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Comics & History/Social Studies: Suggestions and Lesson Links

Comics make the past come alive and inspire passion, energy and thought for engaging and in the present and shaping future.

Below are some ways comics and graphic novels can be used in your language arts and social studies/civic classrooms.


Teaching Suggestions. Overall, graphic novels can be used to:

  • Encourage empathy, open-mindedness, and discussions of cultural diversity;

  • Understand and evaluate events/factors leading to historical decisions and/or legislature;

  • Define, discuss, model, and practice citizenship;

  • Define and discus the powers and challenges of governance and the roles we can play to shape and influence them; and

  • Brainstorm ways they can get involved in current local, community, city, state, national, international issues and challenges facing us today.

Here are some different and more specific ways to this:

Close Reading. Comics can be closely read and analyzed or even acted out, much like a play. Research continues to show that comics' paired visual/ verbal content enhances reader empathy and engagement, motivating readers to explore their civic themes and topics and gain a deeper understanding of critical historical and/or cultural turning points that influenced legislation, community responses, and/or changes in accepted rules of behavior. Discussing ramifications of options taken and not taken, aids student problem-solving and understanding of their own potential to navigate and shape the world at large.

Analyzing Cultural Influences: Aside from close reading, another teaching option is to assign a specific comic book superhero to your class or to groups of students to more closely evaluate. Have them analyze a designated superhero over time, studying how her/his/their persona(s) and perspectives changed with the times and may have influenced readers and responsive civic action.

Creating their Own Comics. Students can create their own scenarios, scripts, or comics detailing what might have happened if characters reacted differently or telling the same story from another perspective, encouraging self-efficacy and modeling problem solving. Or, have students create their own “fanzines” critiquing and commenting on content they’ve read in their favorite comics.

Analyzing Multiple Perspectives. Study graphic novels or graphic novel sets that relay more than one, or alternate, perspectives of historical events. Two examples of such works are: (a) Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang, a dual-set of books relaying the Chinese Boxer Rebellion for each side. (b) The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix which powerfully explains how Hitler was able to rise in Germany and sensitively relays the internal struggle of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and patriot torn between his love of country and love of God, deciding whether to follow Hitler or join an assassination plot to kill him.

Modeling Civic Action. There are also graphic novels in which characters take civic action. Have students read and study the characters and then create their own community/civic project. Three graphic novel examples are: (a) Babymouse: Cupcake Tycoon by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm where after inadvertently flooding the school library, Babymouse spearheads a fundraiser to replace the damaged/lost books. (b) The Plain JANES by Cecil Castellucci and Jimm Rugg where after surviving a terror attack, Jane and her friends decide to beautify their neighborhood to make life there less scary. (c) A Fire Story by Brian Fies recounting the devastating California wildfires of 2017, relating the grief and loss suffered and how relief did and did not work.

These are just a few suggestions. Below are resources you can use to continue exploring how to engage your students in the greater politic.

Visit "Support" for more details and lesson suggestions. Here are a few suggested books and lesson links:

Please visit "Recommended Books" in the Resources section of this website to find some awesome classroom reading/text suggestions. Visit "Support" for more details and lesson suggestions. And if you have any questions or suggestions, please contact me.

Thank you for your visit.

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