The 10 is a series of books that use a Top-10 countdown format and graphical text to explore fascinating topics from sports, science, history, pop-culture, and a wide variety of other subjects. Whether they’re exploring the ten smartest animals or the ten greatest sports showdowns, students are encouraged to engage in inquiry-based learning tasks that extend learning and discussion outside the classroom. In 2009, the series received the Teachers' Choice Award for Children’s Books from Learning magazine. Here are many of the titles that I wrote for the series.
THE 10 SMARTEST ANIMALS
by Glen Downey
Think you're smarter than your pet dog, Fido? Think again! From monkeys that do math to pigs that play video games -- you'll be shocked at just how smart some animals are.
What do you think it takes to win the title of world's smartest animal?
MOST DECISIVE BATTLES
by Glen Downey
History, as they say, is written by the victors. When the future of a nation and even the fate of the world can be decided on the battlefield, it's no wonder armies will do anything to come out on top.
What decisive battles would you put on the list?
HOTTEST HOLLYWOOD CARS
by Glen Downey and Maria Malara
Nothing makes more of a statement than an amazing car. From cool gadgets to luxury accessories to superhero drivers, these cars all stand out from the rest of the pack.
Which car do you think is Hollywood's hottest ride?
MOST SIGNIFICANT DOCUMENTS IN HISTORY
by Glen Downey
Whether they were carved in stone, written on bamboo, or woven into a belt, each of the documents in this book has played an important role in shaping our world.
What do you think is the most significant document of all time?
GREATEST HOCKEY TEAMS OF ALL TIME
by Glen Downey and Kirsten Tenebaum
Many great hockey teams have been assembled over the years. From the innovators to the trail blazers to the record breakers, there have been many teams throughout hockey's history that have stood out from the rest.
How do you pick hockey's most outstanding teams of all time?
COOLEST FLYING MACHINES
by Glen Downey and Sandie Cond
Ever since humans figured out how to fly, people have come up with all sorts of ways to take to the skies. The fastest jet in the world, the fanciest jetliner ever built, the stealthiest spy plane service -- these are some of the coolest ways to fly!
Which do you think is the coolest?
MOST REVOLUTIONARY MILITARY INVENTIONS
by Glen Downey
From giant bomber planes to invisible chemical and biological weapons, military inventions come in all shapes and sizes. Take a trip through time as we investigate which weapons have had the biggest impact.
Which military invention really was the most revolutionary... and deadliest?
MOST MEMORABLE TV MOMENTS
by Glen Downey
From a heroic sports finale to the debut of educational programming for kids, you'll be amazed at the way TV has allowed us to experience memorable moments. Find out why these moments had people around the world on the edge of their seats.
What do you think is the most memorable moment in television?
MOST UNFORGETTABLE NASCAR MOMENTS
by Glen Downey
High speeds, skilled drivers, and big prizes -- that's what NASCAR is all about. From a million-dollar prize to an unexpected crash, you'll find out what makes auto racing fans so passionate about this exciting sport.
What is it about a NASCAR race that makes it so memorable?
MOST SHOCKING SPORTS SCANDALS
by Glen Downey
Welcome to the wild world of sports! From cheating in games to bribing judges in competitions, this book ranks the shocking scandals that ruined some of the biggest names in the game.
Have we made winning the only thing that matters?
MOST MEMORABLE SPORTS SHOWDOWNS
by Glen Downey
The stakes are high, the crowd is pumped, and tension fills the air. The arena is about to turn into a battlefield as we relive the 10 greatest sports showdowns.
Are you ready to face some of the fiercest competitors in sports history?
MOST REMARKABLE WRITERS
by Glen Downey and Jayn Arnold
From tales of Middle-Earth to moving poems, exceptional writers have wowed us with their incredible talents. Find out how each of these 10 remarkable writers made their mark on the literary world.
Who is the most remarkable writer?
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Tag Clouds Are Powerful Learning Tools that Draw upon the Power of the Visual!
One thing that comics taught me was the power of a visual medium to tell me something that I needed to know about a story, its plot, its characters, and how to make meaning of a narrative. It also got me thinking that other visual devices must be similarly effective, even when applied to other kinds of texts. I had also always been fascinated by Discourse Analysis, a branch of literary and textual studies that examines how discourse unfolds in everything from a series of comic books to a website devoted to spoiler updates about that series of comic books!
At www.wordle.net, however, you can find an immensely powerful visual tool. Now if you've worked in education you've seen these over and over again. No doubt your state or provincial governing bodies for education have distributed materials containing tag clouds like the one above that contain key terms. In these clouds, words that appear more frequently are larger in size. As it turns out, though, there is significant application in the English classroom for these.
