Multiple Literacies Being Developed in the Literature Classroom: Hieroglyphics to Graphic Novels

byMeghan Senjanin


Creating a curriculum that “surveys all literary periods” in various genres while also keeping the text-selection diverse in authorship is not easy. It is challenging to keep your students engaged throughout the school year, so when you add in having to keep them engaged throughout all of literary history the pressure begins to mount. Because of this, I have created a curriculum unit that not only interests my students, but connects to their lives in the 21st century. Analyzing how image and text have worked together in literary history and life accomplish that.

The young adults of today are inundated with images and text together at an alarming rate. Twenty-first century society has created a need for students to have more than traditional linguistic literacy. There is now a need for students and citizens in general to be literate in various contexts. Singular linguistic literacy, although still obviously important, is not sufficient. First, despite being products of a vastly image-saturated and technological world, many don’t have a well-developed visual literacy--which I will define here as being able to “effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use and create images and visual media”.1 Students must also be able to utilize both traditional and visual literacy when they critically evaluate images paired with text.

Furthermore, media literacy has a place in this unit as well. According to the Center for Media Literacy’s (CML) website, they define media literacy as “a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.”2 Also, according to a video published by the CML in 2017, a kindergartner sees seven media messages a day on average, and by high school that child will spend ⅓ of their day using media.3 That media is a mix of image and text via television, video games, YouTube, advertisements, social media, digital billboards and multiple other outlets.

Consequently, images are much less threatening to young people because they are so comfortable with all the media and visual aspect of their everyday lives. While developing these literacies, I am also sneakily using that comfort to get the students acclimated to various techniques they need for the analysis of literature high school and beyond--close reading, compare and contrast, identifying authorial intent, critical thinking, using literary criticism lenses, and more. This unit will not only focus on linking together my curriculum throughout the year by studying the relationship between image and text but also concentrate on improving the multiple literacies a 21st-century student and citizen needs.

School Background

Back of the Yards College Preparatory High School (BOYCP) is on the southside of Chicago. It is one of the first wall-to-wall International Baccalaureate (IB) schools in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Because of this, our curriculum has an international mindset, and we strive to develop the student to fit the IB learner profile--students “who, recognizing their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.”

BOYCP is a semi-selective enrollment urban high school that is predominately Hispanic (89.4% Hispanic, 5.7% Asian, 3.2 % Black, 1.5% White, and 0.2% are listed as “other”) and low income (96.6%). The majority of students are bilingual in one manner or another (oral and/or written skills vary). We have three main academic tracks of students - scholars (also includes the co-taught environment & ELL classes), magnet (honors) and pre-IB (high honors). We have a level 1+ rating by Chicago Public Schools, the highest possible school rating.

Whom the Unit Serves

The students participating in this unit are sophomores (age 15-16) of varying ability levels and language proficiencies. My grade level partner and I will be implementing this unit with varying levels of differentiation for all the sophomores in the building. English II is a class that surveys historical periods as preparation for the students entering two very rigorous programs--a two year International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (DP) Literature program or a one year Advanced Placement Literature class followed by a dual enrollment English class with the City Colleges of Chicago. Because of this, one of the goals of English II is to introduce the students to various forms of critical analysis and provide some historical context for literary and historical time periods. The course covers mixed genres in the following periods: Medieval, Renaissance, Romantic, Realism, Modernism, and Postmodernism.


With the goal of creating a course thread, this unit has two components. First, a two- to three- week introductory unit for the year which focuses on how the image and text relationship has developed throughout history. It will highlight the path that the act of “reading” is currently on and establish the importance of the interplay and synergy between text and image. By looking back through history at image and text, we will find similarities with today. Is there a reason we call it “scrolling” on our computers? Does this connect to ancient scrolls that were unwound to continue reading? What are the connections between ancient hieroglyphics and today’s emoji? Furthermore, how have inventions over the years democratized and spread literacy from the printing press to Twitter? These few weeks will also introduce four literary criticism lenses and apply them to image and video.

In the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme unit planning process, I must include a Statement of Inquiry (SOI) with each unit I create. An SOI works to connect the context and concepts of the unit and should be an idea that is transferable outside of the classroom and across the curriculum. I am broadening this requirement to create an SOI for the whole course in addition to the unit specific SOIs. As the course moves through literary history, each unit will have an SOI that is more tailored to the content of that literary period. The course’s SOI is: Investigating the history of the relationship between text and image is vital to varied forms of analysis. This overarching SOI will guide us through all of literary history and be revisited at the beginning of each unit as historical background and the function of the image-text is disseminated.

Within this introductory unit, I will be disseminating some basic skills of visual literacy, addressing the tenets of media literacy, teaching the students to read images independently and with texts, and constructing a historical foundation for the year. It can get very confusing when discussing the relationship between text and image because much of the time they are intertwined as one. Let me make some clarifications--a “text” is not limited to the written word. Comics or graphic novels and poetry paired with images such as Blake or a children’s illustrated book are all texts. Another area of confusion may lie in what it means to read. To read is defined by Oxford as the ability to “look at and comprehend the meaning of (written or printed matter) by interpreting the characters or symbols of which it is composed.”4 I am viewing reading as inclusive of more traditional linguistic literacy, and also the ability to understand an image-text (i.e. a meme, emoji, graphic novel or political campaign advertisement). By beginning the school year examining connections between ancient hieroglyphics and 21st century emoji, and finishing the year with the modern day graphic novel, I will inform students of the importance of text and image relationships and inspire them to look at image-texts more critically.

