Comics in the Classroom: Teaching Content with Comics

Throughout the month of August, and Reading With Pictures are bringing you Comics in the Classroom, a blog series about using comics in education, including why graphic novels are complex texts as defined by the Common Core Standards, how to use graphic texts to teach in the content areas, how and where to find the best graphic texts, and more. We hope you’ll join us and bring the power of comics to your classroom!

The following guest post is written by Tracy Edmunds, M.A., Curriculum Manger at Reading With Pictures

Comics and graphic novels, also known as sequential art or graphic texts, combine images and text in sequence to convey meaning. Recently, the format has begun to gain acceptance in the teaching of literacy for all types of readers: beginning or struggling readers, English Language Learners and advanced readers. In addition to the power of comics to teach and extend literacy skills, the comic format is also a powerful tool for teaching content!

The comic format requires students to actively engage in decoding both the text and the images and the interplay between them. And while readers can gain a great deal of information quickly through the visual nature of comics, they are also able to control the pace of their learning.

This relationship between text and image is explained in SpinEdu's interview with author Jonathan Hennessey:

"I think the interplay of words and pictures has a way of engaging many aspects of the human mind at once, and can create a powerful experience of interacting with emotions and ideas. Unlike movies, however, the reader can go at his own pace. He can be more involved and active in the experience. In one image or composition, the reader can linger over the potential significance of small details without having the sense that the narrative flow has been disrupted. No matter how much time you spend inside one panel, you never feel like the story has stopped or altered tempo. Not the way you would if you pressed “pause” while watching a video. So it’s ideal for students and teachers. It has the vividness of the moving image and the complexity of text."

There’s a sequential nature to some ideas, such as the scientific process and some math skills, that work beautifully in comics. History is most memorable when presented as a narrative. Comics give readers the visual and linguistic one-two punch of film, but require more work on the part of the reader to fill in the gaps between panels. Comics can convey a big idea quickly while also presenting myriad small details.

In this page from Solution Squad: Primer, math teacher Jim McClain uses his super-powered twins, Abscissa (who runs horizontally along the x-axis) and Ordinate (who flies vertically along the y-axis), to give students a visual reference and memory aid for the concept of an ordered pair.

Solution Squad: Primer

Jay Hosler’s Clan Apis teaches concepts about bees and biology embedded in a compelling narrative. Here, readers learn about the life cycle of a worker bee from reading the text, while at the same time observing the growth stages of larvae from multiple angles.

Jay Hosler's Clan Apis

In the story The Adventures of Doctor Sputnik: Force and Motion!, Roger Langridge brings Newton’s laws of motion to life through comics. Note that the reader must interpret the action that happens from panel to panel, as well as read Dr. Sputnik’s explanations of the scientific principles involved and determine how the laws relate to the action pictured.

The Adventures of Doctor Sputnik

The Reading With Pictures Comics for Content List
It can be a challenge for teachers to identify great graphic texts for teaching in the content areas, so Reading With Pictures has compiled a list of the best titles. This list represents the best graphic texts to date for teaching content such as science, mathematics and history. Reading With Pictures will periodically add to this list as new titles are released or are brought to our attention. If you have suggestions for additions to the list, please email info [at] readingwithpictures [dot] org.

Click here to download the Reading With Pictures Comics for Content list.

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Join the conversation! How have you used comics and/or graphic novels in your classroom? Connect with us on Tumblr and Twitter and share your story with the hashtag #teachcomics