies

This commemoration and remembrance website was produced by the History Teachers Association of Victoria. Registered users can plant a poppy in the site’s virtual poppy field, attaching a message of remembrance. These messages can be chosen from a pre-prepared list, or users can write their own. The site also allows groups to share images videos and stories, and is supported by a range of teacher resources.

Go to 1000 Poppies



ANZAC Day – Australian War Memorial

Resources from the War Memorial include primary sources, essays, transcripts of speeches, and more. The War Memorial is always a great reference point for any topic dealing with Australians and warfare.

Go to Australian War Memorial  ANZAC Day