Teaching Graphic Novels

Teaching graphic novels? I have taught graphic novels and have them in my classroom library. 

The picture below illustrates how I feel about graphic novels: colorful, with appealing pictures and deep roots. I personally do not love graphic novels, but I appreciate them. Art was never my strength, and the energy and depth that the pictures have… I’m awestruck by most graphic novels. Teaching graphic novels in the English classroom, however, has improved many of my lessons. 

What I do love is how my students read them. This year, I am teaching the graphic novel version of The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds. Our conversations are rich, and my thought is that the images end confusion amongst students. The culture, the beliefs, and the gods and goddesses are often not part of students’ schema. The pictures alleviate some confusion, and we can focus on other concepts.

Plus, graphic novels can be used for First Chapter Friday to show students a new type of genre. When I read a graphic novel for FCF, I often show the pictures as I read. I don’t read an entire chapter, but instead I read a few pages and discuss the details with students.

No matter how you use graphic novels in your secondary classroom, you will find an audience. Plus. graphic novel activities are diverse! Students who might be reluctant readers will grasp onto graphic novels. Students who identify as readers will enjoy them too.

Reflecting on my first year teaching graphic novels, I’ve found four ways to gain meaning from fabulous learning tools. Below, I’ve included ideas for teaching with graphic novels. 

Teaching craphic novels with secondary students can engage a variety of learners. Add these ideas to your graphic novel lesson plans. Teaching with graphic novels allows for creativity & exploration. Graphic novel activities can be simple & effective with middle school language arts classes & high school language arts classes. Teaching graphic novels in the English classroom will meet language & literature standards.

Look at the colors and fonts.

Everything in a graphic novel has a purpose. When I distributed the books for students, we analyzed the colors on the front and back. What could we learn from the initial choices?

Then, as we read, we realized that certain characters had repeated colors. Were the colors telling readers their ages? Their personalities? In a graphic novel, I feel like the color choices are part of the indirect characterization.

The fonts matter, too. Some fonts are standard, but whispers and asides might be wavy. A “thwack” sound effect might be bubble letters floating away. This component is something that students see in advertising and media, and I found it important to highlight that the author was using the font to send a message.

Notice the images.

Images do not replace the message. The images emphasize and reinforce the message. Often, pages won’t have words. Instead, students must draw conclusions from the pictures.

They can do this, and that is because the images are so detailed. Discuss these images, and then discuss the various interpretations. Often, students have conclusions from both the images and the words. Talk about how they are intertwined and affect each other.

Allow students to explore.

Good readers explore books. They reread sections and hunt for pieces about characters, clues about the setting, and for Easter eggs. I adore combing through a book and searching for missing pieces, but some students have not found that joy yet.

A graphic novel encourages students to explore. Students can identify characters from the colors and flip through the graphic novel. They reread, which increases understanding and enjoyment.

Research, and look at these resources!

I spoke with my librarian for suggestions concerning graphic novels. So! Start with coworkers and investigate practical ideas for including graphic novels in your classroom. I’ve never received formal training in teaching graphic novels, and talking through the process with coworkers helped.

A huge resource for teachers is this graphic novel resource for librarians. That website also has a presentation to show others why graphic novels are important to readers. A short article to perhaps send parents is from Healthy Teen Network.

I have always had graphic novels in my classroom library, but this year was my first time teaching graphic novels. You know how  teachers stress the first time through any lesson plan… and I was unsure what to expect. These ideas for teaching graphic novels are what I found beneficial, but I’d love to add more! What works for you while teaching graphic novels?

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