Teaching with Graphic Novels

Instructor: Natalie Kachnowski

Natalie is an experienced English Language Arts educator with a passion for books, games, and skiing.

As the saying goes, 'a picture is worth a thousand words,' so for many, the visual storytelling of graphic novels is invaluable. It can be a gateway for struggling readers, ESL students, disinterested readers, and other hard-to-reach populations.

Why Teach Graphic Novels

Benefits of Graphic Novels in the Classroom

In 2011, only 52% of students who took the ACT met the reading readiness benchmark. In 2015, the National Assessment of Educational Progress found only 34% of eighth graders at or above proficient in reading. That is a large percentage of students to not be reaching. Graphic novels have several benefits including introducing new vocabulary, aiding struggling and ESL readers with visual aides, creating interdisciplinary connections between art and other content areas, and boosting overall literacy skills in all readers. For ESL students, the images serve as a scaffolding for unfamiliar vocabulary words. For low-confidence readers, the speed and ease of reading a graphic novel boosts their confidence and engagement.

But I Teach Math, How Can I Use Graphic Novels?

Graphic novels can find a place in nearly any classroom. A history class might read Gettysburg: The Graphic Novel by C. M. Butzer as part of their study of the civil war, or a science teacher might assign The Basics of Cell Life With Max Axiom, Super Scientist by Amber Keyser as part of a cell unit. Virtually any subject can be connected to a graphic novel, which allows students of all levels to access the higher level vocabulary while also seeing the content in a new light.

Working Graphic Novels into your Classroom

Graphic Novels as a Primary Text

Depending on the situation, you could consider using a graphic novel in place of a primary text. Beowulf is one of the most complex texts many students face in high school. Though the story is full of action and fantasy elements, it can be difficult for even the strongest readers to dredge through. By replacing the traditional text with a graphic novel (for example, Beowulf by Gareth Hinds), educators can reach less advanced students by using the images to support their understanding while still addressing the key literary aspects of the epic poem.

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