Captain Underpants. Amulet. Babysitter’s Club. Smile. You’re probably very familiar with how popular these graphic novel series are with your students. But do you find yourself questioning their usefulness in growing strong readers? You may even hear these same concern from parents who worry their children are taking the easy way out by choosing graphic novels for their nightly reading.
Do graphic novels have a place in the classroom? Here is a breakdown of both sides of the debate.
Arguments Against Graphic Novels in the Classroom
As their popularity grew over the years, graphic novels met some resistance in classrooms. Many of the arguments against them were centered on the idea that these books could hardly be considered literature. Educators argued that:
- The abundance of images left nothing to a student’s imagination.
- The vocabulary and themes presented in graphic novels did not challenge students.
- Reluctant readers or struggling students would always choose graphic novels as the “easy” choice and slow down their progress.
- Replacing standard books with graphic-heavy texts would cause a decline in overall literacy.
Benefits of Graphic Novels in Education
However, there seems to be a shift in the way that teachers view this reading format. They are starting to see how graphic novels play a role in improving literacy among their students. Here are a few advantages of letting students choose graphic novel titles:
- Graphic novels encourage (but don’t overwhelm) reluctant readers, creating a positive relationship with reading.
- Students with dyslexia or other learning disabilities begin to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment after finishing a book on the same level as their peers.
- They are an effective learning tool for ELL students.
- They are often written as a series, which motivates students to keep reading.
- The layout of panels allows students to visually track the progression of the story.
- They develop language acquisition, comprehension, inference, cause and effect, and other critical reading skills just as well as traditional texts.
- They offer an approachable way to introduce classics (Black Beauty, Pride & Prejudice, Moby Dick), which can often seem imposing to students.
Studies on the benefits of graphic novels in education have shown that:
- Fifth-grade students who read comic books exclusively for 15 weeks showed no difference in reading comprehension or vocabulary than students who read a traditional curriculum.
- Students (12- to 17-year-old boys) who were allowed to participate in free voluntary reading had a jump in reading comprehension and vocabulary scores from 69.9 to 82.7. Students following a traditional curriculum had scores that jumped less than 5 points.
Graphic Novels: A Format, Not a Genre
One hang-up that teachers may still have about using graphic novels in the classroom is that they view them as a genre instead of a format. They may argue that reading graphic novels takes time away from nonfiction reading or studying historical fiction. However, The Truth About Graphic Novels, a paper from The Assembly on Literature for Adolescents (ALAN) compares graphic novels to audiobooks, a new format that offers a variety of genres of literature. Titles are available in historical fiction, realistic fiction, fantasy, mystery, or classic literature genres.
If you’re looking to introduce graphic novels in the classroom, it may be a challenge to choose from all the options available. This teacher roundtable includes so many great suggestions of graphic novel titles, for all age levels and content areas that you can use in your lesson plans.