VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story

Students use watercolour pencils and markers to create a graphic story that communicates their research on Viola Desmond.

Required Time

180 Minutes

Grade Level

Grade 4 to Grade 9


Language Arts
Social Studies
Visual Arts



Crayola Watercolour Pencils Crayola Fine Line Markers Crayola Marker & Watercolour Paper - 22.9 cm x 30.5 cm (9" x 12") Crayola Paint Brushes Rulers Pencils Erasers Water Containers Paper Towels

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VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story - Step One

Step One

  1. Use resource books, primary source materials, and web sites to research Viola Desmond.
  2. Focus on the events of November 8, 1946.
  3. Identify the main characters in the story.
  4. List the actions and what the characters might have said in the order they occurred.
VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story - Step Two

Step Two

  1. Make thumbnail sketches for each scene.
  2. Stick figures are fine for this step.
  3. Decide how many of your thumbnail sketches you want on one page.
VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story - Step Three

Step Three

  1. Draw panels on your pages. They can be any shape, for example,
    - square
    - circle
    - rectangle
  2. Leave a space between the panels. This space is called a gutter.
VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story - Step Four

Step Four

  1. Use pencil to draw in each panel.
  2. Draw important details to help tell the story. Think about:
    - facial details and expressions
    - specific visual details that are essential to the story
  3. Draw speech bubbles, thought bubbles and narrative boxes. Leave them blank for now. 
  4. Share your work with a partner to get feedback.
VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story - Step Five

Step Five

  1. Make any adjustments to your design based on the feedback you received.
  2. Add emanata to show what the character is feeling, for example,
    - @$%#$ to indicate anger 
    - ? to indicate confusion
    - sweat beads to indicate anxiety
  3. Add motion lines.
  4. Use watercolour pencil techniques to colour each panel.
  5. Add the words in pencil. Remember to:
    - check spelling
    - print neatly
    - adjust the size of the speech bubble if necessary
VIOLA DESMOND – Canadian Civil Rights Hero, Graphic Story - Step Six

Step Six

  1. Use a black, fine line marker to outline everything.
  2. Add any other details or more colour to complete the page.
  3. Gently erase the pencil lines.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to:

  • identify elements of storytelling in a graphic novel;
  • identify elements of visual presentation in a graphic novel;
  • create a graphic story about Viola Desmond; 
  • demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.


Have students:

  • work in small groups to turn the graphic story into another format of storytelling, for example, a puppet play, stop motion video, dramatization;
  • present their stories to their peers;
  • write about the presentations as if they were journalists.


  1. Gather and make available a variety of graphic novels, for example, The Adventures of Venus, by Hernandez, Gilbert; The Last Kids on Earth, by Max Brallier, and Douglas Holgate; Awkward, by Svetlana Chmakova; Brave, by Svetlana Chmakova; Oddly Normal, by Otis Frampton; The Golden Compass Graphic Novel, Volume 1, by Philip Pullman; The Call of the Wild: The Graphic Novel, by Jack London; and A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, by Madeleine L'Engle, and Hope Larson.
  2. Prior to this lesson have students work in pairs to analyse a graphic novel focusing on the elements of storytelling, for example,
    - storyline - beginning, middle and end
    - main character, and supporting characters
    - conflict and resolution
  3. Have students work in pairs to analyse a graphic novel focusing on the elements of visual presentation, for example,
    - use of colour and line
    - framing images
    - background/setting details
    - depiction of characters/drawing style
    - panels - shapes and sizes
    - layout - overall design of the panels on the page
    - dialogue - types of bubbles and format of text
  4. Provide sufficient time for students to research Viola Desmond using primary and secondary source materials.


  1. Conduct a read-aloud using one of the graphic novels, for example, Awkward, by Svetlana Chmakova. 
  2. Focus on the elements of storytelling and the visual presentation that helps to move the story along, for example,
    - the drawing style
    - depiction of main characters
    - facial expressions
    - framing views - medium, long, close-up 
    - details in setting
    - layout of the panels on the page - use of white space
  3. Introduce the challenge.


The Challenge

  1. Identify elements of storytelling in a graphic novel.
  2. Identify elements of visual presentation in a graphic novel.
  3. Create a graphic story about Viola Desmond.
  4. Demonstrate technical accomplishment and creativity.

The Process

  1. Ensure that everyone understands the challenge.
  2. Establish success criteria with your students. For example,
    I know I am successful when I have:
    - used a consistent drawing style
    - made facial expressions help tell the story
    - included background details that help tell the story
    - balanced layout of panels
    - drawn the panels carefully
    - used watercolour pencil techniques effectively
    - used speech bubbles and narrative boxes effectively
    - included accurate elements of the story
    - kept the paper is in good condition
  3. Guide students through the steps outlined in this lesson plan.
  4. Observe students as they work. 
  5. Provide individual assistance and encouragement.


  1. Place students into small groups. 
  2. Ask them to: 
    - Share their work and discuss the things that are especially effective and why.
    - Talk about what they found satisfying about doing this project.
    - Talk about what was difficult about doing this project and how they solved the problem?
    - Talk about how they might use what they learned in a different way.
  3. Share ideas with the whole class. 


  1. Observe students as they work – thoughtful focus, discriminating, seeking more information, elaborating, experimenting
  2. Observe students as they discuss the graphic stories – active listening, insightful contributions, supporting ideas with evidence found in the artwork and from personal experience.
  3. Use a checklist to track progress. (Downloads – GraphicStory_tracking.pdf)
  4. Have students use the self-assessment form to evaluate their work. (Downloads – GraphicStory_self-assessment.pdf)