Whap! Biff! Ka-POW!

For Christmas this year, I gave my 13-year-old cousin a series of Spider-Man comic books. He’s never been much of a reader, but he DEVOURED those few issues in a matter of hours. Got me thinking. Comic books and graphic novels are often regarded as lesser forms of literature, but if it gets a kid reading who normally dreads the task, how can that be a bad thing?

Adam West Batman is the best Batman.

Now, there are a variety of ways this can be implemented in a language arts classroom. As a kid, we read Classics Illustrated, which took works of classic literature and presented them in kid-friendly comic book form. That particular series is no longer in print, but the idea has carried on in Classical Comics and others. There’s a list of a bunch of options over at Barnes and Noble. Obviously, these aren’t as good as the original texts, but for younger kids this is a great way for them to get exposure to fine literature.

For older kids, up through high school-aged, there are some graphic novels of literary importance in themselves. The first ones that come to mind are Maus by Art Spiegelman, the story of a Polish Jew during the Holocaust as told by mice, and Persepolis by Marjane Sartrapi, an autobiographical telling of her childhood in Tehran, which was adapted into a film in 2008. They’re great pieces of literature, and students may be more amicable towards the graphic novel format than they would be to a traditional book. (An ESL lesson plan based on Persepolis is found over at Tim’s blog.)

Of course, the really fun opportunity you have with comics in the classroom is for students to create their own! This is a great way for students who don’t do well with traditional book reports and the like – have them demonstrate their understanding of what they read by presenting it visually, instead. Or alternatively, get students writing creatively, with pictures to go along with it. You even have the opportunity for group work by having them create entire graphic novels by working in teams!

Obviously, I’m not the first one to have thought of this. Full lesson plans are available at various sites across the web. Here are a few:

For tech-savvy classrooms, students can create their original comics online, using sites such as ReadWriteThink, a pretty user-friendly platform, and ArtisanCam, a similar site with a superhero twist for older students.

I’m gonna see if I can make this work with my ESL students. I’ll let you know how it goes.


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