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How Graphic Novels Change the Way We Teach Literature

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  • Tip Bones

Graphic novels sometimes get a bad reputation among educators for being too much like comic books... or at least that's what our middle school teachers told us when we read them instead of Dickens and Orwell! But as much respect as I have for classic literature, it's possible that graphic novels are a more accessible and completely unique way of delivering a story, an ultimately, that's good for students.

Far from being just about honing reading skills, the goal of a literature class is to teach critical thinking, and to inspire empathy in students as they engage with stories. It's not that reading 'Animal Farm' is in any way worse than a graphic novel, but the book alone can't compare to how the graphic element delivers a story. Elements such as font, panel composition, shading, thought and speech bubbles, and any visual symbolism teaches students to be good observers, and that's an important skill. Readers must think carefully about the purpose of a panel, the visual representation of each character, and the meaning of the artistic choices of the author of illustrator. It's much like analyzing a text-only novel in that sense. And of course, readers with disabilities affecting their ability to engage with a large amount of text will appreciate the concise nature of the graphic novel format.

Graphic novels have a great potential to aid educators in the classroom with teaching important and often controversial topics that deeply affect students in their private lives, and do so in an interesting and engaging manner. And as far as I've heard from my comic-hating middle school teachers, engagement with traditional materials has always been a problem.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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