Here's something you can try (actually, you should have your students do this as a regular habit):
1. Prior to submitting an essay or writing assignment, have students cut and paste the assignment into a Wordle. The students go to www.wordle.net (they can also use the website Tagxedo, but Wordle is quick and effective). The student cuts and pastes their writing by clicking on the Create tab.
2. Once you hit "Go," Wordle will take the student's text and create a word or tag cloud out of it. By looking closely at the Wordle, a student can glean a lot of information!
So What Is This Important Information?
Before we get to that, make sure that the student goes to the Language tab and clicks on "Remove Common English Words" so that it is unchecked. This will allow the student to see all of the words in the Wordle. Now get the student to find the important information about his or her writing below:
Try this great visual activity with your students and let me know how it goes. Watch, too, to see if some of the "language" of talking about Wordles begins to rub off on how they talk to one another about their writing during peer editing and revision sessions (e.g. "I notice in your Wordle that you use the words `due' and `fact' a lot; you might be saying `due to the fact that' too much and should replace it with `because'"). In my experience of using this activity, I find that their language will start to change a bit!
Activities Inspired by the Visual Can Yield Amazing Results
This one I just had to share with you.
In the lead up to teaching Persepolis this year, I wanted to give my students as many opportunities as possible of working with the visual. If you read my blog post about the "Cave Art" activity, you'll recall that it required students to depict a day in their life, a challenging encounter, or their best moment on the planet, etc. as a cave art montage. In effect, the Cave Art activity is a kind of visual brainstorming about a moment in the student's own life. The above collage by Marwa is fantastic, looking like it sprang to life out of the Futurist movement in Western art.
There's a very cool variation on this activity that I alluded to last time. It has the following steps:
What are some neat results?
Perhaps the coolest thing about the activity is that regardless of whether they feel their collage does or does not represent them, the students are really only tasked with making a judgment and defending it. It's not a failure if it doesn't represent them nor is it an overwhelming success if it does. However, when I did this with my students this year there were some unexpected insights that resulted, one of which came from a student who suggested that although his collage didn't represent him, what did was the process he went through to put it together. These are the kinds of insights we want from our students.
As a side note, I did my own collage to see what I would come up with. The result is below:
As this site grows and develops, I guess you'll be the best judge as to whether or not this represents me. It's just crazy enough that it might...
Filmic language can be useful in terms of understanding and expressing the relative distance between the reader/viewer and a given subject in a graphic story (see Filmic Language, Part 1). However, it can also help us understand our angle of view with regards to the subject, which in itself can have an impact on how we perceive what we are seeing.
A bird's-eye view in a comic allows us to view the contents of a panel from overhead, helping us to do one of a number of different things, including seeing the context of a scene with greater clarity or giving us a clear sense of a character's predicament. When a graphic storyteller shows us a character from a bird's-eye view, they can seem smaller, weaker, or more insignificant than when shown from a different angle. They can look physically smaller and less imposing, and therefore more vulnerable.
In this type of shot in a graphic story, the camera looks up at the subject from below. This can make the subject itself seem much larger, more imposing, or even more physically intimidating, especially as the bug's-eye shot moves closer to the actual subject and the angle gets closer to 90 degrees.
In this shot, a character is typically shown in the immediate foreground of the panel with another character further away. The action of the panel is sometimes literally framed bythe head and shoulders of the character in the foreground, thus giving the shot its name. It is a commonly used shot in the exchange of dialogue since it gives the reader an opportunity to perceive the character (or object, scene, etc.) in the distance from the general point of view of the character in the foreground.
For the POV shot, the viewer takes a small step forward from the over-the-shoulder shot to become, in effect, the character in the foreground. Comics and films from the horror genre use this shot frequently since it can develop great anxiety and anticipation in the reader/viewer. It can allow him or her to walk in the shoes of a killer or potential victim, seeing only what this character sees. Its use, however, is not limited to the horror genre, and a POV shot has wide applications in visual narrative.
Shot / Reverse Shot
This is a common technique in graphic storytelling that has been inherited from classic Hollywood films that sought to de-emphasize transitions from one scene to the next . Often, a shot / reverse shot in a panel sequence involves a medium over-the-shouldershot of two characters in conversation followed by a panel in which the characters' positions are reversed. This allows for a fairly seamless conversation.
Understanding the language of storyboarding and film enables a reader to talk about comics and graphic stories with a greater degree of accuracy and sophistication. It is especially useful to a writer who must try to give direction to the artist illustrating his or her story. Of special importance are terms referring to the way in which particular filmic shots in a graphic story are framed.
This is a shot that "establishes" a sense of the place where a given action in a story is happening. We know of these kinds of shots from film when, at the beginning of a romantic comedy, for instance, the camera swoops across the city where the action of the story will take place, accompanied by music that attempts to establish the appropriate mood. We find much the same in a graphic story, with a long or overhead shot of a given place giving the reader a clear understanding of the time, place, and sometimes even the circumstances of a particular scene.
