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How Graphic Novels Can be a Good Teaching Tool in Elementary School

A teacher engages his young students with a graphic novel.Graphic novels have inspired and entertained children, and quite a few adults, for many years. The engaging combination of artwork and text makes graphic novels a potential teaching asset in elementary school classrooms.

For example, teaching graphic novels can help students who lack strong reading skills understand a story better by interpreting the artwork and how it relates to the text. They also can help engage students who are more visual learners.

Fresno Pacific University helps educators better understand how to put graphic novels to use in the classroom in its 100% online Teaching Graphic Novels course, allowing teachers to earn professional development credit while expanding their teaching skills.

A Pennsylvania educator who recently took the course wrote: “Great course! Super informative! A very interesting and well-constructed sequence of readings and information. I’m glad I took it!”

What Is a Graphic Novel?

Graphic novels combine sequential artwork with text for both fiction and non-fiction. Many may assume “graphic novel” is a fancy term for “comic book,” but that is not the case. Creative teams worldwide use graphic novels to create original stories and make new versions of longstanding classics. Only a small percentage of these books feature superheroes.

Graphic novels span as many genres as traditional novels. A look at award-winning graphic novels includes such different works as “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi, “Ghost World” by Daniel Clowes and “Watchmen” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

For elementary-age students, graphic novel versions of classic tales such as “Anne of Green Gables” help them engage with and understand the story. There is also a wide range of graphic novels on many non-fiction topics, such as wildlife and fictional tales that support empathy, collaboration and understanding different cultures.

Some of the more famous modern graphic novels for kids include “Baloney and Friends,” “Narwhale: Unicorn of the Sea,” the Hilo series and “Magic Tree House.”

The Benefits of Teaching Graphic Novels

In elementary school, students already have developed reading habits at different levels. Graphic novels can help students who struggle with reading better understand more rigorous texts. Students can use the way artists incorporate colors, angles and framing to connect with the written text.

Graphic novels provide teachers an excellent way to differentiate instruction for learners in reading and assessment. But the benefits of teaching graphic novels go beyond supporting critical reading skills.

For example, teachers can use graphic novels to teach their classes about elements of literature, such as symbols, characters and plot. Also, the values in a graphic novel, most famously symbolized through heroes or villains, make it easier to discuss moral positions and the reasons why characters make certain choices.

The Fresno Pacific Teaching Graphic Novels Course

The Teaching Graphic Novels course from Fresno Pacific University focuses on preparing educators to engage students with accessible and interesting works on various topics. Part of the work involves developing lessons that support students at all reading and writing levels.

Teachers also learn about resources to teach graphic novels to elementary school students. For example, the class uses the book “Using Graphic Novels in the English Language Arts Classroom” by William Boerman-Cornell and Jung Kim.

Student outcomes in the course include:

  • Understanding the nature of multimodal texts and the possibilities for incorporating multimodal graphic novels in the language arts curriculum
  • Creating, teaching and reflecting on lesson plans using graphic novels with students
  • Creating and reflecting on a series of connected lesson plans that encompass a novel with multiple connected readings
  • Using a variety of professional resources in developing curriculum based on graphic novels

The course focuses on expanding a teacher’s existing skills, making them better at engaging students and giving them a love of reading. That’s a worthy goal for elementary education teachers everywhere.

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