Graphic Stories: Exploring the Visual Adaptation of Anne Frank's Diary

3. Exploring How Words and Images Create Meaning

Suggested Learning Intentions

  • To build metalanguage to describe the structural elements of graphic texts
  • To build a bank of visual metalanguage
  • To understand how structural and visual features create meaning in a multimodal text

Sample Success Criteria

  • I can use accurate metalanguage to describe the structural features of a graphic novel
  • I can use visual metalanguage to describe the illustrations in a graphic novel
  • I can explain how language structures and features are used to create meaning
  • Anne Frank’s Diary: the graphic adaptation, Folman, A. and Polonsky, D. (2018)
  • Visual metalanguage
  • Visual text metalanguage: jpeg

The purpose of this stage is to model the structures and features of graphic novels via close examination of a text, and to engage in explicit teaching of visual metalanguage.

It is strongly recommended that teachers review all suggested stimulus texts prior to their use to ensure their appropriateness and to enable rich, respectful discussion. For guidance on text selection refer to the department's Teaching and Learning Resources — Selecting Appropriate Materials policy.

Choose a selection of pages from ‘Anne Frank’s Diary: the graphic adaptation’ that illustrate the structural techniques used in graphic novels. Pages 32, 39, 80-81, and 120 would enable rich examination of:

  • panels
  • gutters
  • splashes
  • bleeds
  • spreads
  • speech bubbles
  • captions.

Definitions of these structural techniques can be found here, or by searching “graphic novel vocabulary”.

Using a digital platform where possible, provide students time to look at the selected pages and record their initial responses in a collaborative document. Ask students to identify any differences or similarities they notice between the pages.

Work through the pages with the whole class, ensuring that the images are visible to the whole group to facilitate modelling and collaborative discussion. Focus explicitly on the terminology used to describe the elements of graphic novels and invite students to reflect on the purpose of each structural element.

For example:

  • Gutters help to create temporality by separating the action of a story into different panels, but also provide a space for the reader to make inferences
  • Splashes can allow the author to add dramatic weight or to create a greater sense of scale

Seek and offer evidence from the text to illustrate the effect of each technique. For example:

  • The panels on page 32 illustrate the use of a variety of speech bubbles and the way gutters might be used to communicate a sense of time
  • The spread on pages 80-81 could highlight the isolation of those in the annex and the darkness of the world outside
  •  The bleed on page 120 may be intended to alert the reader to importance of food and the lack of it in the lives of the Frank’s and their cohabitants.
  • The splash on page 39 may draw the readers’ attention to the scale and the horror of Nazi concentration, labour, and death camps.

Assign a structural technique to pairs of students and ask them to select another page from the text that demonstrates the purpose and effectiveness of the technique. Students share their thinking with the class.

Alternatively, assign a structural technique to individual students and invite them to create a simple graphic panel that demonstrates the technique.

Support students to incorporate new metalanguage into their repertoire by creating a word wall for display in the classroom.

1. Modelled visual analysis

It is recommended that students have read ‘Anne Frank's Diary: the graphic adaptation’ before commencing this phase. Alternatively, image selection could be limited to the chapters that have been read. It is also strongly recommended that students have prior learning about the events of the Holocaust to support their learning in this context.

Select a page from ‘Anne Frank's Diary: the graphic adaptation’ that depicts the events of the Holocaust. Model how to undertake an analysis of the selected material by annotating the panel/s on the board, inviting students to contribute their ideas as you proceed. In addition to the pages mentioned above, pages 7, 9, 10, 11 and 17 would be suitable for this task.

Consider using the three visual semiotic sub-strands outlined in the Literacy Teaching Toolkit as a guide. 

Semiotic or meaning-making sub-strands:

1) Expressing and developing ideas in visual texts.

2) Composition and structure of the image.

3) Interacting and relating with others through visual texts.

The Literacy Teaching Toolkit is a useful resource for sourcing both questions and visual metalanguage to guide explicit teaching in this stage of the sequence. Definitions of relevant visual metalanguage can also be found here.

Expressing and developing ideas in visual texts

Suggested metalanguage: Vector, symbol

  • What might this image be about?
  • Who and what is in this image? Who are the main participants – characters, or things/objects – seen?
  • What is happening? What are the different participants/objects doing?
  • Where and when and why is this happening? What information is provided in the image that tells us about the circumstances surrounding these participants and actions?

Composition and structure of the image

Suggested metalanguage: salience

  • What do you notice first? How has the author drawn your attention to this part of the image? (salience)
  • How is colour used to organise information, and to influence the layout of this image?
  • How do these elements draw the image together as a cohesive whole?
  • If you changed any of these aspects, how would that affect the meaning of this image?

