Why Graphic Novels?

In the past few years the production of graphic novels has become increasingly more popular and the format is starting to infiltrate the bestseller lists on a regular basis. One of the main reasons for this is that children love them. However, lots of children don’t know anything about them because they either don’t have access or they are told they aren’t proper books and that they aren’t allowed to read them. Thankfully this attitude is starting to change but it is a slow process.

Several years ago I noticed that quite a few children were coming up to my class without any enjoyment of reading, they couldn’t find anything that hooked them in. It wasn’t because they were reluctant or lazy, it was because they had only had one type of book promoted to them. It was novels or nothing. I took it upon myself to try and change this and quickly noticed that a lot of the children who were struggling to engage enjoyed the two graphic novels I possessed. When speaking to them it became clear that they wanted more books like this, the imagery supporting the text was a big factor but also opening a book and not being assaulted by an onslaught of text was much more enticing for them.

 As a result of this I started to heavily invest in the graphic novels and these children developed a much more positive relationship with reading and started to devour a range of books. This then progressed onto exploring how I could use them to help develop their English skills and incorporate them into my teaching.

The benefits of reading graphic novels

This is a simple answer, the benefits are exactly the same as reading any other type of text. Readers can read a vast array of vocabulary, encounter heart warming stories that help to develop empathy and quite simply provide enjoyable reading experiences. Yes, the way you read the text is different and in some places more difficult but the rewards are the same yet so many people treat them like inferior reading material. Having pictures or images doesn’t make the experience any less rewarding and in the case of readers who struggle with confidence or engagement they can provide a safety net that helps them develop a love of reading or improve their understanding.

How I use graphic novels in my classroom

I use graphic novels in a variety of ways and it can depend on how engaged your class is, so here are some of the main ways I incorporate them into regular classroom life. The first way is simply to give them recognition as a valued reading option, graphic novels have their own shelf in my class but at the very least they should be grouped together to show how there are lots of similar texts to explore. Valuing them on the shelf will show their importance and allow children to realise they are held in the same esteem as reading traditional novels, non fiction or poetry etc.

Secondly, I look to utilise graphic novel extracts or pages to improve work in English lessons, not just for something fun. If I am using a graphic novel then my purpose is to improve the quality of learning with it. Comprehension is a brilliant skill to use them for, photocopying a page with rich language and asking children to work out the meaning using both visual and literary clues is much more effective than showing them an outdated text and wondering why they aren’t engaging. You can also get them to analyse a page and write down all of their thoughts and questions about it, get them to explore body language, choice of vocabulary and compare it to the imagery. This will promote deep thought about what they read and what it is telling them, they can annotate these thoughts around the outside of the text and then come back together and discuss ideas as a class. While you discuss as a class, get a different colour pen and add any missed ideas, it will really make them think about everything that happens on a page.

Recently I have found converting prose into a comic has helped them to develop their use of figurative language. Taking a particular scene or favourite moment from a text and confining it to only one page means the children have to focus heavily on the impact of their language as they are restricted in regards to how much they can write. This helps to highlight the importance of metaphors and personification in particular with some of the less confident writers finding it easier to focus on the task as they know they don’t have to write pages of text.

The final way to use them I will mention here, is for PSHE lessons. Currently there are lots of graphic novels being produced about common issues that lots of children struggle with but aren’t confident enough to talk about. Guts and Smile by Raina Telgemeier are great examples of this but there are plenty of others out there including the brilliant Mr Wolfs Class series by Aron Nels Steinke who is also a teacher which means his books capture classroom life perfectly. Using extracts from books like this can lead to lots of excellent discussion, honest conversations and allow you to do excellent tasks such as writing advice for the characters or creating guides about how to deal with similar issues. Most importantly it often opens the eyes of students to how normal it is to struggle with these issues and how they aren’t alone. It empowers them immensely.

There are lots of ways comics and graphic novels can be used to develop writing and thinking skills, these are certainly not the only ones but they are some of the techniques that have worked particularly well for me in the past. You can find more ideas on my blog www.comicsinclass.school.blog or by following me on twitter @RuddickRichard