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For generations students have been slipping comic books between the pages of textbooks letting their imaginations run wild with superheroes and exotic adventures. With the growing popularity of graphic novels, reading the modern equivalent of comic books in class is no longer limited to the disinterested or unmotivated students. Graphic novels have given teachers another exciting tool to help engage students with educational content. These novels are not limited to superheroes either; they have been designed to cover a variety of topics including classic literature, historical figures and scientific discoveries, and can also be used outside of the language arts classroom.
Connecting with a Different Type of Reader
Bringing graphic novels into the classroom helps teachers appeal to multiple types of students. Not only do disinterested students benefit from graphic novels, but they can also be a tool to reach students with limited attention spans, visual-spatial learners and poor readers who find long pages of text intimidating. This type of text may also appeal to English language learners or students who need additional help processing a text.
When students read graphic novels, the pictures provide visual clues to help students grasp the overall meaning of the text. However, having pictures to look at does not ‘dumb down’ or make the reading process easier, it just requires students to access different skills as they read. In fact, students who are strong readers may benefit from reading graphic novels as well. The way the text is presented will challenge them to look at a text differently and look for new ways to decode the text.
Bringing Graphic Novels into the Classroom
Graphic novels can be brought into the classroom in multiple ways. In an English/language arts classroom, teachers can use graphic novels to supplement the texts students are currently reading. For example, a student struggling with Romeo and Juliet may be able to pick of a version of the popular play in graphic novel format and use it to get a general idea of what is going on. Teachers may also choose to study graphic novels as a genre, choosing a popular graphic novel to read as a class, analyzing it just as they would a traditional book, or having students individually choose graphic novels to read and use them to write unique book reports or conduct a literary analysis.
In other subject areas, graphic novels can be a way to teach important concepts or provide students with information. For example, some graphic novels have been written about historical events or scientific principles. Even popular comic book series are getting in on the educational graphic novel action, with The Avengers being used to teach money skills. While they may not be as complex as professionally published graphic novels, teachers who like to draw may even be able to create their own form of graphic novels or notes to help students learn.
There is no need for students to sneak Spider-Man or X-Men comic books into their textbooks. Both those who love comic books and those who need something a little different to read can legitimately read comic books and graphic novels during class without missing out on instruction. The genre helps students connect with the material in virtually any subject area in a new way.
Recommended Graphic Novel Apps and Resources
- MAUS is a graphic memoir of the story of a concentration camp survivor and his family. It is a powerful oral history of the holocaust and World War II, and also describes the psychological effects of war such as survivors’ guilt and adapting to new environments through pictures and handwritten text. The Pulizer Prize winning story has some resources for teachers on their website on how to teach this difficult and emotive topic, and has some study questions to use in lesson plans.
- Education giant Scholastic publishes a wide range of graphic novels for young students including a lively take on the Arthurian Legend Knights of the Lunch Table, the story of secret agent Missile Mouse, and the dental drama Smile (a must for anyone with braces!). Middle school readers have a good choice of titles including the mysterious Amulet, and the beautifully illustrated The Good Neighbors.
- Persepolis, a graphic novel about the Islamic Revolution, details the life of a girl during the war between Iran and Iraq. It has won many awards, and has sold over 1,500,000 copies. Recently it appeared in the headlines when teachers were told to remove it from the seventh grade curriculum and classrooms because of graphic images and language. We would recommend that this text would be more suited to older students.
- Science has not been forgotten about in graphic novels, with a stunning illustrative account of Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and a historical account of time in Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide. Larry Gonick’s science series ‘The Cartoon Guide To…’ describes lots of key science topics such as physics, chemistry and statistics.
- Social skills and relationships have also been touched upon by Middle School Confidential who have created a series of graphic novel apps based on their popular books. These follow the lives of a group of 7th graders and their social stumbling blocks like confidence, bullying, friendships and family problems. A comprehensive leaders guide is available for teachers looking to stimulate discussion and
- Graphical novel adaptations of classics such as The Merchant of Venice, Macbeth, Treasure Island and The Jungle Book have been beautifully illustrated by Campfire. These bring a breath of fresh air to sometimes difficult and complex storylines and characters.
- Although the Teaching Graphic Novels blog has not been updated in some time, it still has some great resources for any teacher looking to expand their teaching repertoire with graphic novels.
- Rob Koo’s blog gives some excellent tips on teaching with graphic novels including a handy ‘How to Read a Comic Book’ free PDF for students.
- Get Graphic is another comprehensive blog for teaching with graphic novels. It has a variety of workshop resources that are a must for any teacher looking for teaching guidance with this medium.
- A great little app for teaching math through the medium of a graphic novel is ‘Who killed Professor X’. The project on which the book is based took third prize in the 6th Microsoft European Innovative Teachers Forum in Vienna in 2009 and is a great example of how graphic novels can be used to teach any subject.