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Innovative Teaching – Comic Books in the Classroom

Today the focus in education is on enhanced student learning. Therefore all curriculum materials and teaching techniques are receiving careful review.

Just as education begins to emphasize standards and achievement, an innovative method of teaching reading and writing is catching steam. Recognizing that capturing the attention of young readers is an essential component of effective teaching practices, many teachers are turning to comic books as a tool to reach struggling readers as well as students who are new learners of the English language.

Though the initial reaction to the suggested process is that educators are simply lowering their educational standards and reinforcing lazy reading habits, it is easy to see why comic books have the potential to help readers. And if they help young readers become more fluent readers, then educators believe that critics should put away their negative pre-conceived notions and give comics a try.

Teaching Reading

Because comic books are laid out in frames, it is very easy for readers to track a story. In fact, it is also easy for those readers to both jump ahead and back as a story develops. In addition, the fact that each frame contains some text and a picture makes it much easier for readers to grasp and contextualize a story. Ultimately, the limited text in each frame is beneficial to those for which reading is a challenge.

Therefore comics are very appealing to those readers who are intimidated by and/or frustrated with long text passages. The pictures in the frames of course also add many visual cues to the story line helping students better understand the critical literary points of the story.

Those who advocate the use of comic books state succinctly: “The goal of any good teacher is to educate, even if the method seems unconventional.” Therefore if comics improve reading skills they should become a part of a teacher’s reading tool kit.

Teaching Writing
Again, proponents of the comic book movement insist that teachers should not simply drop a comic book upon a student’s desk with a demand that he or she read it. The concept is to use the comic book as a tool to teach reaching strategies in much the same manner that youngsters are taught with picture books.

Again, if students possess limited reading skills, teaching writing is also a difficult endeavor. It is even more difficult to teach writing to children if they are not invested in their learning. Proponents insist that comic books work as a method of getting investment from children. Therefore working with the comic book format including the use of frames means that teachers may find that writing, including the teaching of grammar and punctuation can be made more manageable for struggling learners.

In addition, the pairing of the visual with the written word is an excellent tool for helping young writers construct their stories. Such methods seem natural when children are very young yet the visual piece tends to be withdrawn as children get older, a factor that exacerbates the issues for struggling readers and writers.

It is extremely important to note that all proponents of the use of comic books in the classroom stipulate that comics are to supplement current materials, not replace. Therefore no one should see the use of comics as eliminating current grade appropriate reading materials.

Graphic Novels
Another concept that takes the comic book approach to another level is the creation of a graphic novel. Technically, the term graphic novel is used to refer to multiple issues of a series that have been collected into a single volume. Generally the term applies specifically to the concept of releasing the collected works without serialization.

However, Marvel Comics is set to release a whole line of graphic novels but is actually taking a number of classics and converting them to the graphic format. Each book will feature Marvel’s famous illustrations as well as a glossary of terms for young readers and special content geared toward assisting teachers. Along with “Treasure Island,” Marvel will develop graphic versions of “The Last of the Mohicans” and “The Man in the Iron Mask.”

Without a doubt, the vast majority of critics would likely find such literature in graphic formats more palpable then the traditional comic. It also goes without saying that the new Marvel series represents an enormous investment by the company and can only be seen as a clear belief that there is a strong market for such literature.

That investment can mean only one thing, Marvel at least believes the movement is here to stay.

Next up, we interview Chris Wilson, the editor of the web site the Graphic Classroom and a teacher who is writing his master’s thesis on the use of comics in the classroom.


1 Pat { 01.23.08 at 2:31 pm }

I have used this in my classroom with success and even wrote about it in my blog:
It’s nice to see someone else who uses them too.

2 Thomas { 01.23.08 at 10:04 pm }

My belief is that there are now many. Perhaps others will let us know.
Tom Hanson

3 Innovative Teaching - Chris Wilson Discusses the Comic Book Movement — Open Education { 01.24.08 at 4:00 pm }

[…] Yesterday we took a brief look at an educational instructional innovation that is gaining acceptance nationally, the idea of using comic books to teach reading and writing. Our post focused on the notion that it is essential to get investment from students if we want to them to learn. Therefore, if comics bring about greater student investment then in our view they should definitely be given careful consideration. […]

4 Marek Bennett { 01.28.08 at 10:13 pm }

Thanks for this overview of comics in education! Teachers are finally starting to realize the power of this medium. It’s a low-tech, low-entry costs, high-payoff, developmentally stimulating way for kids to choose their topics and communicate really meaningful information. Reading, writing, and TONS of curricular CONTENT, too! (Just look at the scientific works of Jay Hosler, for example.)

I want to add that the term “Graphic Novel” is not limited to serializations of monthly comic books; while this is often the case, it’s really a factor of the economics behind most comics production, which is (by and large) by smaller, more independent publishers … even self-publishers! It’s the way Dickens published his stories, chapter by chapter.

Also, because comics can be so notoriously slow to produce, creators often need to release their work episode by episode throughout the process of creating it!

