Some librarians choose to engage students in reading and analyzing graphic novels. It’s best to have some short graphic novels to practice with, or some pages that can be used as examples. Students could also choose their own, if time allows. Afterward, a classroom teacher has a group of students who are prepared for the multifaceted kinds of literacy involved with graphic novels, and can read a more complex graphic novel related to their class curriculum, such as Nimona, This One Summer, or Maus.
Graphic Novel Programming
Other librarians use Teach Graphix Week in mid-October each year as an outreach tool to educate teachers and students about the different types of literacy that is involved with reading graphic novels. Scholastic’s Graphix Publishing offers author talks, free activities, and Flipgrid videos of favorite graphic novelists to enhance this annual event.
Creating a Comic Story
The example I heard about was an end-of-year-lesson wherein the Library Teacher delivers an introductory unit on how to read comics and graphic novels by looking at several examples in different genres. The library teacher connects this unit to the classroom curriculum on elements of creative fiction writing. In a more involved version, the library teacher then helps students map out fiction story ideas, and begins to map out their comics. In collaboration with the art teacher, students create a storyboard, design their panels and speech bubbles. Students then put it all together and create their own comic and present it as part of a Language and Learning class.
Either the classroom teacher or the library teacher reads a fiction book and a graphic adaptation of that same book. Students then compare and contrast the two stories. School Library Journal recommends several adaptations here.
Students work with the library teacher to learn note taking and where to find information in databases. After note taking, they work with their classroom teacher on an informative essay and a fictional story about their animal. The library teacher works with students to storyboard a comic related to the moment their animal is attacked by a predator. The digital literacy teacher teaches students to create panels and simple animals using google slides. Students put their stories together in a digital comic in Google slides.
- In a middle school, teachers use zine creation as an assessment option in both ELA and Social Studies somewhat regularly. The library teacher is invited to co-teach to build the visual literacy skills to make this a meaningful option for students to show what they know.
- A Drama Teacher uses Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie dialogue sheets as an assessment at the end of a unit on drama structure.
- A Social Studies teacher uses the option to draw a comic to explain what’s happening in one of the thirteen colonies during a unit on the thirteen colonies.
If any of these lessons sound interesting to you, please remember that you do not need to create your materials from scratch. There are many folks out there who’ve created resources like design templates or How to Read a Graphic Novel one-sheets that you can ask permission to use and attribute. And I even have found many teachers are willing to share student samples for models of finished lessons through the MSLA listserv.
Related to reading graphic novels, I encourage you to build your own confidence as a reader of graphic novels. If you, or a teacher you know, wants to understand more about the process of reading a graphic novel, I would suggest you look at this comprehensive article entitled Reading Graphic Novels from Literacy Today QC. The article walks you through a basic overview of reading graphic novels and also delves into more in depth information relating to how artists use panels to tell a story.
For those who want to read a current and thought-provoking article related to teaching with comics, I highly recommend Roman Colombo’s article Teaching Comics and Graphic Novels Guide: Choosing Texts and More in Comic Years Magazine from last September. Colombo is speaking to a more academic crowd, but he brings up amazing point after amazing point about teaching with the medium. A few big ideas that stand out for me:
- Comics and graphic novels are a “new frontier.”
- “...Don’t worry if something isn’t traditional or looked down on, or if you're doing it right.”
- Read widely in the medium— choose works from way back in the 90s and new books that have come out this year.
- Teach from a range of genres within the medium, there’s great fiction, memoirs, superhero stories, and much more to explore. Not all “graphic novels” are novels.
- Tim Smyth has been writing about teaching with graphic novels for years. He has a new book available for pre-order that should be available in July. His website is http://www.historycomics.net/#
- Brigid Alverson wrote a blog for the School Library Journal called Good Comics for Kids. I highly recommend her reviews and blog posts.
- For deep, critical thinking on diversity and female representation in graphic novels, Dr. Laura M. Jimenez has a fantastic blog called Booktoss where she has created two lists: graphic novels to keep and graphic novels to toss. Really thought-provoking. Beware, some of your favorites might be on the toss list.
Facebook offers some great groups to follow/participate in. Here are a few I’ve found:
- Graphic Novels Discussion Group: Do you enjoy reading with pictures, but something with a little more substance than comics? Maybe you're an artist or a writer and you want to meet others with the desire to create in this exciting medium…
- ALA Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table: American Library Association Graphic Novels & Comics Round Table - Library Workers, Educators, and Comics Advocates Unite! Contact us: email@example.com / ala.org/rt/GNCRT / @libcomix (Insta and Twitter)
- Reading Graphic Novels: "Reading Graphic Novels" is a monthly book club based in the Cambridge, MA area focused on discussion of graphic novels. This is an outgrowth of the class formerly taught at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education.