In graphic storytelling, a long shot is typically one in which a character's entire body is at a far enough distance away from the perceived camera that it can fit entirely within the panel. A long shot can be used for a variety of purposes, such as reinforcing the vastness of a given location, a particular character's isolation or aloneness (because of his or her lack of close proximity to the viewer), the physical distance a character has traveled or will travel, as well as a variety of other uses.
A medium shot is an oft-recurring shot in a graphic story, and generally occurs when characters are shown from somewhere between the knees to the waist up. It is a very natural type of shot to depict a conversation between two characters since it allows the reader a kind of intimacy with the dialogue exchange that the long shot does not afford.
Once characters get within the distance of the medium shot described above, they are generally acknowledged to be in close up. This shot brings the reader/viewer and subject being looked at in close proximity to one another and can therefore have an increased intensity. Such a shot gives the reader a clearer depiction of a character's emotions or even intentions while also preventing us from seeing contextual clues that would be visible in a medium or long shot. Just as a long shot can have an impact by virtue of the significant physical distance it puts between viewer and subject, so too can a close up have an impact by putting them in close quarters.
Extreme Close Up
When a close up begins to close the distance from a head and shoulders type of shot to something closer still, we find ourselves looking at an extreme close-up. These can be among the most intense types of shots because the object of our gaze typically fills the panel. We cannot look somewhere else in the panel t o avoid the subject because, for all intents and purposes, the panel is the subject.
There are terms specific to comics which don't have corollaries in traditional print narratives and which may not have direct filmic equivalents. However, understanding these terms is central to understanding the genre.
A geometric shape that contains a scene from a visual narrative. It can occupy the whole or a part of a page. Panels are the organizational framework of comics--the moments of action--and the reader must stitch the sequence of panels together to derive meaning from the work.
The gutters are the areas between panels that are sometimes referred to as the breaks or white space that separate the action of a visual narrative. Their importance cannot be underestimated though it is sometimes challenging to conceptualize this. It is in the gutters of a graphic story that the reader makes meaning of the transition from one panel to the next. They can represent the passage of time, a change of place, or no discernible movement at all.
Narrative / Caption Box
These boxes are often located at the corners of panels and provide narration to accompany the dialogue in a graphic story. These boxes are often at their most effective when they are characterized by narrative economy, quickly setting a scene, indicating a transition, or otherwise establishing the time, place, and/or circumstances that a reader must understand before making meaning of an individual panel or panel sequence.
Dialogue Balloon / Bubble
Characters in a graphic novel or comic use dialogue balloons to talk to one another. Often these balloons are oblate (flattened) ellipses that allow typewritten dialogue to fit within them while avoiding an overabundance of white space. Whispers can sometimes be conveyed through dialogue balloons that are formed from dashed lines while dialogue "bubbles" that look like miniature clouds are almost always reserved for things that a character is thinking rather than saying aloud.
Another characteristic of graphic stories that is unique to visual narrative is the use of onomatopoeic sound effects, typically written as highly stylized words across a page in a form that serves as an echo to the sense. Hence, an artist attempting to depict an explosion might use a thick, sans serif font to construct the word "BOOM!" across a panel. These sound effects provide an aural accompaniment to a narrative sequence or individual moment in a graphic story and help the reader more fully understand and process what is happening.
Students read, examine, and create graphic poems, and consider both the implications of using the visual in connection with poetry, and whether an artist or poet/artist can visually represent the intricacies of literal and figurative language. The hope is that students will recognize the beauty of graphic poetry and thereby develop a greater fondness for and appreciation of poetry proper.
Self Awareness, Metacognition, Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should see that there is something to be gained and something to be lost in marrying a poem with its graphic illustration. What is gained is a visual context that the reader can use to help him or her understand what is actually happening in a poem. What is also gained is the recognition of what art can and cannot do with pictures in order to mimic or represent the figurative. What is lost, perhaps, is precisely what is lost when the curtain rises for the presentation of play and we see the gradual unfolding of the directorial decisions that will define how the performance in front of us will interpret the stage directions and dialogue of the playwright.
Critical Thinking Questions
Self-Awareness and Metacognition Questions
Navigation Skills and Making Connections Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Reading graphic poetry can help students to make sense of some of the complexities of the poems they examine, even if those complexities are what is literally “happening” in a given work. In my experience, though, a student is far more likely to want to bring their critical thinking and inquiry skills to bear on a poem that they believe they understand than one they don’t. As students move through the process of reading, analyzing, and creating graphic poetry, it is essential that teachers encourage students to develop an ongoing dialogue with the work they are studying.
