Why should you consider teaching with graphic novels?
Kids read graphic novels – walk into any library or bookstore and you will find young readers hanging out in the manga and comics aisles. So, why aren’t teachers using more graphic novels in their classrooms? One of the main reasons is due to a bias against graphic novels as a “legitimate” text; however, this bias is being chipped away as research supports the efficacy of using graphic novels in the classroom. Yildirim (2013) writes, “The increasing popularity of graphic novels has transformed it into a powerful medium of expression. Once regarded as only a means of amusement lacking literary insight and merit, graphic novels have evolved into a respected and well-regarded genre of literature which deserves a permanent place in the literary world” (122).
Graphic novels are popular and prevalent today because these texts offer a diverse range in complexity and topics/issues in addition to crossing genres. Today’s graphic novels are about more than just superheroes, science-fiction and fantasy (Gorman, 2002) – they can be used in all content areas as there are graphic novels about history, science, and major literary works. Furthermore, graphic novels not only target teen readers, but are also making an impact in the early/emerging reader markets (Brown, 2013). Simply put, there is a graphic novel for everyone.
There are many benefits to using graphic novels in the classroom.
1. They can be used to build students’ reading and writing skills (Frey and Fisher, 2004; Yildirim, 2012; Brown, 2013). They offer multilevel reading experiences, as reading the words and images builds students’ basic reading skills and analytical skills (Yildirim, 2013).
2. Graphic novels provide support for struggling readers, including English learners, by addressing multiple learning modalities. Hassett & Schieble (2007) indicate that graphic novels facilitate comprehension by combining images with texts, making them particularly helpful for visual learners. Graphic novels also provide a path for more complex reading by building reading fluency and reading confidence (Yildirim, 2013).
3. Graphic novels build students’ reading habits; for example, Schwarz (2002) found that graphic novels were a source of motivation and stimulation for struggling and reluctant readers.
4. Graphic novels can boost students’ critical thinking skills, creativity, and imagination (Yildirim, 2013).
Graphic novels benefit all readers. As McTaggert (2008) indicated, “[Graphic novels] enable the struggling reader, motivate the reluctant one, and challenge the high-level learner” (32). Reading a graphic novel requires students to make inferences and draw conclusions from the images and text while being supported by visuals and pacing. I would argue that in some ways, reading a graphic novel is more complicated than reading a traditional novel in that graphic novel readers have to rely on non-textual cues to derive meanings and they also have to rely more heavily on their inferring skills.
It makes sense that today’s digitally-oriented students would find graphic novels appealing. These students are used to surfing the internet, navigating multiple open windows of content, and reading messages from various social media sources. Our students have been reading graphically for years!
Resources for Using Graphic Novels in Your Literature Classroom
Annenberg Learner provides several resources to graphically enhance your classroom instruction. Invitation to World Literature is a comprehensive resource for learning about literature from around the world and across time. There are several programs within the series that could support learning about graphic novels.
1. “Journey to the West” is a classic Chinese story about the Stone Monkey King. In this program, you’ll find videos, texts, maps, slideshow of images, and connections to graphic novels. This unit would pair nicely with a study of Gene Luen Yang’s “The Shadow Hero,” a graphic novel about the Asian-American superhero, The Green Turtle. (Also, make sure to check out Yang’s other graphic novels.)
2. The video introducing “The Epic of Gilgamesh” presents comic book artist Jim Starlin. Starlin wrote a comic book series, “Gilgamesh II,” for DC Comics. Students might find it interesting to learn more about him as he is best known for re-inventing Marvel Comics superheroes, Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock. He also co-created Thanos and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu.
3. Roy Thomas is another comic book artist featured in the program “The Odyssey.” Thomas was Stan Lee’s first successor as editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics. He is famous for writing graphic novels for “X-Men,” “Conan the Barbarian,” and “The Avengers.” He has also written titles for “The Odyssey” and “The Iliad.”
4. Lastly, the program on “The Thousand and One Nights” also features a comic novelist, Bill Willingham. He created the DC comics series “Fables” and wrote a comic novel entitled “1001 Nights of Snowfall,” which would be a nice pairing for this program. Students might get a kick out of studying how Willingham puts a unique spin on classic stories.
How are you using graphic novels in your classroom?
Brown, S. (2013). A blended approach to reading and writing graphic novels. The Reading Teacher, 67(3), 208-219.
Gorman, M. (2002). What teens want. School Library Journal, 48, 42-47.
Hassett, D. D, & Schieble, M. B. (2007). Finding space and time for the visual in K-12 literacy instruction. The English Journal, 97(1), 62-68.
Frey, N., & Fisher, D. (2004). Using graphic novels, anime, and the Internet in an urban high school. The English Journal, 93(3), 19-25.
McTaggert, J. (2008). Graphic novels: The good, the bad, and the ugly. In N. Frey, & D. Fisher (Eds.), Teaching visual literacy: Using comic books, graphic novels, anime, cartoons, and more to develop comprehension and thinking skills (pp. 27-46). CA: Corwin Press.
Schwarz, G. E. (2002). Graphic books for diverse needs: Engaging reluctant and curious readers. The ALAN Review, 3(1), 54-57.
Yidirim, A.H. (2013). Using graphic novels in the classroom. Journal of Language and Literature Education, 8. 118-131.