Visual Essay: A Writing Assignment Your Students Will LOVE

A Writing Assignment Your Students Will Actually Enjoy

Middle school students can sometimes struggle to stay engaged when it comes to writing essays. Whether they find it tedious, time-consuming, or just too difficult, it can be a challenge to get them motivated. This is especially true as summer break approaches and students start counting down the days until they can be free from school work. However, there are ways to make essay writing more engaging, and one such way is through the use of visual essays.

Response to Literature (text-dependent writing)

Put simply,a Response to Literature (or RTL) is an essay in which students respond to a text-dependent question by forming a claim and supporting it with reasons, evidence, and justification. Whether or not your students have experience writing a Response to Literature, a visual essay is a perfect exercise to strengthen that text-dependent writing muscle!

Today we’ll walk you through an essay that incorporates all the components of the EB framework in a visually engaging way! Plus, you’ll be left with ideas for providing your students with opportunities to present their work to their peers and receive positive feedback from their audience! If you aren’t using the EB writing framework, you can absolutely still use visual essays in your classroom. You would simply have students focus on whatever essay components your class routinely uses. (And if you are using the EB Writing Program, you can find a done-for-you visual essay project inside your dashboard!)

Why Use Visual Essays

What makes this essay assignment much more memorable and engaging is the use of visuals to anchor their various writing elements! So instead of typing their essays in a traditional fashion, students will design a Google Slides presentation that includes those foundational writing elements. Envision photos of relevant pages in their books, highlighted evidence on their photo selection, use textboxes to address their claim, and self-selected images to support their thinking and engage their audience. 

Picture the final project looking like a simplified graphic novel.

One of the main benefits of utilizing a visual essay is the fact that you can use this project for many different purposes, including:

  • As a final assessment after a class novel or short story
  • As a project following literature circles
  • As an independent reading project
  • As a collaboration activity with a partner

This activity works great using Google Slides, but you can also have students use a physical piece of paper or other creative websites as well.

Getting Started

Before you assign a visual essay, you’ll want to come up with a thought provoking essential question for students to answer. (Don’t forget to use ChatGPT to help you with this if you find yourself stuck!) Their answer to this question will be their “claim” for their presentation! You can choose one essential question for the whole class or give students options to pick from. 

If you are using this activity for lit circles or independent reading, you will need to keep the question very general.

 Here are a few ideas:

  • Which important theme does this book convey? 
  • What is the most important lesson that the main character of this book learns?
  • What is the most significant change that the main character of this book demonstrates?
  • What is the most important life lesson that readers can learn from this story?

Once you have assigned your essential question, explain to students that they will be creating a Google Slides presentation with a total of five slides.

Let’s break down what’s included on each slide:

Slide 1: (Introduction)

Students will take a picture of the book’s cover and upload it to this slide. The image should take up most of the slide. Students will create multiple text boxes on top of the image and type in the essential question, a TAG (title, author, genre), a summary for the book, and a claim. Students can place these text boxes wherever they think it’s most visually pleasing.

Slides 2-4: (Body Paragraphs)

These slides are where students are answering the essential question, so they will need a premise, evidence, and justification. Students can take a picture of a page from their book that contains a quote/evidence that answers the essential question. 

This text evidence image should take up most of the slide, and students should highlight the actual quote.

Then, they will create text boxes for each of the following:
1. A premise they write that answers the claim
2. A phrase to introduce the evidence (the author writes, according to the text, etc)
3. The justification they write that explains how that evidence supports the premise and claim.

Finally, you can have students upload two more small images to the slide that replate to their text (these can be clipart they find, images they create themselves, etc).  

Students will consider using images that:

  • Represent the mood of this section of your story
  • Highlight a topic from this section of your story
  • Depict the main character of your story
  • Relate to your premise or evidence
  • Depict the setting of this section of the story

Again, what we just described would be for slides 2-4, so that means students are essentially creating one slide for each body paragraph of their essay with different premises, evidence, justification, and of course, different pictures and images.

Slide 5: (Conclusion)

Once they begin the conclusion slide, students will create three text boxes–one for a transition and to restate their claim, one for a spot to summarize their evidence, and one for a mic drop sentence that explains lesson readers can learn from the book. Again, students will include 2 images to make this slide visually appealing.

Students should consider images that:

  • Represent an idea from their claim
  • Represent an overall topic from the story
  • Reflect an important setting or scene from the story
  • Represent the topic of their mic-drop sentence
  • Represent the story’s message to readers

Presentation

Finally, have students present their work to an audience! 

If you want to help the audience stay engaged, you can have them take notes on their favorite parts of each presentation, then share these notes with the presenters afterward.

Alternative Assignment

If you want students to do this project on paper rather than the computer, most of the directions will remain the same. Instead of having students create their presentations on the computer, have students gather five pieces of paper. What they put on each paper remains the same as the Google Slides version, but their goal is to make it visually appealing–think thought bubbles and drawings, not just sentence after sentence.

Students may then draw images on their pages, print images, or use magazines to cut out photos and attach them, rather than using digital clipart.

The beauty of this visual essay is that students are still meeting all the writing standards and gaining valuable writing practice, but it doesn’t feel like a writing assignment! 

The artistic components and the fact that they are not writing standard paragraphs, makes it feel more like a project, and allows you to switch things up a bit!

A visual essay is an awesome alternative to a traditional essay and can be assigned at any time of the year. We hope you give it a try in your classroom to keep students engaged while still meeting those standards!

4 Comments

  • Where do I purchase the visual essay slides? I couldn’t find it on teacher pays teacher.

    Reply
  • I signed up for the club but it says I can’t access until summer. So how can we purchase this?

    Reply
    • Hey! Please email us at caitlinandjessica@ebacademics, and we will get it figured out.

      Reply

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Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!

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