The second part of the unit is dispersed throughout the school year. Because this unit is being utilized in a survey class, the first week that we study each historical period will be used to introduce historical background and a case-study in the role of the image-text for that literary period. This allows us as a class to return to and link the Statement of Inquiry and essential questions for the school year with the analysis of that specific historical period. It also allows me to introduce the area of analysis we will be focusing on in that unit. For example, if close reading with an emphasis on literary devices is going to be the main skill addressed with the unit’s text, I can first introduce those skills using an image or image-text from that time period. The students immediately perceive the skill as less difficult and rarely assign it academic pressure. The students are deceived because highly academic work can be done with images and image-texts. In the process, the students are utilizing and improving their multiple literacies.

Furthermore, the project for this unit spans the duration of the year, so students can return repeatedly to that project for revisions and additions. As we travel through the history of text and image relationships, I want students to begin to see text creation and analysis as an organic, ever-changing journey.

Content Objectives

This unit as whole has varied objectives. Part one sets out with three main objectives; part two continues those but also focuses more intently on improving visual, media and linguistic literacy. Part one sets the stage for the unit and the year with goals such as defining what reading and literacy are, establishing and identifying the interplay and synergy of text and image, assessing students’ current level of multiple literacies, and making a connection between how humans have read in the past and how they read now. Part two aims to improve students’ multiple literacies by analyzing the evolution of the text and image relationship throughout literary history, keeping the Statement of Inquiry and essential questions constantly in mind.

Part One: Introductory Portion of Unit

The introductory portion of this unit is going to set the framework for the whole year. However, this portion of the unit could most definitely be used in isolation as a visual or media literacy unit to address the Common Core State Standards or various state standards on reading and writing. It is very important that this portion of the unit (whether standing alone or together with the next portion) inform students on the importance of reading images and paying close attention to the interplay and synergy between image and text. Both the interplay and synergy of the image-text relationship are important; the ability to comprehend, synthesize and analyze an image-text is what builds the multiple literacies.

Both Establishing & Identifying Interplay & Synergy in the Text Image Relationship

In this first part of the unit, it will pay dividends to have some discussion with your students about how they define reading, writing and literacy. Traditional thoughts on what literacy is (the ability to read and write grouped alphabetic characters) need to be aired with your students. Primarily, this is so you can break down the walls of traditional literacy and introduce the concept of other literacies. Our students come to us with varied ability levels and distorted views on their literacy abilities. We have all heard them say “I am not a good reader” or “I am a math and science person” or variations of those statements. I think it is a worthwhile activity to discuss and define “literacy” with them. Then, identify what they think of the various types of literacies--media, visual, and linguistic. Furthermore, find out what their experience with image-text compilations consist of--comics, graphic novels, memes, various forms of art, etc.--and get those experiences out into the classroom. Image-texts come to us in various content areas. For example, it might be a worthy inclusion to discuss scientific charts and other ways information is visually displayed in the math, science, and history departments. Charts on standardized tests are often areas of difficulty for our students.

Once the air is full of their ideas about literacy and/or what it means to read, the dialogue on images and texts can really start. As I will explain further in the Classroom Activities section, starting the unit off with the picture of “The Treachery of Images” by René Magritte from 1929 projected on the board is a great jumping off point. It will force them to identify what they trust or are more inclined to read first--text or image? This will open up a dialogue on the interplay of text and image. What is the reciprocal relationship between the words and the image on the screen? As a side note, there is much written on this by WJT Mitchell and Michael Focault and more if you are interested. Most of these texts are above a high schooler’s level but could be helpful to deepen the teacher’s understanding.

Scott McCloud uses this painting in his book Understanding Comics when he discusses iconology. Is it a pipe? Or is it a picture of a pipe? Or, in this case, is it a projection of my computer which has a .jpeg of Magritte’s painting displayed? The discrepancy between what students see in the image and what they read in the text brings up practical questions about which they give more credit--what is the image telling them versus what the text is telling them? In addition, there are more philosophical questions about authorial/artistic intention--what is Magritte conveying to us with the title and contradictory messages? According to McCloud, the iconological stance would argue it simply is not a pipe.5 McCloud’s work includes many published articles and online resources at, which are a great teacher resource to read and reference when beginning to teach text and image. Beginning with this activity makes students think about the active influences, or interplay, between text and image. The words “Ceci n'est pas une pipe” are actively engaging with the image that at first glance many would identify as a pipe. Both the complementary and at times contradictory relationship between image and text can be helpful when analyzing. Further, I would argue that the complementary aspect of this relationship is highlighted well in the synergy between the two.

Consequently, it is important to discuss the synergy of text and image. If interplay is the reciprocal relationship between text and image, synergy is the idea that when text and image are combined they are richer than as separate entities. Their total is more than the sum of their parts. I would argue that struggling and accelerated readers alike can gain great amounts of knowledge from the image and text relationship. From images being more universal than language to the powerful effect the visual has on a person, the reasons to include the visual are endless. Our classes are full of students who learn differently--kinesthetically, audibly, visually, etc. Using images and text together to reach more learners just seems rational. This is not a new idea. By accessing students linguistic, visual, and media literacy, you are opening new avenues of analysis and hopefully critical thinking.

