top of page

Graphic Novels in the Classroom: Use or Lose?

Updated: Dec 2, 2022

There’s a debate as to whether or not graphic novels are useful in the classroom. In the past five years, the teachers I’ve spoken to are now leaning toward the side of using them! Textbook companies are now creating graphic novel versions of classic stories or including them in their programs written by outside sources. School libraries are ordering more and more graphic novels to have available to students. Why is there a sudden push for graphic novels? Let’s talk about that.

close up of the inside of a large graphic novel Graphic Novels in the Classroom: Use or Lose?

People who don’t read comic books or graphic novels aren’t aware of how complex the language and story arcs are in this genre. “Death in the Family” written by Scott Synder, with artwork by Greg Capullo, is an intense series that follows the Joker who has recently sewn on his rotting face after faking his death to escape Arkham.

The story is dark but lends itself well to deep discussion. It’s a must-read for Batman fans. Starting as a monthly series, compiled into a single graphic novel, “Death in the Family” shows the complexity of the Joker character, as well as the realistic relationships between the members of the dysfunctional Bat-family.

Our heroes deal with an arguably thoughtful conflict on the writer’s part. Batman himself has deep psychological conflicts he must struggle with throughout the arc. With the writing having so many layers and the artwork only adding to those layers, it’s impossible not to give the series major kudos.

“Death in the Family” can easily be transformed into a week-long lesson where students are analyzing multiple facets of the text, having in-depth conversations about the troublesome themes, and relating the conflicts to real-life scenarios.

Another good option for incorporating graphic novels in the classroom is to utilize them with a “Lit Circle” project. Lit Circles allow students to choose their own text within a group and to collaborate with their groups as they create a series of essays and manipulatives to demonstrate understanding at a deeper level.

What’s great about “Lit Circle” projects is that you can choose to assign them as homework projects that students must complete outside of the classroom. This way you get to include graphic novels without using time in class to discuss them. Always read the material prior to adding it as an option for groups to pick. There are many graphic novels too adult to bring into the classroom, so be sure you’re aware of the content you are approving.

Unfortunately, most ELA classrooms don’t have time to step outside of their regular curriculum to do these types of lessons due to time constraints and mandatory reading lists given by their county. However, today there are so many novels that ARE a part of the mandated curriculum that could be utilized instead. “Beowulf” and A Handmaid’s Tale are just two examples of classic pieces of literature that have been beautifully transformed into graphic novels. These texts transformed into graphic novels don’t lose a thing!

Instead, they gain beautifully detailed pictures that only add to the tone and mood of these literary classics. These serve very well to break up the monotony of English class, or as a much-needed remediation for groups struggling with reading comprehension. Curious about more famous titles that are now graphic novels? Click here to explore more options for English and History classes.

How EXACTLY should I use graphic novels in the classroom?

Option one: Use graphic novels the same way you’ve always taught the content. The difference you’ll see is the engagement of your students. If you need feedback, ask the students their thoughts on using the graphic novel in place of the original version, or use both versions and have your students compare and contrast their experiences.

Option two: Give them choices. Select a day to be your Graphic Novel or Comic Book Day, where students get to select any short graphic novel or comic book from a classroom selection. Make sure you have read the content and approved it for the day’s assignments. At the end of each book have a set of four or five, detailed literary analysis questions or a writing assignment for them to answer. You give them 10-15 minutes to read (maybe less as they will need less time the more they do it), and then additional time to analyze the text based on the individualized assignments you’ve put in the books for them. They know it’s part of the routine, it won’t take the whole period, and when they are done they turn in the assignment, you check off to make sure they haven’t read that graphic novel before, and then you move on to the next part of your lesson for the day.

Option three: Take students to the school library to choose any book they want to read, including graphic novels. Allow students to pick any book, no matter the Lexile because here’s the catch, the projects they must complete after reading their chosen text are rigorous regardless of the difficulty of the text. The post-reading projects will force students to put a lot of effort into thinking about what they read. Include things like the author’s purpose, style, word choice, and how it develops theme/tone/mood. Ask students to provide evidence from the text to support their answers (all of that good old ELA stuff). You could have them read Dr. Suess for all it would matter! The actual work and thought going into analyzing the text for their final products is going to stretch and grow their sweet, unknowing, minds.

Should graphic novels replace all classic forms of literature?

Absolutely not. Students need exposure to all types of literature. They need novels, short stories, articles, and poems. Especially in states where testing is held high on the priority list. They need to be comfortable reading all types of literature. I would simply argue that adding graphic novels to your hot of tricks, would benefit students by getting them engaged, excited, and more comfortable with reading altogether. This is especially true if you utilize them as a weekly activity tool to strengthen their reading comprehension. Once students see how well they are answering such tough questions each week, taking away the incredible pictures, and replacing them with denser materials won’t be as daunting.

The important thing to keep in mind about graphic novels is that there needs to be a purpose behind bringing them into your lesson plans. They should enhance the classroom and learning experience. Don’t just hand them out for the sake of using a graphic novel.

Why are you using it, what are you teaching them, how is this better than using the original version, and what is the purpose of them reading the graphic novel(s)? What tasks are you asking students to accomplish after they read the graphic novel?

We have to analyze our own reasoning to ensure that how we utilize graphic novels is what is best for our students. Remember it is our job to make sure students get balanced education on all types of texts: informational, fiction, poetry, classic literature, and speeches.

Ensure there is balance and harmony in what you are giving students to do each week.

Thanks for reading! Please take time out to leave a comment below. Are you planning on using graphic novels in your classroom? If so, how do you plan to use them? What fun activities are you trying out with your students? Let us know!


bottom of page