Comic books are great for kids to learn to read. They are one of my favorite tools to help get kids excited about reading. But some educators still don’t feel like comics are beneficial and prefer more traditional books. Stereotypes have kept comics out of classrooms and out of the hands of children who can benefit from them. Here is why I like to get my kids “Hooked on Comics.”
Please note the links to the comics and books in this article are affiliate links which means I make a small commission from the sale.
Who Can Comics Help?
Students with Special Needs
Many of my students face learning challenges like ADHD and dyslexia. My students have often faced years of discouragement about reading. By the time they get to me, they are fed up and frustrated. They give all indications that they hate reading when they first start to work with me. As a tutor, I sometimes turn to comic books when I need something high interest and exciting. My biggest job as a tutor is helping my students build confidence in their abilities. I strive to foster a love for reading. Reading enjoyment will help them become lifelong learners so they will be able to achieve their goals. Because kids are excited about comics because of the fun, bright illustrations, comic books help me give them the gift of a love of reading. Some of my students who hated reading now bounce up and down and beg to read comics. And this love for reading carries over, and they become excited about reading other material too. There is no better feeling than seeing a student learn to love to read.
English Language Learners
There is some research that suggests that comic books and graphic novels can help second language learners with English language skills. The illustrations help make connections similarly to how educators label objects around a classroom to assist ELL students.
Comic books require a great deal of inference skill. Readers must infer what happened from page to page, from drawing to drawing. This ability to infer and draw connections helps with comprehension and literacy skills in general. Many comics follow the same character over the course of decades of installments. Readers who stay with the comic over time will notice dynamic characters and story arcs, some of the key ideas we teach in literature.
Many famous works of literature have been adapted into comics. Educators could use these comics to compare and contrast the original with the adaptation, similar to comparing a novel to a film. Teachers can also use these graphic novels for differentiation to help students with special needs access the curriculum. Gifted and Talented students who need a challenge could be encourage to create their own comics to summarize works of literature. Comics are great for a wide range of students and allow for differentiation. That should make your admins happy.
What Comics to Pick?
When we think of comics, we often think of Marvel and DC Comics because we fill movie theaters frequently to watch movies based on these comics in particular. But there are so many more comics out there for readers of all ages to enjoy. Pick comic books for your students based on reading level and interest. Do preview them to make sure the comic has appropriate topics for the age of your students. Not all comics are school appropriate.
My Personal Favorites
Growing up, my family had a large collection of Garfield comics. My uncle had bunches of Calvin and Hobbes comics that I loved to read in his basement while on summer vacation. I also remember begging my mom for Archie and Sabrina comics at the grocery store check out. The pictures of the comics are affiliate links to Amazon so you can easily find them.
While I don’t consider myself an avid reader of comics, I do own Neil Gaiman’s 1602 and I also very much enjoyed a comic called Wytches as an adult. My fiance is a comic book collector, as are many of my friends. I find my friends who read comics are also often well read. I’d love to see some research to see if comic book reading is associate with more reading in general. I suspect it is, but again, I need to see some research behind it.
My students particularly enjoy the Narwhal comics. They have fun bright characters that are good for elementary students. They also enjoy My Little Pony comics. Educators will be pleasantly surprised at the rich vocabulary used in the books. They even include some cursive. They are both very exciting for girls especially. While comics have a stereotype of being for boys, I’m happy to say I’ve found plenty of comics that delight my female students too.
Comics without words can be a great tool to help develop writing for reluctant writers. I used a wordless comic called Corgi to help a student write. We went through the comic, and he had to use the art to tell me what was going on. Then he used the comic to create a narrative about the comic. We worked on sequencing and details for the assignment. He enjoyed it, and it improved his writing.
Beyond Reading Levels and Test Scores
The best comics don’t just teach our students reading, character development, and inferences. They teach us about ourselves. They teach us how to be brave. How to be different. How to fight evil against all odds and overcome.
Stan Lee, who recently passed away, did this within the Marvel universe he created. Through his superhero characters, like the X-Men, he taught us to fight against racism, bigotry, and discrimination. Stan Lee spoke out about racism in the 1960s and continued his message through his comic books. He wrote in Stan’s Soapbox, “Sooner or later, if many is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance.” When our students read comics, they are taking in these messages and learning to be ethical, kind people.
Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist in installments. Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo was published in over 100 installments originally. In a few hundred years, I wonder if comic books will be the literary legacy of our day?
Rapp, David. “Comic Books’ Latest Plot Twist: Enhancing Literary Instruction.” Phi Delta Kappan. Dec2011, Vol. 93 Issue 4, p64-67.
Norton, Bonny and Karen Vanderheyden. “Comic book culture and second language learners. ” http://faculty.educ.ubc.ca/norton/Norton%20&%20Toohey%20(2004)%20-%20Norton%20&%20Vanderheyden%20-%20Comic%20book%20culture.pdf
Cho, Grace; Choi, Hong; Krashen, Stephen. “Hooked on Comic Book Reading: How Comic Books Made an Impossible Situation Less Difficult” Knowledge Quest; Chicago Vol. 33, Iss. 4, (Mar/Apr 2005): 32-34.
Please note the links to the comics in this article are affiliate links which means I make a small commission from the sale.