As long as literature has been studied, art and music have been combined with literary works to further investigate ideas, images, and concepts. Canonical works such as William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience6 use images along with texts to intensify the effect on readers. Blake's inclusion of illustrations at times clarifies but even more I would argue it causes deeper inspection into the meaning of his poetry and the intention of the poet. For example, there is a change in the poetry from Songs of Innocence to Songs of Experience. That change is more perceptible by looking at the illustrations from the two sections. The illustrations in Innocence are brighter and more virtuous where the illustrations from Experience become somewhat darker to represent the fall from innocence. For the visual learner and/or those improving their visual literacy, these illustrations can aid immensely in analysis and enrich interpretation.

Blake's uses of illustrations with his poetry are an early example of Dawnene Hassett and Melissa Schieble's definition of text "as the cohesive whole of a document, including words, images, design and their relations".7 In their article "Finding Space and Time for the Visual in K-12 Literacy Instruction", they discuss the current paradigmatic and ontological shifts in literacy and education as a whole. The shifts they discuss include the influence of social or cultural practices on the text and the creations of meaning made to apply those particularly to the use of text and image together. The juxtaposition of text and image allows for "different ways of shaping knowledge, imagination and design",8 and if used correctly in the classroom the development and improvement of new literacies, such as visual literacy, would foster critical thinking.

Analyzing the Path Reading and Text Has Taken

Moreover, in this portion of the unit, some groundwork will be laid to explain how text and image have evolved over the years. This includes making connections between today and the past. To establish connections in the history of reading, you must connect the old works that students feel disconnected from to the image-text of social media platforms and memes they are currently so obsessed with. By using chapters of Gavin Lucas’s book The story of the emoji, an instructor can grab students’ attention by pointing out the history that links ancient hieroglyphics to the visual symbols of social media. It is important to look at the beginning of pictorial communications when discussing 21st Century emoji because of the glaring similarities. Humans began communicating in pictures thousands of years ago and now we are doing a more technologically advanced version of that same type of communication from scrolls and cave walls to iPhones and Android.

One of the main components of this content objective is to connect the past with the present. One of the most accessible entry points for that is the connection between hieroglyphics and emojis. In Lucas’s book, he explains how “40,000 years since the earliest known cave painting,” we are still “harnessing the potency of symbols” on a daily basis.9 As mentioned earlier, the interplay and synergy of text and image is a powerful thing. Emoji are an example of how image enriches text. When Lucas discusses the birth and history of the emoji, he points to the fact that the emoji at its earliest inception was helpful because of its universality but more for its ability to make up for the lack of person to person connection in new technologies.10 He argues that the emoji of today is what adds tone and emotion to an otherwise strictly textual message. An additional punctuation of sorts. Similarly, hieroglyphics, not hieratic the cursive language of the time, were found mostly on monuments and used more commonly in religious contexts. One could argue that these hieroglyphics, a more pictorial form, were utilized for them to communicate more effectively with their gods. Connecting with the Divine is something people throughout time have strived to do. It is an interesting element that the Egyptians used pictorial communication over textual when trying to communicate with their Gods--a coveted relationship. Why? They seemed to think it was the more connective route of communication. That theory connects with Lucas’ idea that emoji became so widely used to bridge the gap that technology left between people with these new technological advances--email, text, and the like. Making connections between the civilizations of the past and present like this is important and further cements the idea that the image-text not only has been around for a long time but is strong as ever.

There are multiple credible and free sites online to find hieroglyphic alphabets and images of the various forms of delivery that the hieroglyphics were written on--vases, cave walls, tombs, etc. By examining these with students and having them create words or sentences, you are having them work with ancient texts. Next, it would not be difficult to have the students create a story or carry on a conversation in strictly emoji.

Hieroglyphics are only the beginning of connecting the past and present of reading and text. There are various terms that we use in today’s society that are easily relatable to the past. For example, consider the media people have read on over time. From ancient scrolls to the Amazon Kindle, the act of reading has changed media but some basics remain the same. To be more specific, ancient scrolls were a very popular way to store manuscripts long ago. They were large rolls of papyrus used to write on that the reader could continuously move down or upward on to read. Today, we use the term scrolling when reading on various digital media--on a computer, a tablet, or an ebook. There are clear connections to make the students consider. How we read in the past and how we currently do have many similarities.

Additionally, I think there are comparisons between the invention of the Gutenberg printing press and the growth of social media. A very positive outgrowth of the printing press was the mass production of books. With mass production, literacy levels rose slowly as the masses had more accessibility to texts. This arguably began the democratization of knowledge for the masses as well. Although these are broad statements, students can relate to these when taken into the 21st century context of social media. Social media gives out information quickly in an unbiased manner and affords all a voice and platform for better or worse. The Gutenberg printing press mechanized and condensed printing while also creating a more common language; Twitter taught the public to express themselves in 140 characters or less. Both arguably have changed the way people communicate with one another. Moreover, Project Gutenberg is a website that gives access to free e-books and continues this democratization in the name of the influential printing press; it seems to be creating a true full technological circle. Additionally, below I will discuss the importance of visual and media literacy when teaching adolescents to be informed citizens.

When taking the time to look at the history of texts, there are many avenues to go down. I think it is important to know your audience to choose which route to take. I am teaching sophomores in high school, so I am going to try to directly tap into their lifestyles--use of emojis, social media, creative uses of different image-texts, etc. Showcasing these connections and the history is integral to the main objective of part two in the unit--creating a course thread through the whole school year in an effort to keep students engaged. At the end of this unit, the students will begin the year-long assessment explained below where they are asked to analyze how image has affected the way we analyze text throughout history.

