Today on the podcast, you’ll find six perspectives on why graphic novels are a GREAT addition to your ELA program, and how you might use them in different creative ways. Each guest brings something wholly unique to the table, and I’m so pleased they all took the time to come on and share their experience and innovation.
You’ll discover how graphic novels can work beautifully to create reading ladders in your choice reading program, how to combine them into a fast and engaging literature circles unit, how to use them as a springboard to get students creating visual stories, and more.
You can listen in to episode 171 below, click here to tune in on any podcast player, or read on for the full post.
Pernille Ripp: Feature an Array of Graphic Novels in your Choice Reading Collection
Pernille has seen through many years of experience that students often enter middle school hating reading, with home adults who think they should have graduated beyond books with pictures. By having a beautiful collection ready for students, featuring a huge array of themes, levels, and subjects, students find reading relief in graphic novels.
Once their interest in graphic novels is established, they can start to climb (with your help) what Teri Lesesne calls “a reading ladder.” In this way, they can gradually increase the complexity of what they’re reading, improve their comprehension, and explore new types of subject matter. All of this can be done within the world of graphic novels, if that’s what they love.
Graphic novels are actually quite difficult to read. While many adults focus only on the words and miss the nuances of the visuals, students can learn to synthesize the visual clues into meaning, engaging their metacognition skills while developing their love of reading.
Follow along with Pernille on Instagram here.
Ashley Bible: Use Graphic Novels to help you Speed Up Slooooooow Sections
Sometimes you’re teaching a book with a slooooooowwwww part. Graphic novels can play a helpful role in guiding students through that slow part to get to the parts you really want to discuss in class.
Ashley Bible from Building Book Love has found that while she loves The Great Gatsby, the slow start doesn’t hook her students in the print version nearly as well as in the graphic novel version. So she kicks things off with the stunning visuals of K. Woodman-Maynard and sets kids up to be more interested and have a more established mental picture of the setting moving forward.
She suggests checking out the free samples of graphic novels in the Overdrive app or even on Amazon to find helpful sections you can explore with students.
Follow along with Ashley on Instagram here.
Melissa Kruse: Use Graphic Novels to make Classics Accessible
Graphic novels provide such a powerful accessibility bridge into the classics. When Melissa taught Gareth Hinds’ The Odyssey, she fell in love with the amazing visuals and faithful rendition of the story, and managed to get a classroom set she could use as a supplement to the classic.
Soon her students were reading some of the original and some sections of the graphic novel. She quickly realized they were more interested AND understanding the story with more depth.
The graphic novel also provided the opportunity to discuss so many types of stylistic choices. In class, they discussed word adaptations and visual choices in the graphic novel compared to the text-only version. Her students studied visual symbolism, talked about how imagery from the text came through in the visuals, and worked on their inferencing skills.
It was such a successful approach that Melissa began to take it with classic literature whenever possible. She has found more students understand the text AND more students enjoy the text when a graphic novel plays a role in the unit.
Brynn Allison: Use Graphic Novels for Lit Circles
If you’ve been thinking about trying out literature circles, Brynn can tell you that using graphic novels is a great way to ease into them or squeeze them in if you’re feeling pressed for time.
Their accessible format appeals to many students, even those who don’t identify as readers. Graphic novels are also a quicker read, which is perfect if you have shorter class periods or if your students are not in the habit of reading independently in class or at home.
Your choices for graphic novel titles can be based on genres like “fantasy” or “realistic fiction,” themes like “facing fear” or “coming of age,” topics like “animals” or “friendship,” or historical events like World War II or the Civil Rights Movement.
Your school librarian or local public librarian may be able to help you secure multiple copies. Scholastic Book Clubs and First Book often have reasonably priced graphic novels, or you can buy used copies through ThriftBooks (they have a teacher discount; buy four books get the fifth one free) or through Amazon.
While graphic novels are a quick read, they are also jam-packed with text and images to examine and reexamine, which provides an excellent opportunity to review skills or introduce new ones. Brynn usually spends four weeks on literature circles, one week each on conflict, character, point of view, and plot structure. Other skill focus possibilities would be setting and mood, the author’s use of language/their writing style, theme, and depending on the text, irony or suspense.
Brynn’s last suggestion for using graphic novels during literature circles, especially if you’re struggling to hook your students on reading, is to choose graphic novels that are part of a series. Her 6th graders are loving History Smashers, Hazardous Tales, I Survived, March, The 13 story Treehouse, Goldie Vance, The Babysitter’s Club, Smile, Amulet, Bone, Click, Awkward, Real Friends, and The Witch Boy – all of which have continuing series that students can read if they fall in love with the author!
Follow along with Brynn on Instagram here.
Jessica and Caitlin from EB Academics: Use Graphic Novels to consider Windows & Doors
There are two important experiences that a good graphic novel can provide, says Jessica. It can offer details and ideas that mirror our own experiences and help us see ourselves in the story, and/or it can offer a glimpse through a window into another’s world, broadening our perspective.
Great graphic novels can do both.
Jessica suggests using the beautiful graphic novel, White Bird, by R.J. Palacio, with a creative activity – the “Mirrors and Windows” Graphic Essay. For this activity (grab it free here), students explore the connections they can make with the graphic novel and consider the details and ideas that are not part of their experience, but that they can learn from.
Really, you could use this activity with any graphic novel! White Bird is just a particular favorite of Jessica’s.
Follow along with Jessica and Caitlin on Instagram here.
Betsy Potash: Use Graphic Novels as a Springboard into Visual Storytelling
Hey – it’s me again, Betsy.
It’s lovely to tell stories in writing, truly. But I’ve learned a lot from my friend Angela Stockman, creator of the writing makerspace, about how our culture has come to prioritize print over other modes of composition, and why that does not suit all students. There are soooo many ways to tell a story – on a podcast, for example. Through photography. With a time-lapse video or a documentary. With sketches. Through a combination of all of these.
When we share graphic novels with our students, we show them that we honor the rich complexity of a tale told in two modes – verbal and visual. As we introduce ideas like composition, perspective, and color, and talk about how the creators of these graphic novels are using them, we open up this palette to our students too.
As you read any graphic novel and explore a visual concept, you can let students try it for themselves. Say, for example, you’re asking them to consider the purpose of a bleed (an illustration that goes to the edges of a page instead of being bound by a panel) in Gareth Hinds’ version of Macbeth. After discussing it together, you might invite them to create a bleed of their own, perhaps as part of a page illustrating a surprising moment in their week, or a moment they feel proud of.
You can sprinkle these in throughout a graphic novel unit, inviting students to explore concepts like composition, gutters, splashes, perspective, and color both in the text and on their own papers, using their new tools to tell new stories.
These short activities will help scaffold the way for a larger graphic expression project at the end of your graphic novel unit, if you wish to do one. You could have students create a graphic adaptation of a short story or poem, or create a mini-memoir in graphic form. They’ll already have practiced interpreting and using the visual tools of the graphic novelist.
Follow along with me on Instagram. 🙂
Thanks so much for joining us all today to talk about graphic novels. I hope you’ve found an idea (or six) you’re excited to get started with. Graphic novels have so much potential for engaging students, creating bridges of accessibility, and launching creative possibilities. Good luck!
Want to explore the 170 episodes that came before this one? Check out the podcast page here!