Teaching Graphic Novels to Teens: 8 Tips For Hesitant Teachers

Teaching Graphic Novels 8 Tips for teachers

I love teaching graphic novels, and I especially love teaching graphic novels to teens!

I consider myself a bit of an expert.

During my undergrad, I took a 400 level English class on Multimodal texts and during Grad school I completed an investigative project about using graphic novels in the classroom.

Let me give you some context:

Graphic novels are an increasingly popular genre, and there are so many great titles that can be used to teach so many different subjects in the secondary classroom.

When used effectively, graphic novels can engage students and help them to understand complex concepts.

In this blog post, I’ll share my top 8 tips for teaching graphic novels in the secondary classroom.

Teaching Graphic Novels Tip #1

Preview Appropriate Material

You will want to ensure that the novel is appropriate for your student’s age and maturity level. The content of some graphic novels can be quite mature, so it is important to preview the material beforehand.

For example, a popular Netflix series called Lock & Key originated as a graphic novel, but the graphic novel itself is VERY graphic and violent.

Ask yourself is this an opportunity where I can choose a text that my students can see themselves in?

Consider the cultural background of your students and select a novel that includes characters with which they can identify. 

For example, Persopolis by Marjane Satrapi and American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang are great places to start!

Teaching Tip #2

Consider HOW you want to study this text with your students. What will it look like?

Whole Class Graphic Novel Study? Lit circles? Or Read Individually?

One of the challenges with doing a whole class novel study is it can be difficult to read aloud or have students take turns reading.

Teaching Graphic Novels Ideas for Teachers Persepolis and American Born Chinese

Teaching Graphic Novels Tip #3

Consider using graphic novels as supplements to your existing curriculum.

Graphic novels can be used to support the topics you are already teaching. For example, if you teach a unit on World War II, you could supplement your instruction with Maus, a graphic novel about the Holocaust.

Or, if you are teaching a biology unit on evolution, you could use The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate as a supplemental text.

Tip #4: Teach Terminology

You will want to offer some guidance on reading a graphic novel. 

This may seem obvious, but many students have never read one before and will need some direction.

A good start is to explain how a graphic novel differs from a traditional one.

You can explain that unlike traditional novels, which are typically divided into chapters, graphic novels are usually divided into issues. Each issue is then divided into smaller sections called panels.

Helping students understand this structure will make it easier to follow along with the story. 

Tip #5: Let em' at it!

Let students jump in and get their hands dirty!

Put graphic novels in students’ hands as quickly as you can! You’ll be amazed at how quickly students can “get how they work”

When teaching graphic novels, I always start with a hands-on lesson that lets students jump in and explore different sample pages independently before I teach any terminology directly.

If you are feeling overwhelmed about doing things “perfectly” then this is your sign to RELAX, and just get graphic novels in the student’s hands and facilitate a discussion about what they notice and see.

Teaching Graphic Novels Tip #6: Teach Visual Literacy

Graphic Novels are surprisingly difficult to read! 

Teaching students about visual literacy (the skills they need to read text and images simultaneously) is very important!

Graphic novels provide an excellent opportunity to teach visual literacy skills:

  • Inferring meaning from images
  • Identifying points of view

Visual literacy is the ability to analyze, think critically, and understand information communicated with visual elements such as images, video, maps, diagrams, and charts. It encompasses a wide range of skills including the ability to identify a message’s purpose, audience, context, and meaning; recognize symbols and their meaning; comprehend spatial relationships; read graphic elements like colour or shapes; interpret perspective and point of view; synthesize data from multiple sources; distinguish between fact and opinion; evaluate visual artifacts on aesthetic criteria; create visuals using appropriate conventions; use visuals to communicate ideas effectively. Visual literacy is essential in today’s digital age as we continue to rely on visuals for communication. It enables us to take advantage of opportunities provided by visual media while avoiding potential pitfalls that may come with them.

Tip #7: Connect with your school Librarian

Teacher Librarians are professional book finders!

Your school librarians will have ideas and suggestions you can consider and may even have resources to share with you! 

Often underestimated, these professionals combine the knowledge and skills of educators and librarians to enhance the learning experience for students. Teacher librarians are essential members of a school team and you should absolutely lean on them to help you dive into Graphic Novels.

Teacher librarians are passionate advocates for reading, and they play a crucial role in nurturing a love for books in students. By curating a diverse array of reading materials, organizing engaging workshops and reading programs, and providing personalized reading suggestions, teacher librarians help students develop a lifelong love of reading for both pleasure and learning.

Teacher librarians work closely with other educators to bolster curriculum development and support the learning objectives for different subject areas. They offer assistance in finding and using various reputable resources, creating web guides, designing interactive learning experiences, and even co-teaching, thereby ensuring that students have access to a broad range of educational materials.

Tip #8: Just Go for It!

As teachers, we are excellent at pivoting, adapting and improvising!

Get started and see how it goes, you can adapt as you work through the text.

You don’t have to know it all or be an expert in teaching graphic novels before you begin. Remind students that you are LEARNING with them! 

Check out the these Fresh Posts

Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

Carley 📚 Teacher Author @ Visual Thinking Classroom

B.A., B.Ed., Graduate Certificate in Teacher Librarianship // carley@visualthinkingclassroom.com