Interacting and relating with others through visual texts

During the modelling process, it is recommended that a focus on the effect of the visual techniques under investigation be maintained. For example, what do the graphics communicate about the events of the Holocaust? What do they communicate about Anne’s feelings?

Students should also be encouraged to use the graphic novel metalanguage introduced in the ‘Get started’ phase of this stage when responding to the text. For example, ‘I think the author used a splash here instead of a tier of panels because it allowed them to highlight Anne’s fear by…’

Suggested metalanguage: graphic weight, focaliser, social distance, subject gaze

  • As the viewer, how are you positioned to see and interact with the subject/s in this image?
  • Who are you positioned to see this image as? (focaliser)
  • How close or far away is the subject to you? (social distance)
  • Is the subject looking directly at you or away from you? (gaze)
  • What sort of ‘graphic weight’ do the images have? Have any aspects of the image been highlighted as a result of their composition? For example, are they in the foreground, larger than other objects or in a contrasting colour? (salience)
  • Does the image have any lines or line-like components that draw the eye in a particular direction? (vector)
  • How is colour used to represent feelings and mood, and to influence your response?
  • Does the subject appear to have the same level of power as you, or more power or less power? Why?
  • How do these design choices affect how you feel about the subject/s and what is happening in this image? (How might alternative options change your response?)

2. Collaborative learning: visual analysis

Students select a range of pages from ‘Anne Frank's Diary: the graphic adaptation’ that they find visually striking or impactful and agree on six or seven pages for analysis.

Form students into small groups of 3 or 4. Assign one of the nominated pages to each group.

Provide each group with an A4 piece of paper to cover their hard copy text or digital image and explain the ‘Zoom In’ process. Students look at their chosen page closely and record their thoughts and their wonderings. Allocate groups one of the semiotic sub-strands outlined above to guide their analysis. Facilitate a group discussion to elicit and record student responses.

Note that the ‘Zoom In’ tool is often teacher-led but requires minimal modification for student use. Encourage groups to appoint a ‘zoomer’ to decide which sections of the image should be covered/revealed.

Enable students to undertake an analysis by supporting them to work in strategically constructed groups. Guide the group to focus on questions related to ‘expressing and developing ideas in visual texts’.

Extend students by inviting them to examine and compare a page from the text with a second visual image, such as those used in propaganda. Ask students to consider how each text represents Jewish people or the Holocaust, and how readers are positioned in relation to those groups and events. Students should draw on their learning about the composition of visual images to inform their response.

3. Putting learning into practice

Students plan and create a graphic illustration of a page from the original text of Anne Frank’s Diary, or expand on some of the text in the graphic novel that is not illustrated comprehensively. Comic Life 3 and Adobe Creative Cloud are available free of charge for teachers and students in Victorian government secondary schools and could be used to support the digital creation of graphic novels.

Students should be reminded of the gravity of the Holocaust and of the need for a safe classroom space before engaging in this activity.

Alternatively, support students to select a visually rich page from ‘Anne Frank: the graphic adaptation’ and compare it to the corresponding page/s in the original written text. Invite students to explore the choices made by Ari Folman and David Polonsky, identifying the impact of the structural and visual techniques they have used.

Areas for further exploration

1. The power of illustration

Students investigate the way in which the illustrations in 'Anne Frank's Diary: the graphic adaptation’ allude to or draw on other texts or images to enhance and layer their meaning.

For example, students could research Edvard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ and Gustav Klimt’s ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer’ (p 54-55) and consider why the authors depicted Anne and Margot as the subjects of each painting. Additionally, an inquiry could be made into the symbolism of Botticelli’s ‘The Birth of Venus’ (p92-93).

To add an experiential component to students’ exploration of propaganda, refer to the Guidance section of this sequence, which contains information about the ‘Power of Propaganda’ workshop at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum.

Provide students time to share their work for peer feedback using the traffic light, weather gauge, or ladder of feedback strategy.

Collect students’ graphic illustrations or text comparison. Provide teacher feedback regarding whether students have successfully used the technical language of visual literacy and described the effects created by the elements used in visual texts.

Anne Frank Fonds Basel, 2019. Making of the Graphic Diary – Anne Frank Fonds. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Frank, A. & Polonsky, D., 2018. Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation. London: Viking.

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), 2019. Literacy Teaching Toolkit. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

State Government of Victoria, (Department of Education and Training), n.d. Comic Life 3. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 3 March 2022].

The Graphic Novel Classroom: Lauren Fidler, 2015. Graphic Novel Vocabulary List. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

Think From the Middle! Rochester Community Schools, n.d. Zoom In. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

TV Tropes, n.d. Splash Panel. [Online]
Available at:,contributing%20factor%20in%20Decompressed%20Comic
[Accessed 15 March 2022].

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