7 Reasons To Use Comics in the Classroom!
Comics have always had a bad reputation in education. Even the current popularity these days can’t erase the stigma. The image of the rascal hiding the comic inside his text-book is as old as Dennis the Menace and as fresh as Fairly Oddparents’ Timmy Turner. The fact is there was a facet of the American population in the 1940’s and 1950’s who owe their literacy to comics. And that tradition should not only continue but be embraced by today’s educators. Here are some modern-day reasons to keep comics in the classroom.
1. Comics engage readers.
The brightly colored with interesting covers and every page filled with of panel after panel of art, comics are uniquely engineered to draw in readers from the youngest all the way to the most experienced. It’s a promise to the reader, a visual cue… there’s a story in here! And the use of characters from all sorts of movie and television properties ensures you can find one for every reader!
2. They’re a gateway for early and budding readers.
Comics are, at their most basic, words and pictures. Like picture books the images are important to the story, unlike picture books the images in comics tell the story. They make an excellent transition from picture books by adding text to the equation. Even as they grow into full fledged readers comics are still a great option. Comics make use of text differently than even early chapter books. By using text that doesn’t appear in large chunks they are easier to digest for “reluctant” readers but still entertaining for readers of higher reading levels.
3. Comics aid in building reading comprehension.
Sequential art is the cornerstone of the comic book. Using pictures in sequence to tell a story helps to show pacing and flow. But this sequential art isn’t frame by frame. Though some, like Little Nemo, come very close. Storytelling in comics requires the readers to follow the path created by the writer and artist, sometimes in odd or counter-intuitive layouts, the reader may have to create inferences, and connect the dots. More and more children’s and young reader books are reflecting the story telling style of the comic book (Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series comes to mind as well as The Diary of a Wimpy Kid) the picture coupled with minimal text has long been an early reader staple.
4. Comics can aid in the development of writing skills.
A single issue of a comic, like most episodic television shows, has a beginning, middle, and end. Even if the story is part of a longer ongoing arc all the story components are there. Because of the 22 page format and visual nature they can be a lot easier as a visual aid when breaking down the story telling process.
5. Comics develop vocabulary.
Comics have a long tradition of using vocabulary uncommon to the new and emerging reader. Words like Excelsior! have been used in comics for decades. And due to the very nature of comics many different speaking styles and dialects are used. A team book like X-Men may have characters in it like Gambit who regularly uses French words and idioms in conversation. With the myriad of stories being written for, or adapted to, comics the possibilities for expanding the readers vocabulary is endless.
6. Strong Female (and Male) Characters aid in solid emotional development
“Strong Female Characters” has been the battle cry of the comic reading public for years now. We saw the response beginning in the small-press and self-published arm of the industry with books like Princeless, Bandette, and Delilah Dirk. This past year (or so) we’ve seen even the big two (Marvel and DC) follow suit. Heroes come in all genders and the comics culture has definitely caught up to that ideal. Diversity in all forms is the order of the day and kids have a better chance than ever of seeing themselves reflected in their heroes.
What about body image? The comics medium has long been thought of as the domain of adolescent boys, drooling over lurid sketches of scantily clad females. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. While traditionally the human form was over sexualized in comics that propensity has been fading. With very little effort you could pick up several comics on any given Wednesday that offer realistic body types. That’s not to say that the problems are all behind us but especially in the case of books aimed at younger audiences comics have come a long way.
7. Comics are a form of art.
A well written, well drawn comic book (or graphic novel if you prefer) is a work of art. Starting with the well drawn panel, to the layout of the page, to the finished product each level can be viewed both individually and in its entirety as art. This is why artists like Lichtenstein and Warhol “borrowed” so heavily from a genre that was dismissed as “kid stuff.” From contemporary to modern you can find them all, reflected in the pages of books as varied as Nick Fury Agent of Shield to Classics Illustrated Treasure Island. Comic books have received high praise in the literary field as well. Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus, a story about the struggles of Holocaust survivors that depicts Jewish people as mice and the Nazis as cats, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 (though it was a Special Award in Letters.)
Comics (and comic book characters) are everywhere, movies, television, games, advertising. The stories they tell run the scope of literature from “slice of life” to science fiction and of course superheroes. They are a medium for conveying a story, not a genre. Why not embrace the medium and meet kids where their interests lie. Who knows you may wind up creating the readers, writers, and artists of tomorrow.
- Inspired by Comic Books as Models for Literacy Instruction BY Melissa Barbee Aug 12, 2015 literacyworldwide.org
For further information and resources follow the links below,
Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom (The Council Chronicle, Sept. 05) – NCTE National Council of English Teachers