Sunday, October 9, 2011

Using Comic Books & Graphic Novels in the Classroom

This is a guest post by elementary teacher and frequent contributor Adrian Neibauer. You can reach him on

Graphic Novels
Photo courtesy: Enokson
WHY use comic books/graphic novels in the classroom?

The short answer: I teach by whatever means necessary…even comic books.

The long answer: I use comic books/graphic novels in my classroom because I intend to change the way teachers look at literacy instruction. I want to give teachers supplemental literacy instructional tools: comic books and graphic novels, in order to increase their male students’ level of intrinsic reading motivation. I want to prove to parents and educators that I can adequately teach students to use critical thinking skills and reading strategies with comic literature.

Here are some great resources for those just starting out:
Most local comic book stores have $1.00 comics. It is probably the cheapest reading material I can find, and it is great for buying multiple copies for a guided reading table. Just be sure to read/preview any/all comics you purchase.

Graphic novels are a bit longer and more expensive, but they make some great ones for potential novel studies…especially if you want to read a classic and compare it to the graphic novel version.

I created interactive SMART board lessons for each of the eight essential reading strategies I intended to teach: Inference, Questioning, Prediction, Summary, Connections, Visualizing, Determining Important Ideas, and Synthesis. I also included an introduction to reading comic literature so that every student enters each lesson with a basic schema regarding how to read a comic book/graphic novel. I intended for this curriculum to take about nine weeks to teach, with one week dedicated to each of the reading strategies and the introduction. However, I want to reiterate that this comic curriculum is only meant to supplement already best reading instructional practices taking place in the classroom; therefore, teachers can use these lessons as they see fit in their classroom.

Throughout this process, I encountered some challenges. Each interactive SMART board lesson took considerable time to create. At times, I struggled with embedding various comic examples from my newly purchased books within each lesson. I do not own a scanner, so I relied on the Internet and my document camera to display the graphic novel example(s). There is a growing popularity in digital comic literature, but as with any new technology, it is not free. In the future, I plan to pursue this option.

Marvel's Digital Comics is a great resource for grades 4-5 or for anyone with a projector. You can view free samples of tons of great comics. NOTE: Always preview any literature, even comic literature, before showing it to students.

Marvel Kids is geared for the younger grades (K-3).

Adventures in Graphica by Terry Thompson is by far the BEST book of teachers wanting to get some comics and start teaching. Terry has amazing lessons that are ready to use for any classroom!

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Great for anyone interesting in a more in-depth analysis of comic literature. It is written in comic format, which makes some of the heavier concepts easier to understand.

Basically, use what you have available. Teach student to read comics correctly, and then you can easily make the transition to regular text. DO NOT let anyone tell you that comics are easier reading than traditional literature. I own a copy of the graphic novel adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report. It is a DIFFICULT book!

Finally, present comics as just another medium for traditional genres. There are comic mysteries, memoirs, short stories, poetry, you name it. Don’t feel like you need to be an expert. Kids love learning/exploring new and uncharted territory together with you. Just have fun reading!