Introduce Four Literary Criticism Lenses

At my school, we need to introduce literary criticism at the sophomore level. I will be using images to familiarize the students with feminist, Marxist, reader response, and archetypal literary criticisms. Images are much more familiar to students than the archaic language in The Canterbury Tales and some Romantic poetry. If the language immediately confuses the student, the task of discussing the text through a literary criticism lens is next to impossible. Again, I stress this is not because the image is easier; it appears easier to the adolescent. The student is still thinking critically and deeply about the image. Once the students have familiarized themselves with the basic pillars of each literary lens, we can move onto the media image-text of video--a clip from a movie, an advertisement, etc. Finally, throughout the year the students will use these modes of criticism to critique and analyze text and image together and text independently in class discussions and their writing.

This basic tenet of using a tool of analysis on an image or image-text first will open doors that previously were locked shut due to self-doubt on the students’ end. This path can be used to introduce close-reading, familiarizing literary devices, and much more.

Part Two: Thread Component throughout the Curriculum

After the introductory unit has been established, it will be possible to come back to these ideas throughout the school year at the beginning of each literary period unit. The objectives of part one continue into part two, but the focus shifts to improving students’ multiple literacies while continuing to analyze the Statement of Inquiry and the text and image relationship.

The goal is to use the first week to week and a half of each subsequent unit throughout the year as a mini image-text study. This not only introduces the literary time period in what the students see as a less threatening or daunting medium (text and image) but also continues the study of how image and text function throughout history. The latter part of that also provides a space for students to come back to their year long writing assessment. Below you will find a chart with the larger work and the introductory work for that unit.

Time Period

Larger Text of Unit

Unit’s Introductory Work


U2: Canterbury Tales “General Prologue”, “Wife of Bath”, and “Pardoner’s Tale”

  • Pilgrim Portraits & artwork in manuscript
  • Blake’s Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims engraving


U3: Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare

  • Visual of a stage production of Romeo & Juliet (studied last year)
  • Alciati Emblematum Liber -- That respect is to be sought in marriage


U4: Romantic Poet Study

  • Scott McCloud’s webcomic of Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover”


U5: Great Gatsby

  • Concrete Poems
    • e e cummings and other’s concrete poetry


U6: Excerpts of Souls of Black Folk, Paolo Freire literature, and To Kill a Mockingbird to form a unit on social justice

  • “Montgomery Story”
    • Used to teach peaceful resistance to a younger crowd


U7: Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis

  • Excerpts from Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to introduce reading that medium.
  • Arrival by Shaun Tan
  • “Hurdles” by Derek Kirk Kim

Improving Student Multiple Literacies

To reiterate, for our purposes here we are focusing on how students need to develop multiple literacies in the literature (and across the curriculum) classroom. Earlier, we defined visual literacy as being able to “effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use and create images and visual media”11 and media literacy as the ability to critically evaluate various forms of media which include both text and image. Similar to the Center for Media Literacy’s definition of media literacy, Nicole Beatty states in her article “Cognitive Visual Literacy: From Theories and Competencies to Pedagogy”, that developing and improving students’ visual literacy is becoming increasingly important in the 21st Century.12 As I mentioned earlier, the students of today’s world are surrounded by the visual and inundated with various forms of media. They are digesting image and text in quick and sometimes careless manners.

W. J. T. Mitchell discusses the importance of the image-text in his article “Against Comparison: Teaching Literature and the Visual Art”. He takes time to discuss how we encounter media that ask us to navigate and question text and image on a daily basis. The simplest of these is the newspaper where the reader should be able to analyze the juxtaposition of photojournalism and journalism. He says that the public needs to know how to evaluate these “ordinary experiences before moving on to elaborate” and more complex text image relationships. Mitchell insists we need to ask why a picture of the president getting off his plane juxtaposed next to a news story about sending troops abroad. Mitchell asks, “Is the photograph there to be seen with any attention? Is it important how the president looked that particular day or how the picture was taken? Or is the picture scarcely seen at all, merely registered the way the presence of a signature or trademark might be noticed, as a sign that the president is alive and well?”13 A large part of this unit is preparing our students to answer questions such as these. How can we expect students to mature into informed, voting citizens without the ability to decode, investigate, and evaluate messages like these?

Earlier, I discussed how social media platforms have changed the way that people communicate with one another for the better I would argue. First, the widespread dissemination of news and information on social media is such an important and powerful force in our society. I compared it to the democratization of knowledge that the Gutenberg printing press created in the 15th century. With that said, students need to be able to digest all this information and sort through it for truth and falsehoods. Our students exist in a world where social media is everywhere in all facets of life--public, private, and political. Students need to be able to critically evaluate and analyze the text and images coming at them. If you take a moment to list the ways information is disseminated today, social media is at the top of the list. Many parts of those transmissions are in text and image or graphics. From Facebook to Twitter to Instagram, information is being rapidly fired off. Some are pictorially based and some equally image and text heavy. These social media platforms are very influential. The impact the image-text has on people is growing in society; yet, are we preparing our students to effectively comprehend, analyze, and make judgments about the information being disseminated?

The Center for Media Literacy published a YouTube video titled “What is Media Literacy?” in January of 2017 where they insisted that all young people should be able to answer five questions about any piece of media they digest. The questions explored authorship, audience profiles, intention and more.14 The video makes you consider how important it is to more deeply analyze the media messages society is exposed to. This is a part of why this unit is important; do our students critically analyze the media they digest or even create? It is not all that different than the analysis we do in the literature classroom.