HOWEVER… There ARE artists out there who publish ENTIRE graphic novels as books in their own right, without extensive previous serialization, or with a Graphic Novel as the final product from the very beginning of the work. That’s the main idea behind the “Graphic Novel” — that the work is primarily a novelistic form of storytelling, and that its existence as a single literary work takes precedence over the monthly episode-by-episode formulas of the “Comic Book”.

5 Kirk Warren { 01.29.08 at 4:53 pm }

To comment on the use of the term ‘graphic novel’, Will Eisner can be credited with it’s widespread usage when he popularized the term on his groundbreaking A Contract With God softcover collection, which carried the term graphic novel to distinguish it from comic books.

At the time, comic books were for children and were regarded as such by critics. The use of graphic novel set his work apart and allowed it to be judged on its own merits, separating itself from other comic books.

While technically the same, as both comics and graphic novels both feature images interspersed with word balloons and narrative, they usually vary in themes.

Today, Marvel has partnerships with many bookstores, like Barnes and Nobles, and market their trade collections as graphic novels to elevate the way people perceive them.

Personally, I view everything as a comic book. However, not all comic books are graphic novels. For instance, Watchmen is a graphic novel, but a collection of Spider-Man books would only be a comic book or trade paper back, not a graphic novel, regardless of what Marvel may try to distinguish it as.

That’s a personal opinion on it and the term is typically used in regards to trades or hardcover collections and other one shot release, like the recent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier, which was never released in the normal ‘floppy’ newstand comic book style, only being released as the single trade, making it fall under the “original graphic novel” heading.

That’s my 2 cents on the GN debate. As for comics in classrooms, it comes down to how willing the teacher is to accept the medium. I don’t believe bringing in a bunch of Spider-Man comics and throwing them on the table is teaching. It might be decent for getting younger children to read, but that’s about it.

There are several colleges and universities around the world that dedicate time to the study of Watchmen, the acclaimed series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. I read a lot of comics and prose fiction and I would rate Watchmen as one of the best pieces of literature available and easily worthy of being discussed ina classroom setting. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman would be another masterpiece of fiction and it actually holds awards that were dedicated to written / standard fiction. They had changed the listings after The Sandman won so that no other comic book could ever win the award, further showing the stigma associated with this industry.

The problem with teaching with these books is that the teachers themselves have no respect for them and believe they are merely for children and refuse to accept them alongside other literature. It’s impossible to learn when the teacher does not want to teach.

6 Thomas { 01.29.08 at 8:04 pm }

Your last point is extremely valid Kirk, if there is no respect accorded the medium then the concept simply will not work. I also appreciate the insight on the definition of a graphic novel versus a comic book.
Tom Hanson

7 Eric { 03.26.08 at 1:01 pm }

I am writing a paper for a college english course, and the focus of my paper is that comics are a relevant source of insight and knowledge in printed form. I was wondering if anyone has done any research into the inclusion of comic books (including graphic novels and trades) in the HIGH SCHOOL classroom. I have seen studies on thier use in the college and elementary levels, but I am gearing my paper more towards the high school level. If anyone could help me out it would be much appreciated

8 virgil { 09.27.08 at 4:55 am }

Preschoolers’ story and picture books a filled with illustrations and photographs. For the higher level readers this is just a matter of ‘book’ page layout. Simply put,very comic frame is a picture clue.
I go for this medium of reading instruction.

9 arnel salazar { 01.09.09 at 5:11 am }

It is great to hear from you guys that comic books or graphic novel is an effective tool for teachers in teaching the children to read and write.

10 Haram { 02.19.09 at 3:44 am }

I’m doing a speech about benefits of comic books mail me for some comments at

11 David Williams { 06.16.09 at 10:02 am }

Cannot see any fundamental difference between education using comic strips and watching television with sub titles, only that the former might encourage greater creativity through emulation. Progressing a story or educating using cartoon drawings can be very effective and is in the reach of every student to do themselves.

12 Tmanes { 07.18.09 at 10:21 pm }

I used this last week for teach fluency to my 2nd grade summer school class. I’m in college now to get my teaching degree and i did it for a class. I would like others input on if its effective in the long run.

13 Rock { 09.26.09 at 6:36 pm }

I think this is great. Not everyone learns the same way, so anything that opens up new avenues in learning is a positive in my mind. If its comic books, so be it.

14 Patrick Shortt { 02.03.10 at 2:30 pm }

I appreciate your article, I am researching how comics educate and from the perspective of a comic book addict, this is an amazing article

15 Cat { 03.25.10 at 4:34 am }

Hi, Im a teacher and am looking into using comics in the classroom. There is a program called Comic Life that the children can use to construct their own comics. Its a bit like using publisher but child friendly and is especially for comics. We have the package in school and i plan to use it next term.

16 Digant Parsai { 05.06.10 at 1:48 am }

I feel enough has been said and agreed upon regarding the use of comic books in education. Can we finally have a judgement in conclusion that comic books ARE a useful tool with regards to education period

17 Dr. Lance { 12.20.10 at 11:55 am }

We have developed comic books with sports figures as heroes. This not only engages the students but it allows the sports figures to give back and immortalize their talents. We teach these in the classroom and are seeking partners across the country to assist in getting our comic books in their classrooms. I look forward to hearing from you all on partnerships to improve education.

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