When you think of rigorous teaching, you might not think of graphic novels right away. They seem too easy and too simplistic for any meaningful novel study, right? Well, actually, graphic novels have a lot to offer young students. In this post, I hope to share a few quick tips for teaching with graphic novels.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that earn me a small commission, at no additional cost to you. I only recommend products that I personally use and love, or think my readers will find useful.
Why Graphic Novels?
Our students are coming into our classes with differing levels of reading ability and enthusiasm. Consequently, teachers need to be more creative and vary the media they use to reach students.
We’re seeing podcasts, audiobooks, and even images being used as “texts” in classrooms to teach our students reading skills at a level that’s comfortable for them.
Graphic novels are just another tool we can reach for. They have a lot of advantages when it comes to engaging reluctant readers.
First, they’re far less intimidating than a traditional novel. I’ve had quite a few students who refused to participate in independent reading initially. After talking with them though and offering a graphic novel, many agreed to give it a go.
Weak readers often don’t feel comfortable with a large, thick book. Rather than risk struggling and failing, they just refuse to even try. But a graphic novel often makes them feel more confident in success and, thus, more likely to try in the first place.
Secondly, we know that students need to read way, way more. Their skills are so low that simply increasing their volume of reading will go a long way in increasing their overall skills, ability, endurance, and vocabulary.
And when it comes to upping students’ reading volume, anything counts. If a student is willing to read a graphic novel, then we should be throwing these books at him or her. A completely read graphic novel is way better than reading nothing at all.
Plus, it’s not like graphic novels are just fluff or low Lexile language. There are so many great, deep graphic novels out there that will lead to practicing essential reading strategies and deep conversations.
#1: Use Graphic Novels as a Stepping Stone
As I’ve already mentioned, graphic novels are a great place to start when getting reluctant readers to actually read.
Some students will be very stubborn about reading especially if you run an independent reading program. And if they haven’t read a book since elementary school, you can imagine how dropping a three-hundred-page book with small text on their desk would be overwhelming.
But if instead, you offered a graphic novel, that same student will be much more willing to give it a shot. They’ll feel more confident in the task.
There are graphic novels that don’t have any words at all. Once, I had a student who refused to choose a book for independent reading. He even tried to get me to believe that he couldn’t read (despite texting in my class frequently).
So leveled with him and handed him a huge book: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It was over five hundred pages, and his eyes bugged out of his head. I told him confidently that he could read this book.
He argued at first, but after paging through the book, he realized he could, in fact, read it. I told him he should take it, and that later he could smugly tell everyone else he read a five-hundred-page book.
Graphic novels are great stepping stones to more books and more reading. Why wouldn’t you use them?
#2: Don’t Assume Students Know How to Read a Graphic Novel
Offering graphic novels might not be enough, however. Don’t assume students know how to read them.
There are some obvious tips you want to teach students. If you know they’re picking up manga for the first time, for example, you’ll want to explain that those books are read from right to left.
But the best tip to give any student reading a graphic novel for the first time is to slow down.
Even struggling readers sometimes read quicker than they should when it comes to graphic novels. Remind students that the images in a graphic novel are just as–if not more–important than the words.
They need to take the time to look at all of the images as they read. Those images work with the words to tell a story. Making inferences based on images alone is frequently necessary with graphic novels, so don’t want to miss any important details.
In my How to Read a Graphic Novel Lesson, I go over the history of comic books and graphic novels, important terminology, and some tips for reading and interpreting the images on a page.
#3: Give Students Opportunities to Try and Create Their Own
If you really want students to appreciate the genius of graphic novels, give them time to write or create their own.
I know for me, personally, I have a much deeper appreciation for a skill once I’ve tried it myself. Give your students the same opportunity to develop a deep appreciation for graphic novels by challenging them to create their own.
If you’re reading a traditional novel as a whole class, ask students to turn a scene into a graphic novel. Or to write a sequel or epilogue in graphic novel format.
Challenge students to sketch out characters in books or to draw sound effects that look like how they sound.
Let them get creative and see how hard it really is to tell a story with images as well as text.
#4: Use the Same Reading Strategies
Graphic novels might seem easier to read, but they require the same reading strategies as any other book.
Like I said before, graphic novels require a lot of inference skills. So much of the story is told in images which makes reading a graphic novel the perfect time to re-teach inferences and provide additional practice.
But students will need to use other reading strategies, too.
Making predictions is just as important with a graphic novel as it is with a traditional book. Asking questions and making connections is just as valuable.
You’ll still want students to evaluate the text as they read and at the end.
Whether you’re teaching a graphic novel as a whole class study or just letting students read them during independent reading, keep teaching those essential reading skills.
If you have an independent reading program, I highly recommend my Skill-based Independent Reading Exit Tickets just for this. Each ticket reviews a reading skill and asks students to apply it to whatever text they’re reading. These exit tickets work for any novel–traditional or graphic–so you can use them in a mixed-level class easily.
#5: Provide Students with Rigorous Graphic Novels
My last tip might be obvious, but you should provide students with rigorous and high-quality graphic novels. Teaching with graphic novels means making sure there are plenty available to your students.
(I offer some tips for building your classroom library in this post.)
At the beginning of the year or your independent reading program, getting students to read anything is important. So feel free to let students pick out any manga or graphic novel from the library to read.
But as students start to build endurance and confidence in reading, suggest some more elevated graphic novels. You can even use one of these graphic novels as a whole class study.
Some of the best-known graphic novels for teaching in class are Maus, Persepolis, American Born Chinese, Illegal, and more. If you’re not reading graphic novels at all, try to incorporate some into your reading list.
There are also some texts that aren’t graphic novels, per se, but use lots of visuals or art in the text. For reluctant readers who are ready for something a little stronger, I suggest A Long Way Down or Monster Calls.
Use graphic novels to get your kids reading. Then, you can push them to move toward more advanced texts.
There are many ways to use graphic novels in your classroom. Choose one for a whole class novel study, choose many for a graphic novel literature circle, or choose as many as you can for your classroom library.
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that by teaching with graphic novels, you’re letting them off easy.