Whether you want to introduce students to what it takes to write a graphic novel/short story, or you want to have students transfer their knowledge of another piece of literature into graphic novel form, Storyboard That can help.

Why Teach with Graphic Novels?

Graphic novels are often given a bad rap because they make people think of poorly written comic books - not works of literature. "Graphic novel" really just means "long picture story". There is both good and bad literature without pictures, and of course good and bad visual art without words. (For the sake of brevity, I will not go into sound and music as well.)

The graphic novel can take on many forms. Picture books like Chalk by Bill Thomson or Journey by Aaron Becker could be considered short versions of a graphic novel. They are stories told by pictures. Illustrated books, from Mo Willems' celebrated Pigeon series to Brian Selznick's Invention of Hugo Cabret, are stories told with both words and pictures. Literary works, such as Grapes of Wrath, are stories with only words - graphic novels without the "graphic" part.

In the earliest grades, when students are still learning letters and building vocabulary, they are encouraged to draw during Writing Workshop. As students get older, they are given fewer and fewer opportunities to create illustrated stories, despite the fact that we live in a very visual world. Of course written skills are vital for college and the workplace, but images are as well. Social media, advertising, marketing, television, film, construction, engineering, and many more industries use imagery as an important part of the day.

My point: Both images and words tell stories. Both images and words can tell great stories, on their own or together.

Graphic Novel Project on Storyboard That

Writing is difficult for many people, for many different reasons. Sometimes words aren't enough to convey a message, and sometimes images aren't either. They say "a picture is worth a thousand words," but some words, like war, love, and loneliness, are worth much more than a thousand pictures.

Give your students the chance to incorporate both words and pictures into their creative writing by assigning a graphic novel project. Some students will be able and excited about making their own graphic novel digitally or on paper. Some students may need Storyboard That to help them with the art.

Graphic novel indicates a long story. This is not just a quick comic that can be told in a few cells. Novel. So that means, lots and lots of pictures. However, pictures are not the only part of a graphic novel. Again: novel. While you may not be interested in having your students create hundreds of pages, short stories and modern adaptations of classic literature make an excellent graphic novel project. In addition to forming a plot, students still need to consider literary conflict, character development, themes, and a whole host of other literary elements.

True professional novel writing usually takes months, and more likely years, to complete. A professionally published graphic novel is no different. Graphic novels require the same writing process as any storytelling project. My example below is not a finished product, but it is a great start. Take a look at this quick guide to the writing process, so you and your students can get crackin'!

Brainstorm and Plan

What is the story going to be about? What is the setting? Who are the characters? What is the main conflict? What happens in the end? These are all important big ideas to think about when planning out your story. Details come later, focus on the big picture.

Need some help? Check out the article on spider maps, our storyboard templates, the "Story Starters" activity, or create your own graphic organizer to plan!

Make a Draft

Drafting with a storyboard is a lot of fun! The draft is when your story really comes together. Take all those ideas and arrange them into a basic story structure. This could look very different for a graphic novel than a piece of straight writing. It might involve putting characters and/or scenes in the cells, but not customizing them. A handy trick with the Storyboard Creator is copying and moving cells. That way, you can add more cells in between other cells, copy cells and make slight changes, rearrange cell order, and more.

Drafts are supposed to be sketches of the final project. The first draft and the published work could be miles apart - and that's fine. Don't try to get everything right the first time - it will only be frustrating. The draft is there just to get the ideas in a coherent (or not) order - to move into the shape of a story. It is not until all of the ideas are laid out before you that you can make sense of them and make them good!

If you want to add another level to the storytelling when drafting, check out some pre-made graphic novel layouts that can be assigned as a template. Playing with the layout and flow of the story will help inform pacing and action, and really take your graphic novel to the next level!


You've got the basics. Now it is time for you to work in some magic: details, descriptions, new ideas, new angles, color, poses, speech bubbles, cropping, layering, customization... This is when you get to SEE your story unfolding.

Pro Tip: Copy the work you've already done. Save time by copying characters, scenes, and items that are already in your storyboard instead of looking for them again. That way, you will have the same color and/or filter choices selected. Copy entire cells if some things stay the same from frame to frame, especially if the action occurs in the same scene. You can still adjust everything to suit the needs of the new cell.

In the example storyboard below, the top row represents a very basic idea of what I want to happen in the story, or my draft. The bottom row shows what it might look like after I have solidified my story and started to make revisions and add details.

Revise Again

Yep. The revision stage can last a long time. Revising is my favorite part, but it is also the hardest part. Changing the hard work you have already put in might be difficult to take. Students often think, "Well, I put something there, so it's done!" No. Revising is essential to any good story. Stories need a chance to grow! Your story is not a magic bean; it needs cultivation and care that only you can give because it is your story. That being said, I do suggest having someone else look at your work during an optional peer-revision step. It is important that someone that doesn't have the story mapped out in their head can follow your story!


Here is where you go through the graphic novel pages with a fine toothed comb. Check to make sure you have the colors you want, the cropping right, the transitions just how you want them. Are all the words spelled correctly? Do you have the right punctuation? Is the progression of cells clear to the reader?


Yes, you spent some time editing. Now is the time that you get that magnifying glass out. You might even want to have someone else proofread your work, since you have already gone over it many times.


Share your work in class or online. Storyboard That has several options to print your amazing graphic novel, too. There is nothing like holding a published piece of your work in your hand.

Printing your Graphic Novel on Storyboard That

Add in video and audio for some amazing digital storytelling! Be sure to check out Storyboard That with PPT and More for more ideas on what to do with your masterpiece.

My First Chapter of Juniprix

The graphic novel project is perfect for all ages. Take a look at the Writing Strand Common Core State Standards for Grade 6 - right in the middle of K-12:

ELA-Literacy.W.6.3: Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences.
  • ELA-Literacy.W.6.3.A: Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.
  • ELA-Literacy.W.6.3.B: Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters.
  • ELA-Literacy.W.6.3.C: Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence and signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another.
  • ELA-Literacy.W.6.3.D: Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to convey experiences and events.
  • ELA-Literacy.W.6.3.E: Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events.

ELA-Literacy.W.6.4: Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.)

ELA-Literacy.W.6.5: With some guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach. (Editing for conventions should demonstrate command of Language standards 1-3 up to and including grade 6 here.)

ELA-Literacy.W.6.6: Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing as well as to interact and collaborate with others; demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of three pages in a single sitting.

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