Monday, April 9, 2007

Getting Graphic

If I’m honest, I have to admit that I never really “got” graphic novels as a student. I just couldn’t get into reading them. Looking back, I think the problem was that I didn't have the literacy skills necessary to read them. I just felt bombarded with images and words, and didn't have the critical reading skills that would help me understand the texts. Today, I “get” graphic novels, but my experience has taught me that students need support if we want them to engage with graphic novels in sophisticated ways.

Building Literacy Connections with Graphic NovelsSometimes, students need background information in order to understand the world of a graphic novel. New this month on the ReadWriteThink site, the lesson plan Gaining Background for the Graphic Novel Persepolis: A WebQuest on Iran explores the cultural and historical information that students require if they are to make the most of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel.

Students also need to comprehend the structures that graphic novels and comic books use. The ReadWriteThink lesson The Comic Book Show and Tell combines writing instruction with tools that identify the different parts of comics and explains how they work. The lesson’s Comic Vocabulary Interactive (Flash plugin required; PDF versions also available in the lesson) includes examples and explanations of comic and graphic novel components that can be used at any level.

The sample chapter from NCTE’s new book Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel includes teaching suggestions for pairing Spider-Man comics with Freak the Might and comments on teaching Maus I and Maus II.

Graphic novels and comic books provide rich opportunities to explore multimodal literacy. They’re anything but simple. The sophisticated relationships among images and words and layout encourage deep thinking and critical analysis. If we can help students “get” graphic novels, we will simultaneously teach them the literacy strategies they need for navigating many of the other multimodal texts they encounter in their daily lives.


Teri Lesesne said...

I would direct folks to the list produced by the Young Adult Library Services Association of ALA on Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Here is the URL:

Bucky C. said...

As well, I host a blog of "ENSANE" resources. That stands for "English EducatioN" and "Sequential Art Narratives in Education." The point of the wording is that some may say it is a crazy idea to allow comics in the classroom, but it is actually very SANE indeed. :)

Visit the blog at

Anonymous said...

Peter Kuper has created a wonderful graphic novelization of Kafka's "The Metamorphosis." Fantastic for high school students of all reading levels. I used it with the Kafka unit from the book How Does it Mean?

Bonnie Katzive
Monarch High School, Louisville, CO

morgan said...

I have been introducing Graphic Novels, Bios, Reports etc. in my "Teacher Preparation" courses as a way to discuss ways of reading, issues of literacy, and just good literature. The response has been good; the teachers are using them. A site you might want to check out is Who doesn't like to sit around reading comix?

Bucky C. said...

Hi again. I'm the editor of _Building Literacy Connections with Graphic Novels: Page by Page, Panel by Panel_. Yup, that's the book image featured on the blog! :)

I just wanted to let everyone know that I'd be happy to field questions about graphic novels. I know it may be new ground for many teachers. So, questions..if you got'em, share'em. :)

Trevor Shaw said...

One big hurdle that graphic novels must overcome in the Language Arts curriculum is the "back seat" that the text often takes to the visual aspect of the medium. I don't claim to be all that well versed in the genre, but I've explored a couple of graphic novels such as Frank Miller's Sin City, and my impression of the text is that it's often pretty clumsy and pedestrian.

Obviously, there are some that are better than others. I remember being pretty impressed with the writing in Spiegelman's Maus, but it seems like works like these are the exception rather than the rule.

The point, though, seems to be that the text is only one tool in a vastly expanded toolbox available to the story teller who chooses this medium. There is a language and grammar of visual design that must be understood. One text that lays this out especially well is McCloud's Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art.