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How and Why to Advocate for Graphic Novels in Your Curricula

Updated: Dec 4, 2018

Full disclosure: I used to be a naysayer. I used to believe comics and graphic novels were entertainment-only reading and had no place in my classroom library or my curriculum. Then one day my kids sat me down. They told me that if I really wanted to promote literacy I needed to seriously include graphic novels. I agreed to read ONE graphic novel of their choice and if I saw some literary/academic/personal merit, I’d take a closer look. I was blown away by their graphic novel selection. As a result I’ve taken a much closer look at them and have found myself not only including graphic novels in my classrooms, but advocating for their use. Below I discuss what I found.

NOTE: This blog is only a quick-look reference. For citations, details and specifics please see Chapters 1 and 2 in in my book “Worth a Thousand Words: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Visual and Verbal Literacy.” [The graphic novel I read? You’ll find that in the book as well.]


WHY Graphic Novels Belong in Your Curricula and What Research is Finding

In short, anecdotal and empirical data from educators and scholars indicate and support the value of using graphic novels as pedagogical tools in and out of the classroom. Here’s a summary of what we’ve found:

  • Graphic novels improve and enhance teaching methods.

  • Visual educational content boosts academic performance.

  • Graphic novels' multimodal content boosts memory.

  • Graphic novels’ multimodal content boosts verbal literacy. They offer 20% more rare vocabulary than traditional chapter books. Additionally, after reading graphic novels, students have been found to more efficiently recognize and understand symbolism, metaphor, allusion, figurative language, points of view, and literary devices.

  • Graphic novels’ multimodal content boosts sequencing skills. They reinforced left-right sequencing for early readers and pre-readers (tools needed for reading) and they reinforce how to sequence in storytelling.

  • Graphic novels’ multimodal content boosts comprehension and critical thinking. They aid students in distinguishing textual differences between narrative and dialogue and recognizing various points of view. They empowered students to respond to assessment prompts in significantly greater detail and their statements reflected greater complexity and maturity than typically found after reading prose. Additionally, researchers report that graphic novels’ written and visual modes were necessary for deeper comprehension and students report it’s easier to understand content after reading graphic novels,


How to advocate using graphic novels in your curriculum – especially with reluctant parents and administrators

The bottom line: BE PREPARED.

Here are some of the things you will need to have in hand:

  • Be prepared with concrete information on the benefits of graphic novels in the classroom.

  • Research on the benefits of graphic novels – which can be found in Chapters 1 and 2 of Worth a Thousand Words: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Visual and Verbal Literacy

  • Take a look at the downloadable brochure, Raising a Reader! How Comics and Graphic Novels Can Help Your Kids Love to Read (by Meryl Jaffe, Ph.D. for Comic Legal Defense Fund) on the value of graphic novels to raise readers. It can be found at:

  • Reference this NCTE (National Council for Teachers of English) blog. It contains teacher anecdotes that can provide additional support for why you should use them. They can be found here:

  • Have one or more examples of the text or texts you plan on using – you may want to have sample pages for parents/administrators to read.

Before using or advocating for the use of specific works, read them in entirety. Know what they offer. Know what, if anything parents/administrators might have issues with.

Aside from reading the books you may want to ask colleagues and local librarians for what they’ve found when students read these books (again, asking what they liked about them and what issues they have with them). Know how they meet school policies and address curricular issues.

Use the findings noted above (and in Chapters 1 and 2 from Worth a Thousand Words: Using Graphic Novels to Teach Visual and Verbal Literacy) to support graphic novels’ value in your classroom.


How to find Graphic Novels

Take a look at the 'Recommended Graphic Novels' page in the 'Resources' section of the website. It notes appropriate graphic novels for various age-levels, themes covered, awards won, and possible issues (such as gender identity, violence, swearing) that need to be aware of.

Additionally, the link below takes a very close look at many graphic novels appropriate for classroom use: - these are a series of posts that take a look at specific graphic novels appropriate for classroom use. Each post contains:

  • A summary and overview of the book;

  • Details what ages it is appropriate for;

  • Lesson suggestions (for language use, visual literacy, content-area, critical thinking, and more);

  • Paired reading suggestions

  • Links with additional resources.

Good luck, and happy reading!

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