As a middle school library volunteer, I have noticed that the graphic novels get checked out frequently. The English teacher part of me cringes thinking that books formatted as comics, even classics, are necessary to motivate students to read. I did find an interesting Comic Builder featuring Lego elements. The comic strip can have multiple pages. When the comic strip is finished, it can be saved online or downloaded to a computer. What do you think about using comics for reading and writing activities? Do you use other online comic builders with your students?
I have many comic book collections in my junior high English classroom. I figure a set of 20-25 comics equals a novel. So many students struggle to form a picture in their mind of what's happening as they read that they just give up on reading. These comics have brought some of my reluctant readers back into the fold. The Marvel Essentials collections are good as well as the Marvel & Dark Horse Omnibus editions.
I use comics in both English and History settings at the high school level. For 9th grade English, I have students explore ancient and classical mythology through the prism of modern heros and superheros such as Superman, Batman, and Catwoman. The center piece to my mythology unit is the Hero Cycle, and in each of these comic book character stories, there is a readily available, straightforward "creation of the hero" myth with the adjacent "bad guy" or "anti-hero" storyline, too. With these as models, students will go on to create their own hero or superhero mythos with a hero-cycle storyline and illustrations (both by hand and through online character creators).
We spend a good deal of time dissecting the Superman mythos because of its ubiquity and ease of translation back into its ultimate roots: Samson, Hercules, the Moses/Marduk myths, etc. One also sees the progression within the comic book history of Superman from the more classical hero (i.e., Beowulf who just gets the job done without any reflection on its meaning) to the post-modern hero (i.e., filled with angst and self-doubt about the meaning of his or her actions). The Smallville television series has made the Superman mythos even that much more accessible by exploring the teenage years of Clark Kent as he discovers his powers one at a time over the course of puberty - but let us not invite Freud into this discussion just yet!
There is also a great alternate-history Superman comic out now called Red Son which tells the standard Superman mythos from the crashlanding of little Kal-El's spaceship not in middle America, but near a collective farm in Soviet Ukraine. Superman will grow up as the great protector of Stalinist Communism, going head-to-head with Lex Luthor, the President of a teetering United States desperately tryng to maintain freedom and capitalism. Makes for an interesting reassessment of historical roles, historical circumstances, and the power of propaganda - I use it alongside Animal Farm when doing the Russian Revolution and the Cold War units of World History.
Lastly, also in the history class context, there is Jacobson's and Colon's The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation which makes the events and larger global context of the War on Terror far more accessible to students than the actual 9/11 Report itself. With its timelines, who's who, and other references, its makes for a ready-and-easy quick reference guide for my prep work on the board or for generating discussions.
I think the comic can be an invaluable resource in both English and History settings, not only because of its modern accessibility, but also because illustrated-cell storytelling has been part of Western Civilization since the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christendom. The medieval "comics" depicting biblical stories available in the stained glass, paintings, and weavings of the cathedrals, churches, and abbeys are the precursors to the illustrated-cell stories of today. Literacy need not be defined solely by one's ability to read strictly text.
I was most impressed to read about the activities in high school English and history in which you incorporate comics. You have shared a wealth of ideas using comics to teach about heroes and superheros. You might like to include Garfield's Extreme Comics Lab as an interactive tool that gives students the opportunity to create their own comics online. Thanks for your detailed explanation of how to motivate students' learning and improve their literacy using comics.
Comics are great to use with special needs students. I save the Sunday comics & use them in class. One exercise is to cut the panes from one comic strip into individual pieces. Scramble them up. The student will then read each pane & put them in the correct sequential order. The Pendulum Illustrated Series is also great. The students love the Shakespeare stories & love to play parts. A great way to introduce them to the classics without boring them.
Guy, you make a good point in suggesting that teachers use comics as a resource for teaching special needs students. Actually, comics can reach all levels of students and work well when teachers are searching for ways to differentiate instruction. Thanks for sharing this idea.
I have used comics for special needs children in my classroom. I have also used them as center manipulatives as well. I took a Garfield comic strip and I whited out the word bubbles. The students were responsible for filling in their own words to go with the pictures. I have used them with identifying different sentence types and grammar mechanics. I think that comics are a great way to keep student motivation and interest levels up!
You can find a few middle school lessons using comics on ReadWriteThink, where there's also Comic Creator, a student interactive for making basic comics. Take a look at the linked lessons at
The one I wrote is a book report alternative that asks students to look at graphic novels and comic books to understand the genre, and then use the Comic Creator to create a six-panel comic highlighting six key scenes in a book they have read. It's Book Report Alternative: Comic Strips and Cartoon Squares.