If you are not yet using graphic novels strategically in your teaching, you are missing out on a powerful tool to launch students’ interest in a topic, leading to questions and research—the fundamentals of inquiry-based learning. Inquiry learning allows students to develop their own questions and find the answers to them, resulting in engagement and deeper understanding. It is often a part of thematic units that help students see connections and the “big picture.” In English language arts class, these themes might be coming of age or cultural identity. In social studies, themes may include immigration and settlement, citizenship, or war. Science themes could be the human body, ecosystems, or space. Graphic novels are a great choice when used as supportive text in units with a larger theme. Because they take less time to read, graphic novels can be read together as a class or in small groups, and can be used to introduce a new topic, provide students with background information, or teach course content.
The use of learning stations with elementary and middle school students allows for inquiry learning, with enough structure to keep students focused. Stations take time to develop and create, but pay off in student engagement and self-learning. Having students read a graphic novel, or selected pages from it, as one of their learning stations is easy to design and implement. Guided questions for students to answer as they read ensures they stay on task and learn the important information about their topic. Questions might include information about the topic, and also about the art style, symbolism, and context clues in the illustrations.
Middle and high school students might enjoy the additional freedom to design their own learning completely, by creating their own graphic novels. They can begin by searching for information about a curriculum topic, such as a Civil War battle or a type of disease. Depending on the amount of time available, they can create a full-length graphic novel, or one- or two-page graphic comics. They can draw their own images, or they can use a comics generator website to aid in developing images for their story. Next, they combine text and illustrations to create a graphic novel about their topic to inform others. Studies have shown having students create graphic novels can be an effective learning tool for teaching writing and literacy skills (Bitz, 2010).
Are your elementary students learning about earthworms, nutrition, or transportation? Are your middle or high school students studying global issues, the civil rights movement, Japanese internment camps, Hurricane Katrina, or the Holocaust? Consider using some of these content-rich graphic novels that are guaranteed to spark interest, promote questioning, and lead to self-directed inquiry learning.
McKay, Sharon E., and Daniel Lafrance. War Brothers: The Graphic Novel. Annick Press, 2013.
Humphreys, Jessica Dean, Claudia Dávila, and Michael Chikwaine. Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War. Kids Can Press, 2015.
Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. March: Book One. Top Shelf Productions, 2013.
Lewis, John, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell. March: Book Two. Top Shelf Productions, 2015.
Brown, Don. Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. HMH Books for Young Readers, 2015.
Faulkner, Matt. Gaijin: American Prisoner of War. Disney Hyperion, 2014.
Ashby, Ruth, and Ernie Cólon. The Great American Documents: Volume 1: 1620-1830. Hill and Wang, 2014.
Aboff, Marcie, and Gary Swift. The Fantastic Fruit Group series. Capstone Books. (See also the Incredible Vegetable Group series)
Spiegelman, Nadja. Lost in NYC: a Subway Adventure. Toon Graphics, 2015.
Hale, Nathan. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series. Amulet Books.
McCloskey, Kevin. We Dig Worms!: A Toon Book, 2015.
Stamaty, Mark Alan. Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq. Knopf, 2004.
Viva, Frank. A Trip to the Bottom of the World with Mouse: A Toon Book, 2012.
Wicks, Maris. Human Body: A Nonfiction Revue. First Second, 2015.
Bitz, Michael. When Commas Meet Kryptonite: Classroom Lessons from the Comic Book Project. Teachers College Press, Columbia University, 2010.