Purpose: Students will learn how to convey scientific information in a visual medium.

Procedural overview: Students will read and analyze the graphic tale “How bees play telephone to form a swarm” from Science News for Students. After summarizing the tale, students will form groups and search the Science News or Science News for Students archive for an article on a topic that interests them. Groups will use their articles to create graphic tales of their own.

Approximate class time: 2 class periods




Art supplies such as markers, colored pencils, crayons and construction paper

Projector (optional)

Student activity worksheet

Storyboard template

Directions for teachers:

The setup

Assign the Science News for Students graphic tale “How bees play telephone to form a swarm” for homework. At the beginning of the first class, students will work individually to complete the graphic tale analysis questions. Tell the students that they will work in groups to create another graphic tale based on an article of their choice. Assign students to groups of three and allow time for them to select an article from the Science News or Science News for Students archive. You could suggest a topic related to your curriculum or assign a specific article.

For homework, have each student will write a summary of their group’s article. If students are unfamiliar with writing an article summary, have them use the Science News in High Schools activity “How to write a summary” to guide their work.

During the second class period, groups discuss their article’s main ideas and develop their graphic tales using the graphic tale planning worksheet.  Groups should divide tasks among the group members. Tasks include scripting the narrative, creating the storyboard and creating the illustrations as well as properly citing any sources, including image sources. Have the students use the storyboard template for their work. The students should put together their tales in class. Any work not completed can be finished as homework.

The final submission should include the answers to the graphic-tale planning questions, storyboard for the graphic tale and a description of each group member’s work on the tale. Separately, have students briefly reflect on their contributions to the graphic tales. These written notes will be submitted with the rest of the work on the project.

The suggested scoring rubric provided below is to mark the storyboard and final graphic tale separately for both content (80 percent) and style (20 percent). It is possible to be at one level for the storyboard and another for the completed graphic tale.  

Scoring Rubric

 Needs improvementFairGoodExcellent
Storyboard contentStoryboards give little information about the design of the graphic tale. Minimal content from the article appears in the storyboard.Storyboard provides design of graphic tale, but it lacks details. Content from the article is used, but some key points are missing.Storyboard provides clear design of graphic tale and content progression. Information from the article is clear and in a logical order.Storyboard provides detailed information on the design of the graphic tale with key points from the article presented in a clear, logical and engaging manner.
Storyboard styleSketches are minimal and difficult to understand.Sketches are present, but they lack detail about how the information will be presented.Sketches are present and clearly show how the information will be used and presented.Sketches clearly show how the information will be presented in an engaging and informative way.
Graphic tale contentThe graphic tale presents some content, but it is difficult to understand the intent and big ideas of the article.The graphic tale uses artwork to convey content, but it lacks details that sufficiently communicate the article’s big ideas.The graphic tale uses artwork to convey key content in a way that makes understanding big ideas easy.The graphic tale uses artwork to clearly convey key content and big ideas in an entertaining and clear way.
Graphic tale styleThe graphics contain mainly text with little artwork that does not flow in clear, logical order.Artwork does not help tell a clear story or seems to either jump from idea to idea or lacks a conclusion.The artwork is present and finished. The artwork and text work together to present content.The artwork is finished and engaging, and it supports the content in an entertaining way.

Activity extensions and alternatives

You could ask students to find the research study described in their selected Science News or Science News for Students article and use the study as the basis for their graphic tale.

You could ask students to complete only the plan and storyboard for the graphic tale and make the final graphic tale an extra credit option.

You could ask students to present their graphic tales during a third class period, or set up a gallery for the class and/or school to appreciate. Or you could create a digital or paper booklet that includes all the graphic tales to share with the class.

You could ask students to create the graphic tale as an individual project.

Want to make it a virtual lesson?

After you have introduced the class to the activity, groups could work in virtual breakout rooms on a conference platform such as Zoom.

Analyzing graphic tales  

Please answer the following questions about the graphic tale.

1. What is the graphic tale’s main takeaway?

Bees communicate with pheromones in a manner similar to people playing telephone, passing along important messages by repeating them to others around a circle.

2. What aspects of the graphic tale make it engaging? Consider medium, art style, characters, literary devices and story block narratives.

Student answers will vary. A student may say that the comic includes human characters and animal characters that have been given human characteristics, or anthropomorphized.

3. What STEM concepts were covered in the graphic tale?

The STEM concept covered is animal communication. The comic shows how bees use pheromones to communicate and organize a swarm.

4. How does the information conveyed in the graphic tale reflect experimental or engineering design?

The comic shows the results of an experiment to test how bees communicate as well as how the experiments were performed. The comic shows how a swarm forms when bees pass along a pheromone message.

5. Brainstorm STEM topics that you think would be easy to convey in a graphic tale. Examples include new scientific discoveries or theories, changes in an existing engineering design, or new information that could change ideas about a common science topic.    

New discoveries about animal behavior or space exploration could be easy. A new theory could be more difficult because there might not be images to illustrate the concepts.

6. In a small group, search the Science News or Science News for Students archive for an article about a topic of the group’s choice. Read and write a summary of the article for homework to be turned in during the next class period.

Plan your own graphic tale

Groups will use the following questions to plan a graphic tale based on the article they selected. Example answers are based on the Science News for Students graphic tale “How bees play telephone to form a swarm.”

When the students are developing their own graphic tales, consider giving them some prompts.  What is the one point your reader absolutely must understand? Can this story be told visually? How can you keep the story true to the science when you don’t have a lot of space to tell your story?

1. What article will the graphic tale be based on?

Student answers will vary.

2. Who is doing each task to create the graphic tale? Possible tasks include scripting, making the storyboard and finding or doing the illustrations.

Student answers will vary.

3. What is the graphic tale’s main takeaway?

Bees swarm after passing along pheromone messages in a manner akin to the game of telephone.

4. What pieces of information are you focusing on from the source article?

The queen bee sends out a pheromone message signaling the bees to return to the hive. Worker bees then repeat the message, using their wings to spread the pheromone message to the rest of the bees.

5. How are you going to convey that information in a captivating manner?

Student answers will vary. Groups could say that they will create memorable characters and relatable situations.

6. What literary devices do you intend to use?

The bees will be personified and anthropomorphized.

7. What characters are you going to create?

The comic’s cast of characters will include the queen, a researcher from the source paper and a character that will act as a stand-in for the audience.

8. What STEM field will the graphic tale cover?

The graphic tale will cover the field of animal behavior.

9. What topic within that field will the graphic tale is being covered?

I am covering the topic of animal communication and hierarchical organization.

10. What experimental or engineering design concepts will your graphic tale include?

The graphic tale will show a simplified explanation of the experiment used to figure out how the pheromone messages controlling a swarm are amplified.

11. Use the storyboard template provided by your teacher to make a rough draft of your graphic tale. Include as many panels as necessary to make the tale engaging. If your group uses images created by someone else, please include a list of citations. Any unfinished tasks should be completed as homework, along with the creation of the final version of the graphic tale. Turn in the graphic tale planning worksheet and storyboard along with the final graphic tale. In addition, briefly describe in writing your own efforts and those of your fellow group members.