Teaching English and Reading with Graphic Novels

Teaching English and Reading with Graphic Novels
Correne Constantino April 15, 2011

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What do you think of when you hear the words graphic novel? Do you think literature or do you think junk? Do you think of cartoons and toys or do you think reading, connecting and thinking?

Graphic novels are too often thought of as junk or empty reading. This is untrue; in my course room teachers are finding graphic novels are good tools to use to help students improve reading skills and comprehension.

The value of graphic novels

How many teachers have students who are unmotivated to read; students who are intimidated by chapter books and struggle with confidence in reading?

Graphic novels can be the answer for these children. An unmotivated reader can use the illustrations to help their English reading comprehension. Words are sporadic and spread throughout the pages; therefore students only have to comprehend small sections at a time, making it more manageable. Thoughts are often simplified, but students are challenged by the need to infer and decipher a variety of literary devices.

Today, graphic novels are being published with abundance. You can find graphic novels that are appropriate for every age group and on every subject matter. Some of my favorites are historical fiction that tell the story of humans in real times and places, such as “The Storm in the Barn” by Matt Phelan (takes place during the great depression, in the dust bowl) and “Maus” I & II by Art Spiegleman (a story of the Holocaust featuring cat-Nazis and mice-Jews). Popular novels are also being published as graphic novels, such as the “Twilight” series, “Tom Sawyer” and “Tale of Despereaux.”

A simple way for a teacher to use graphic novels for learning and teaching English to children in their classroom (other than placing them on the library shelf for students to explore), is to allow lower readers to read the graphic novel version of text while higher readers read the actual novel. This way all students are set up to succeed and be part of discussion.

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