Students create a storyboard or visual narrative that does not contain text. The exercise has wide application, whether in having students block a scene from a work of drama, visually relate the progress of a character’s story from a work of fiction, or visually represent the story of a particular historical moment. The exercise is similar to Activity 3: Visual Note-Taking, but the student is not permitted to use words in order to communicate his or her ideas.
Critical Thinking, Navigation Skills, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should perceive the challenges of communicating without words, translating the written or verbal into the visual, and developing a narrative that is comprehensible to their audience when said narrative must be interpreted in the absence of explanation. The aim of the exercise is to develop the student’s communication skills and transliteracy: the ability to demonstrate literacy across a range of platforms or mediums of expression by making meaningful connections between them.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in this Activity?
As in the previous activity, students will have a dizzying range of questions that they will have to ask themselves at the outset of the activity: “How do I represent this scene from a play or short story without needing pages and pages of illustration?” or “How can I best capture the most important features of a historical battle in a way that a person examining it can understand?” My inspiration for this activity comes from Hogarth’s “A Rake’s Progress,” which Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics cites, along with hieroglyphics, cave art, etc. as a forerunner to the comics of today. I’ve always been impressed by the fact that little or no text (other than the naming of the individual paintings), the audience has little difficulty perceiving what is happening to the rake. As our global village shrinks and our students are immersed even further into a principally visual culture, being able to communicate with the visual takes on an increasing importance.
Students create a visual representation of an historical figure, famous scientist or thinker, literary character or individual related to the discipline they are studying and use symbolic elements in order to convey something about that character’s personality, mindset, nature, or temperament. Once they have done this, they write a reflection that explains how these symbolic elements help us to better understand the character in question.
Critical Thinking, Metacognition, Making Connections
By the end of the activity, students should understand something about how symbolic language can help us understand the visual representation of a character or individual, how symbolic language is similar to and different from orthographic language, and how words and images can have a genuinely emotive power in a given context.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Visual Narrative Can Foster Inquiry in This Activity
Some critics have argued that graphic novels derive their power from a rather unique quality—their lack of photographic realism. When looking at a photograph, for instance, we are acutely aware that we are only looking at a photograph. We are not witnessing the events taking place or the people affected by them in real time, because the photograph tells us that these things have already happened. In a graphic novel or story, however, things are not so clear. We are more likely to accept that when we see little Marji in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, we are actually looking at a “real person.” The cartoonish nature of the representation has the opposite effect we think it might. Because it’s obviously a cartoon, our minds don’t wrestle with the question of whether it’s the actual character or only his or her representation. So, we don’t tell ourselves that this line drawing isn’t really Marjane Satrapi. We just accept that it is.
The activities that follow will be permanently housed on our site. Feel free to use, reuse, and distribute, tailoring specifically for your own curriculum, grade level, or program!
Students create a piece of visual art that shows a day in their life in the manner of a cave drawing. It is up to the individual student to determine how much or how little they represent, how much of their canvas they apportion to a particular moment or event, and how they use colour, shape, and form to represent their activities or experiences. Once they have completed the piece of visual art, students then produce a written reflection in which they try to explain not simply what they have represented, but the process by which they came to represent it.
Self Awareness, Critical Thinking, Metacognition
By the end of the activity, students should come to understand something about how they have represented themselves and their activities and experiences, how they have chosen to budget their visual space to this end, how they have gone about deciding what to include and what not to include, and what their piece of visual art does and does not say about them.
Critical Thinking Questions
How Can Visual Narrative Foster Inquiry in This Activity?
Because students are creating a product that is ostensibly about them, that they generally care about, and that they are given a fair bit of freedom to put together, they tend to do a good job reflecting on what they have produced. However, the real power of the activity for me derives from what I learned this year from a student who was giving a presentation after engaging in a very similar activity. When asked to what extent the final amalgamation of images represented him, the student replied that he didn’t think it much represented him at all.
“However,” he said, “if people could have seen the process I went through deciding what to include and what not to include—how I put everything together—they would have learned everything about me.”
Visual narrative and visual storytelling show us so much about what a writer and illustrator are thinking, feeling, seeing, and trying to articulate—what they value as a story and what they want us to see and experience.
Word Origins Can Be Graphic
If that is indeed the case, and I'm fairly confident it is, it's foolish not to capitalize on the inherent usefulness of the visual. So, the next time you're studying word etymologies with your students, consider having them create visual etymologies. This is great as both a collaborative activity or as an individual one. Do it, and you might just give your lesson a bit of swag.
Dr. Glen Downey is an award-winning children's author, educator, and academic from Oakville, Ontario. He works as a children's writer for Rubicon Publishing, a reviewer for PW Comics World, an editor for the Sequart Organization, and serves as the Chair of English and Drama at The York School in Toronto.
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