Graphic Novel Teaching: Reading with Fluency

A few weeks ago I put out a call, as you can see below, for questions about graphic novels readers.

Tonya Girouard posted the following question:

I created this quick chart to capture my thoughts on fluency in the graphic novel format.

A quick draft of a strategy chart you could use with your readers as you coach their fluency with reading graphic novels and comic books.
  • Balloon Shape– It’s important to pay attention to the shape of the speech balloon as there are no speaker tags in the graphic novel format. There’s no need for a creator to write “…said Enzo.” when the reader can clearly see Enzo in the panel with his mouth open and a speech balloon coming out of it. The shape, thickness, and type of line used to create the speech balloons replace the adverbs and verbs that might usually be included in a speaker tag. There will be no “yelled” or “whispered.”
  • Bold Words– Words tend to be bolded a lot in the graphic novel format. It’s not uncommon for several words within a speech balloons to be bold. It will be important to coach readers on how emphasizing different words within a sentence can alter the meaning.
  • Punctuation– Ah, fluency’s old friend punctuation…you’ll find the usual suspects in graphics novels. I’m willing to bet you’ll find more exclamation points than you do in a typical prose chapter book. There’s a lot of action going on! Your readers may be less familiar with how punctuation like ellipses and dashes affect a reader’s expression. Ellipses may be used in a few different ways. So it will be important for a reader to be flexible. Ellipses might be used to communicate a speaker trailing off, a pause in speech, or even a “beat” before beginning to speak. Dashes could be used to demonstrate that a person was cut off by another speaker while they were talking.
  • “Balloon Phrasing”– I think I came up with this term? If you’ve heard it elsewhere previously, please let me know. What I mean by “balloon phrasing” is how the dialogue is broken up into multiple speech balloons and how these balloons are connected. Read over the excerpt from Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon below:

In the first panel, the speech balloons are “butted” up against each other. You might also say they are conjoined speech balloons. Kat Leyh chose place “I’ll even show you how.” in the second speech balloon. This gives the readers a sense of how the character is phrasing or grouping the sentences as she is speaking. This should be reflected in the reader’s phrasing.

In the second panel, you’ll notice a connector between balloons. This can mean a few different things: a pause, a subject change, or simply the creation of a new section of text. The ellipses in the text help communicate pause in this instance. In the first panel on the second page, think about why there is a connector between “Be back here at six A.M.” and “BLECH.”

I hope this post provides you with some ways you might coach readers as they work on reading fluently in graphic novels!

-Written by Hand

Published by Eric Hand

I'm an educator and literacy professional with a long-standing passion for comic books and graphic novels.

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