Figure  Row 1: Hillary Clinton’s tweet Row 2: Jeb Bush’s response & Clinton’s counter. Row 3: Two tweets by followers.

Specifically, in “Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016,”15 Sam Sanders discusses the effects graphics had on constituents on both sides of the aisle. First, he mentions that even platforms that started as majority text based (i.e. Twitter) have changed their original programming to include graphics, images, websites, and the like. This requires the public to navigate the text and image relationship while absorbing information that could potentially sway their presidential vote. To be more specific, Sanders cites a specific “Twitter war” (Figure 1) between Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush’s campaigns. They used a series of graphic images rich with text to attack the other’s campaign on their stance and/or record on student loans for college students. Underneath the tweets are responses from private citizens making similar graphic images. The public needs the tools to digest this information. Students need to have a strong visual and media literacy to navigate the world around them. This unit is going to improve students’ multiple literacies. By analyzing the image-text throughout history, the students will learn to more critically investigate images and text alike.

Year Long Project

At the culmination of the year, I want students to see their own writing as organic and multi-faceted. One of the most common problems for writing in high school English classrooms is that students don’t understand that writing is an ongoing process and is quite possibly never done. Trying to get students to revise and reread their work is a harrowing experience. At all ability levels, they commonly believe that revision only happens once (after they peer edit between the rough and final drafts) and that it is a predominantly grammatical task. I have tried various things to remedy this problem from peer editing to having students revise their “final” draft with my comments numerous times to simply not assigning due dates—but too little avail. They constantly change only grammar mistakes and leave the content alone without any revision.

Consequently, the year-long assessment is an assignment that they will begin at the end of this unit and will return to at various points throughout the semester to help them grow as a writer and thinker. Specifically, they will be answering the following essential questions: How has image affected the way we analyze text over history? Furthermore, what is the best medium to express a complete answer to this expansive question? The first question speaks to the content of the unit--the relationship of text and image throughout time--and the second question to the medium of the year long project. The Statement of Inquiry also should stay prominent in the students’ minds while creating their pieces.

This project will only begin (and not finish until the end of the year) at the culmination of part one of the unit. Returning to it every unit will require the students to continually address the year’s statement of inquiry and essential questions. Teaching students that reading is a lifelong endeavor and that writing is an organic process is paramount in this unit. By showing the students the evolution of the relationship between image and text, I am aiming to show them how literature (in its many forms) is always expanding and changing. Furthermore, I want them to apply this ideal to their writing and analysis as well. Ideally, since I am introducing four literary criticism lenses in part one of this unit, these analyses will carry over into their writing for this piece and the strictly text-based literature that we study all year.

As students move through literary history during the year, they will be recording their reflections in graphic organizers and journaling in their binder. These informal writings done throughout the unit will aid them in the year-long writing task. Then, they will need to consider what medium might be the best way to express that growing relationship. Moreover, the medium in which the student communicates these ideas is up to the student and shouldn’t be limited to just being prose. In the end, the assignment should incorporate both text and image but the distribution need not be equal. The possibilities are endless and shouldn’t be constrained to the options here but some ideas to consider for composition are:

  • Text in majority of prose with the aid of images
  • Text in majority in image with the aid of little prose
  • Poetry with images, such as Blake uses
  • A comic/graphic vignette
  • Borrowed text and image collaboration that works in a collage-like way
  • Video or photography

Regardless of the medium, this has to be a work that they can return to over the semester and add to and/or revise.

In addition, the long-term writing assignment idea directly connects to staple assessments in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program Literature course and college writing in general. Whether it is Advanced Placement or IB DP Literature courses, the students will need to be able to critically analyze text and image independently and together for their exams in various subjects. I believe that this unit will set them up with an improved visual literacy to do so. Also, allowing this formal writing assignment to be in various forms lets students at varying levels of writing proficiency experience success and truly respects all media as legitimate "texts."

Teaching Strategies

These are strategies that will be used throughout the unit and subsequently the school year. Specific activities to go along with these more general strategies will be outlined in the following section.

Binder Set-up

The use of a binder with dividers throughout the year will not only keep things organized but also house all the students’ work for the year on the Statement of Inquiry and essential questions which will prove helpful with the year-long project. The binder should have five sections: Historical Background, See Think Wonder, Using Language, Literary Devices, and Year Long Writing Assessment. The Historical Background section will house notes on historical background and the image & text relationship for the various literary periods. The See Think Wonder section is where all those exercises can be kept. The Using Language (grammar concepts) and Literary Devices sections is where all class notes will go respectively. Finally, the Year-Long Writing Assessment is where the students will keep track of their writing process, so it will contain all the journaling brainstorms, outlining, notes on rough draft writing, conferences, peer collaborations, etc.

See Think Wonder

See Think Wonder is a fabulous introduction to reading images and a great tool while trying to increase all types of literacy levels. After giving the students an image (or image paired with text), ask the following questions: What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? A See Think Wonder exercise allows students to break down and slow the way they look at images. It asks students to make observations, interpret their observations and question the image. It is in its essence very elementary but builds to higher order thinking.

First, it asks the student to identify what they see in the most basic way--identify shapes, colors, recognizable objects, etc. For example, if we were to do this activity for Magritte’s “Treachery of Images” mentioned earlier, the answer to this would be “I see letters or words written, a large black & brown pipe against a beige background.” It is important to note that the students should be looking at the markings at the bottom of the page as grouped letters. To think would be to read them and that is next. This concept can be used when teaching literary analysis with text alone as well. The purpose of taking each of these steps is slow down the eye and not miss anything.

