Getting Started

Students typically enjoy reading and discussing graphic novels. The reading is less overwhelming and moves faster, and discussing images comes more naturally to them. If you teach a graphic novel just before a poetry or short story unit, students will learn how to discuss an image in extreme depth and thus become more prepared to do the same kind of deep analysis with image-free text. What is particularly great about graphic novels is that you can focus one day on reading a particularly complex image, and another on larger thematic issues that have to do with the writing. Additionally, teaching thesis statements and essay organization come naturally once you've demonstrated how to read formal elements in the images. It is easy to mix it up and far less likely that students get bored.

Strategies and Tips

Before you jump directly into the novel you've selected, start with some of the PDF iconhistory and terms of comic books. You can also use these PDF iconbasic instructions for how to read graphic novels, if you feel that your class needs it. In Filethis PowerPoint, you'll find a brief history (in images) and examples of the different way that graphic novels are read. Though it doesn't cover everything, it gives students enough vocabulary to work with, at least initially. Depending on the novel you're teaching, you will likely want to add more historical context. You may also find it valuable to read Steve McCloud's Understanding Comics. Some professors assign PDF iconChapter 3 to their students, but the book might be more useful just for instructors to read prior to teaching.

In terms of lesson plans, it is particularly easy to scaffold. Begin broadly, asking more general questions about creative choices, move into group discussions of images, shift to independent thesis writing about particular images, and end with perfecting analysis. You can make assignments short—about one formal aspect of an image—or long—about the entire text or multiple formal elements. There are also multiple opportunities for creative assignments—drawing their own panels, for example.