Home Comics and Cartooning Bridging the Gap: Graphic Novels and Reluctant Readers

Bridging the Gap: Graphic Novels and Reluctant Readers


We live in a visual world where content, including educational content, is often consumed visually in the form of infographics, short videos, and yes, comics. It's no secret that graphic novels and comics are increasingly popular among young readers. Many readers step from “I Can Read” chapter books that include pictures to popular diary fiction and more complex graphic novels. Graphic novels fill the gap that leads to the unillustrated chapter books that students will study throughout their education.

Discounting these types of literature can be dangerous, especially since students are reading them by choice. Consider drawing from graphic novels to enhance the stories/topics you are teaching to create more room for growth. By engaging students with more relatable material, you will see better results and give students a boost in confidence. Graphic novels in the classroom serve two primary purposes, and sometimes those can be intertwined. The first tackles reluctant readers, the second, reluctant writers.

Three ways to incorporate graphic novels

1. Read Graphic Novels for Independent Reading

Graphic novels provide students with visual context. The visuals break down information for students; they don't have to parse through long walls of text in order to understand what's going on. When a student reads a sentence or paragraph in a chapter book, it creates an image in their mind. Understanding what that passage means makes the image clearer. Adding the visual component helps clarify for students who may struggle to grasp the meaning on their own. The combination of short text and images also gives students the ability to develop their vocabulary because they see the words in context, like they might in a visual vocabulary board.

2. Graphic Novels in Creative Writing

Graphic novels also provide a great outlet for creative writing. Creating stories digitally removes any insecurities or fears about being able to draw and gives that time to actual creation. Plus, creating a comic or graphic novel gives different constraints than traditional prose. Students will have to think critically about what information they want to show and can convey emotion with different facial expressions or poses. It takes the concept of show, don't tell to another level, and students might not even consider it writing!

3. Make Graphic Novels to Show Comprehension

A student-made graphic novel can showcase what they understood or took away from the story or topic. Students develop critical thinking skills that allow them to hone in on important details. Teachers can see what important plot points the students picked up on, what characters they understood, and whether their adaptation or interpretation make sense within the story. Teaching with graphic novels still allows students to practice vocabulary, sequencing, and crafting arguments. If any of those elements are lacking in the final product, it's easy to readjust and scaffold for future assignments.

The creation of graphic novels in response to a reading can be used to explore semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols and their usage, meaning, or interpretation. While most commonly studied in reference to advertising, it can extend into any form of media. Students who take a text and visually interpret it will pull important information and make decisions that inform the overall meaning of the story itself, whether they know it or not.

When students are creators, they must think critically about ways to show things that are equally as important as the action and dialogue they choose. Internal character musings are often stripped out in visual mediums, which is something that can be detrimental to the story. Color choices, posing and emotion, and settings are all things that can be expressed visually, and can give hints to internal struggles. Students can also use thought bubbles if they have enough real estate in their panels.

Teachers can spark a discussion based around the creation itself once the project is completed. Students, who might otherwise feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions on an analysis or story, have the opportunity to participate in the discussion on a more personal level. Why did the student choose to incorporate or leave out certain details? What did they pick up on that you as the teacher may not have? Students can explain why they made a decision to do something in their interpretation (personal) rather than explain why the author made the curtains blue (impersonal).

Creating a graphic novel can also help students take ownership of their learning and creativity. Plot diagrams and papers are often ways to grade a student's understanding of a text, so why not combine those? Put paragraphs and short essays aside and offer fun options for students to select as projects. Students can create modern day adaptations if the book is set in the past or reinterpret the story in a different setting. Shakespeare in high school? Easy. Holes in space? Out of this world.


Student choice is a powerful tool, so providing all levels of students the ability to engage with text or create visually can yield incredible results. Creating graphic novels as part of a final project or while the student is still reading a novel makes for a great way to see how creative students are. Let them think outside of the box and become the owners of their own education.



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