Then, it asks students to take those observations to another level and asks what they think about the things that have identified--to read the grouped letters at the bottom, translate the words if the knowledge is there, identify it as a depressing image, comment on the busyness or simplicity of it, possibly compose a backstory, etc. For our image, students may respond “I think that smoking a pipe is bad for your health” but ideally they soon begin to read the letters and words, so their thoughts turn to questions on the discrepancy between the text and image.

Lastly, begin to ask them to question the image and think deeper about it. As the student “wonders” about the image they are thinking about a variety of components--its origin, authorial/artistic intentions, possibly a critical lens to view it through, etc. Finally, this should be where the students begin to question Magritte’s intention in creating this piece. Hopefully, the students will wonder their way into McCloud’s ideas on iconology and ask why it is not a pipe. Using this technique on images, again a non-threatening mode of analysis for students, is preparing students to do close readings on text or image-texts as the year goes on.

Utilizing the Writing Process & Teacher Student Conferences

Since this unit includes a text-creation project, it will become increasingly important for students to be organized and be able to recognize what point in the writing/creative process they are at. Because of this, student will keep everything in their binders under the Year Long Writing Assessment. For my purposes here, the writing process has 6 stages: brainstorming (various activities & journaling), outlining, rough draft writing, peer edit/work shopping, ongoing revision, and publication (final copy due to the teacher). Since everyone’s project will most likely look very different, it is very important that the students have some autonomy with their process. However, assessment of the process must also occur; there needs to be tangible evidence of each stage of the process in this binder section. In many ways, the process is just as important as the final publication product. In order for the students to understand that ideal, there need to be benchmarks throughout the year where the progress is assessed and recorded in the gradebook.

In addition, there needs to be time set aside to conference with students and allow for peer editing and, more importantly, collaboration. During these conference times, the students can show their work and receive feedback. Assessing the process should be based on artifacts (consistent journaling for brainstorming, text/image creation, peers comments on the student’s work, etc.) and on their ability to communicate their thoughts through oral communication. The majority of documents will be housed on Google Suite, so teacher and student have constant access to the documents for communication as well as peers being able to collaborate. Students must be given time to workshop their ideas throughout the process.

One of the ongoing objectives of the unit, and ideally an outcome of this strategy specifically, is teaching students that writing is an organic process that takes time and revision and may never quite possibly be “done.” I am hoping that housing their creative process here will drive that point home and pragmatically keep them organized and engaged.

Classroom Activities

Part One: Introductory Portion of Unit

Magritte’s Pipe Opening Assignment

To show the relationship and/or power balance between words and images, “The Treachery of Images” by René Magritte in 1929 is a great place to start. This discussion can be facilitated by a See Think Wonder as explained in the previous section. However, the most important part of this activity is setting up the importance of the influence text can have on image and vice versa. This begins to explain the interplay between the two. Facilitating the discussion on text, image and the image-text here can be tricky. It is a great time to draw some lines for the students. They see the image of the pipe. They see the text at the bottom. They also see it together. At this point, defining the combination of image and text here could be helpful. When text is alone, it is linguistic. When image is alone, it is strictly visual. When the two are combined in any way, referring to them as an image-text will clarify things. This allows for a clearer path to the conversation previously mentioned in Content Objectives about Scott McCloud and iconology.

Hieroglyphics to Emoji: The Evolution

Within the first few days of the unit, you want to start drawing connections between the past and present. There are various ways to do this mentioned above. However, after some lecture and discussion, one of the more creative and entertaining ways to do this are having students communicate with hieroglyphics (very primitively) and emoji. Online you can find easy “how-to” hieroglyphic alphabets and websites that translate for students so they can write out their names and construct short messages to one another.

Then, I suggest you have the kids work in Google Docs for the next step. Have the students pair up and create a script of a conversation composed of emoji only. Google Docs has an emoji keyboard they can utilize. Have the students click on Insert>Special Characters>use the drop down menu to select Emoji. There they will find various screens of themed emoji. With both students on the Google Doc at once, they can collaborate and respond to one another. The exercise in using both forms of communication should solidify some connections between past and present. A free write or exit slip on the similarities and differences between the two modes of communication could become a great brainstorm for the larger project throughout the year.

Here is an example of doing this on a smaller scale with basic identity. My name is hieroglyphics is what appears to be a bird, knife, and upside down top hat according to translation alphabet found online. To express myself in emoji, I may put     . Discussing the similarities and differences between these two expressions of my identity will be fruitful.

Introducing Literary Criticism

Figure  Duck-Rabbit illusion. From: Jastrow, J. The mind's eye. Popular Science Monthly, 1899. Artist: Jastrow, Joseph (1863-1944)

Literary criticism is not an easy concept for students. To introduce the students to the concept, I make it all about perception starting with a bellringer where I give them a folded up piece of paper with the famous rabbit-duck illusion (Figure 2). When everyone is seated, I have them open up the folded paper and write down what they see. Some see the rabbit and some see the duck. The floor is now open to talk about perspective--why do some of us see the duck while others see the rabbit? The conversation can go in a variety of directions. One of the most common is the discussion on where your eye goes first. Did you see a beak or ears first? I then guide the conversation to a variety of sayings and adages that they are familiar with: is the glass half full or empty (i.e. pessimism or optimism)? What does it mean to look at the world through rose-colored glasses? We then look at a variety of illusion paintings and images to further examine perspective. When they are ready to talk about the four lenses that we will be focusing on (feminist, Marxist, archetypal and reader response), we return to the question of what it means to look at the world through rose-colored glasses? What if those glasses were green for money, black and white versus color, or didn’t allow you to see gender? How do those concepts change the way you view the world?

Figure 3 “Globe” of Flags

Then, it is time to introduce the basic tenets of those four literary criticism lenses. With each lens, I give the students an image depicting that lens. For example, when we discuss the feminist lens, I give the students a picture of Rosie the Riveter and for reader response I display a stick figure walking towards a book with a suitcase--what do we, as readers, bring to the texts we encounter (i.e.-biases, perspective, etc.). After we have gone over the basics of the lenses, I give the students an image of a “globe” of flags (Figure 3). I then ask the students to do a See Think Wonder. As a class, we do the See and Think aloud some basic observations are expressed. Then, I number off the students to have them wonder about the image via a specific lens we discussed. If I have the Marxist lens, my “wonder” will revolve around the economy of those countries’ flag and which flags represent the wealthy, powerful countries and which are the poorer, underdeveloped countries. Similarly, the feminist lens will wonder about the role women play in each country and so on. This is their first taste of literary criticism.

Within the next few days, I will grab various images from disparate forms of art (painting, sculptures, photography, clip art, etc.) to post around the room. The students will do a gallery walk analyzing the various images using See Think Wonder. The important part of using this technique is that it slows down the eye. It makes the students thoroughly look at the image, think about its author/significance/message/meaning, and finally wonder through one of the literary criticism lenses. I repeat this activity with song lyrics, video clips from movies, advertisements, and eventually various types of poetry and prose. Throughout the school year, students use the See Think Wonder method to analyze images, videos, texts and image-texts.

Part Two: Thread Component throughout the Curriculum

Example Week One Activities throughout the Year

Week one of each unit throughout the year will have two goals. First, this week needs to introduce the historical background for the literary period. This can be delivered in a variety of ways. Personally, I like to lecture a little on the political and social conditions of the time and biographical information on that unit’s main author(s) with some guided notes and also include a short educational video on the time period. After some basic groundwork on the time period and author, you can move into introducing the image or image-text from this time period that will lead into the larger text for the unit. Along with this, you will be introducing the form of analysis that you will focus on in the larger part of the unit. The chart listed in the Content Objectives section of this unit plan gives examples of the larger text and the unit’s introductory image-text.

For instance, in the unit after the introductory unit to setup the year, the students are studying Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer. The larger unit focuses on characterization and point of view. For the introductory image-text, we will be looking at the pilgrim portraits of Chaucer’s characters by investigating images from the ancient manuscript. The pictures of the manuscripts can be found on the Huntington Digital Library or the Luminarium: Anthology of English Literature to have your students look at online or to print for them. In addition, I also want my students to examine William Blake’s Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims (Figure 4). As we will start every unit, the students will use See Think Wonder to first investigate the manuscripts. There are not many pictorials in the “General Prologue” so skipping to the actual tales will allow for more fruitful conversations. I would suggest assigning the students tales to investigate-- specifically the tales you plan on covering. For my class, the students will read the “Pardoner’s Tale” and “Wife of Bath’s Tale”. For the most part, there are images on the manuscript for each tale’s pilgrim. While doing the See Think Wonder, students will begin to make predictions about the characters and the story. They cannot read the text in the manuscript because it is in Middle English, so they really have to depend on the visual.

Figure 4 Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims by William Blake (Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection)

However, the pictorials of the characters are not the only thing you want the students to focus on. To truly take in the literary tradition of the time, the students are also recognizing it is handwritten, the foreign form of English, the ornate lettering at the beginning of tales, the comments in the margins, the beautiful colors being used, and much more. This opens up a conversation about how this is related to the hieroglyphs on ceramics, monuments and cave walls talked about previously. Making these connections in the week one activities is very important.

Furthermore, one of the areas for analysis for this unit is characterization, so we use an acronym for student’s to remember the tenets of characterization--STEAL. It stands for analyzing a character’s speech, thoughts, effect on others, actions and looks. Taking the depictions in the manuscript starts to develop one of those tenets. Then, I think that comparing the pictorials in the manuscript with Blake’s Chaucer’s Canterbury Pilgrims is an interesting area of investigation. Match that conversation with the physical descriptions in the “General Prologue” about each pilgrim and you are including other tenets (actions, looks, effect on others) of characterization. Moreover, when the actual tales begin to be told, even more about the pilgrims evolves. Using these introductory texts to ease into the unit’s larger texts is a great tool.

Briefly, another example of a way to use the image-text that is a little different than the example above is using Scott McCloud’s illustration of Robert Browning’s “Porphyria’s Lover” to introduce Victorian poetry. Scott McCloud’s website gives an image paired with each line of the poem. I think it is an interesting way to look at a modern interpretation of a Victorian poem. The illustrations will not only aid the students through the poem but also provide plenty of discussion on the interpretation and plot.

Additionally, for a Shakespeare unit, you could use the stage production as an introductory image-text. One of the most important things to remember while teaching plays in the English literature classroom is that plays are meant to be visual. At my school, the students read a Shakespeare play each year. To introduce this unit, I am going to show clips of last year’s play Romeo & Juliet. This will give me a chance to disseminate some background information on the Globe Theater and society as Shakespeare knew it while doing so using a text familiar to them. I would also take time to connect Shakespeare’s works back to the democratization of knowledge talked about at the beginning of the year because it is the first time in England’s history that people other than the upper class experience the amazing world of the theater. This idea should resonate with the similar events such as the birth of the Gutenberg printing press and social media platforms. Again, keeping these connections to other parts of literary history and to the student’s life of today are vital to the success of this unit and the course thread in general.

Year Long Project

Throughout the year, the students will be collecting See Think Wonders and other journal writings on the images, texts, and image-texts they examine and analyze. All of these will prove very fruitful when students actually sit down to think about how they want to answer the essential questions: How has image affected the way we analyze text over history? Furthermore, what is the best medium to express a complete answer to this expansive question? These will all be kept in their binder for safe keeping. In addition, all the websites of our analysis pieces will be kept online in our Google Classroom. As said before, everything for this year long assignment will be done in the G Suite (Google Docs, Slides, Forms, Sheets, and Classroom).

The timeline for the assignment will be spread over ¾ of the year. The first quarter will be spent acclimating ourselves to the SOI and essential questions for investigation. This will include but not be limited to the See Think Wonders, journals, image-text creation, class discussion, etc. Quarter two will be the beginning of rough draft creation of the student’s assignment. This can be done in a variety of mediums including but not limited to majority prose, majority image, comic book format, mixed media, digital media, or otherwise. This will also be the time that student-teacher conferences occur and some narrative about your upcoming project will be discussed. The third quarter should be dedicated to revising your creations from quarter two by peer editing and conferencing with peers. Finally, your assignment should be ready for assessment by the middle of the 4th quarter.


Appendix A



Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.


Analyze the representation of a subject or a key scene in two different artistic mediums, including what is emphasized or absent in each treatment.


Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person's life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.


Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.


Beatty, Nicole A. 2013. "Cognitive Visual Literacy". Art Documentation: Journal Of The Art Libraries Society Of North America 32 (1): 33-42. doi:10.1086/669987.

Blake, W. and Keynes, G. (1992). Songs of innocence and of experience. London: Oxford University Press.

Center for Media Literacy. 2017. What Is Media Literacy?. Video.

Chaucer, G. and Brooks, H. (1962). Chaucer's pilgrims : the artistic order of the portraits in the prologue. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Darnton, Robert. "What Is the History of Books?" Daedalus 111, no. 3 (1982): 65-83.

"Emblematica Online". 2017. Emblematica.Grainger.Illinois.Edu.

Hassett, Dawnene D., and Melissa B. Schieble. "Finding Space and Time for the Visual in K-12 Literacy Instruction." The English Journal 97, no. 1 (2007): 62-68. doi:10.2307/30047210.

Kim, Derek Kirk. 2017. Hurdles. Ebook. Marietta: Top Shelf Productions.

Lucas, G. (2016). The story of emoji. Munich: Prestel.

McCloud, Scott. 1998. Porphyria's Lover. Image.

McCloud, S. (2008). Understanding comics. New York: William Morrow/HarperCollins.

"Media Literacy: A Definition And More | Center For Media Literacy". 2017. Medialit.Org.

Mitchell, W.J.T. 1990. "Against Comparison: Teaching Literature And The Visual Arts". In Teaching Literature And Other Arts, 31-37. New York: The Modern Language Association of America.

Mitchell, W.J.T., and Art Spiegelman. 2014. "Public Conversation: What The %$#! Happened To Comics?". Critical Inquiry 40 (3): 20-35. doi:10.1086/677327.

"Read". 2017. English Oxford Living Dictionary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sanders, Sam. 2017. "Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016?". NPR.Org.

San Marino, CA, Henry E. Huntington Library, MS EL 26 C 9 (The Ellesmere Manuscript). Chaucer, Geoffrey, The Canterbury Tales., July 2017.

"Scott Mccloud | Journal". 2017. Scottmccloud.Com.


  1. Nicole Beatty, “Cognitive Visual Literacy,” Art Documentation: Journal Of The Art Libraries Society Of North America, 2013, doi:10.1086/669987
  2. "Media Literacy: A Definition and More | Center For Media Literacy,"Medialit.Org, 2017,
  3. Center for Media Literacy, “What Is Media Literacy?.”2017,
  4. "Read," Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017,
  5. Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics, Illiam Morrow/Harper Collins, 2008.
  6. William Blake and Geoffrey Keynes, Songs of innocence and of experience, Oxford University Press, 1992.
  7. Dawnene Hassett and Melissa Schieble, “Finding Space and Time for the Visual in K-12 Literacy Instruction," The English Journal 97, no. 1 (2007): 62-68. doi:10.2307/30047210.
  8. Dawnene Hassett and Melissa Schieble, “Finding Space and Time for the Visual in K-12 Literacy Instruction," The English Journal 97, no. 1 (2007): 62-68. doi:10.2307/30047210.
  9. Gavin Lucas, The story of the emoji, Prestel, 2016.
  10. Gavin Lucas, The story of the emoji, Prestel, 2016.
  11. Nicole Beatty, “Cognitive Visual Literacy,” Art Documentation: Journal Of The Art Libraries Society Of North America, 2013, doi:10.1086/669987
  12. Nicole Beatty, “Cognitive Visual Literacy,” Art Documentation: Journal Of The Art Libraries Society Of North America, 2013, doi:10.1086/669987
  13. W.J.T Mitchell, "Against Comparison: Teaching Literature And The Visual Arts," Teaching Literature And Other Arts, 31-37, 1990.
  14. What Is Media Literacy?” Center for Media Literacy, YouTube, 2017,
  15. Sam Sanders, "Did Social Media Ruin Election 2016?" NPR.Org. 2017,

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