15 Awesome Examples of Graphic Novels in Education

The comic genre, from superhero-centered serials to in-depth graphic novels, hasn’t traditionally been a respected literary form, if it was considered literature at all. Over the past decade, however, that’s been changing. With Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus winning a Pulitzer Prize and the work of authors like Craig Thompson and Marjane Satrapi hot on bestseller lists, it’s hard to ignore the power of graphic novels. Of course, they haven’t just been working themselves into popular culture, and have become a part of lessons taught in classrooms across the nation, with students at all levels enjoying them as part of their learning experience.

Whether you’re a teacher contemplating using graphic novels in your own class, or a student wondering if a graphic novel course is worth your time, it can be useful to see what options are out there and some of the successes of others around the U.S. Here, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best, coolest, and most successful ways graphic novels are playing a role in education. Whether you love them or are still on the fence about their usefulness in education, these stories are bound to inspire you to check your local library for a new graphic read.

  1. Professor Jeremy Short writes graphic novels for his management classes

    Professor Jeremy Short noticed that many of his students were very interested in management when it was featured in TV shows like Shark Tank and The Office, but found their textbooks to be more than a little dull. Short decided to take matters into his own hands, and began developing a series of graphic novels related to business concepts with the help of some co-authors and an illustrator. He believes they make the content not only more interesting but also easier to remember by better honing in on the essential concepts students need to know. Better yet, the graphic novels are priced at only $20 — a far cry from the $100 or more most traditional business textbooks run.

  2. Friends Kevin Cannon and Zander Cannon publish a series of educational comics and graphic novels

    Kevin and Zander own and operate Big Time Attic, an illustration studio based out of Minneapolis. These friends are part of a budding graphic novel trend in education. Teaming up with educational writers, the duo has created works like Bone Sharps, Cowboys, and Thunder Lizards, a paleontological adventure story, and T-Minus: The Race to the Moon, an illustrated history of space exploration. While Kevin and Zander also work on non-educational titles, they’re getting a lot of positive feedback and requests for their educational comics, saying that more educators than ever are realizing that there’s more than one way to teach a concept and that often, graphic presentations make things easier to understand for students.

  3. NKU students are reading a graphic novel penned by an alum

    Northern Kentucky University freshmen taking part in the school’s Book Connection Project this fall will be reading a graphic novel, but not just any graphic novel. The work, Kabuki: The Alchemy, was written and illustrated by NKU grad David Mack. David is a New York Times best-selling author, and has won numerous awards for his work on the Kabuki series. Program organizers felt the novel was a perfect choice, as the story is relatable for many students, and alum Mack turned in the first volume of the series as his senior thesis. As a companion to the reading program, Mack’s work from the series is to be displayed in the school library and the Fine Arts Center.

  4. School librarians line up at Comic Con to score new graphic novels for their collections

    Librarians have played a big role in getting graphic novels into the educational setting, and they’re not showing any signs of slowing down. At this year’s Comic Con in New York City, librarians were out in droves, standing in lines that stretched for over 10 blocks, just to get their hands on the latest graphic novels for their libraries. Of course, that wasn’t the only reason many headed out. Others wanted to talk about digital access to comics and explore new ways to purchase video games. Many feel that the next generation of readers, the digital natives, would better appreciate their graphic novels in digital form. However they’re getting them, it’s clear that graphic novels and comics are here to stay in public and school libraries, especially as more make it into e-book format.

  5. High school teacher Diane Roy uses graphic novels to help remedial students grasp books like Hamlet

    Even for good readers, Hamlet can be a challenging work. For those who struggle with reading, it can seem like an insurmountable obstacle. Teachers like Diane Roy are hoping to change student attitudes about classic literature by using graphic novels, however. This Oneida High School teacher started bringing novels into the classroom in 2004 to help remedial readers get a handle on tough works like Hamlet. She was so successful that she decided to shape the curriculum around graphic novels, introducing titles like Maus, a Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel, to students. Students who had previously struggled with reading were suddenly reading double the amount of books assigned in class, and even began to enjoy reading.

  6. Shelley Hong Xu, associate professor in the department of teacher education at California State University, Long Beach uses comics and graphic novels in her reading methods course

    Many may think comics are just for kids, but professors like Xu believe they can provide a great bridge between what students know and concepts they still need to grasp. Xu uses comics and graphic novels in her “Reading Methods” class, helping pre-service teachers understand the strategies required to read the works, and how they can be applied to reading and understanding other media as well. She believes that using graphic novels in the classroom can be a great way to motivate students to learn and provide opportunities for success for those who struggle with literacy tasks. She does, however, caution that teachers should do their research before bringing graphic novels into their curricula, so they can make use of all the format has to offer.

  7. Cat Turner, a secondary English specialist and teacher at Henry Wise Wood High School, encourages teachers to learn more about graphic novels

    For teachers who want to learn more about using graphic novels or comics in their classroom, there are a lot of great books out there. Turner recommends Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud and Will Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, though she has learned a great deal about graphic novels from responses gleaned from her own students. Working with teaching specialist Liz Spittal, the educators asked students to create guidebooks to help teachers better understand graphic novels. The assignment, given to juniors and seniors, yielded some great results, as students became experts on the genre and created in-depth and thoughtful guides.

  8. Sharon Webster uses comics to teach literary terms and philosophies

    Sharon Webster is English department chair and a literacy coach at Narragansett High School in Rhode Island. She believes that graphic novels and comic books can help students not only learn to read, but also improve their understanding of more complex topics as they go through school. In teaching lessons on concepts like transcendentalism, Webster found that students had a much better understanding of the term and what it meant for literary works when she supplemented lessons with comics, graphic novels, and music. She also believes that comics and graphic novels can be amazing tools in teaching literary terms like allusion, satire, and irony, which provide types of literacy that can be used outside of an English class.

  9. The Savannah College of Art and Design offers an education program in sequential art

    The growing respect that comics, graphic novels, and other forms of sequential art have gotten in recent years is perhaps no better represented than in the fact that now students can actually get a degree in the field from some of the leading art colleges in the nation. The Savannah College of Art and Design offers more sequential art classes than any other university in the U.S., but it’s not the only school with a program. The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey, has been devoted exclusively to the study of the form since 1976. Students can also head to the Rhode Island School of Design or the Maricopa Community College. Graduates of these programs may just be producing the next generation of truly great graphic novels that teachers will use in the classroom.

  10. A course called “Graphic Novels as Literature” is taught at Skyline High School

    Allen Porter, an English teacher at Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, Michigan, wanted to share some of the books he had recently read with students and decided, along with a colleague, to create an innovative new course for their district. Students in the course would use McCloud’s Understanding Comics as a textbook, which would guide their readings of graphic novels like Maus, V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Persepolis. For a final assignment, students got a chance to either create their own comic avatar and put together a comic of their own or create a movie trailer for a graphic novel they had read on their own. Porter had a great deal of success with his class, and it serves as a great model for how graphic novels can be used to educate while keeping students motivated to learn and read on their own.

  11. Graphic novels are being used to teach science concepts

    While graphic novels have helped students learn more about literary classics, business, and history, one relatively new avenue they’re taking on is science. The science-centered graphic novel is taking off, helping young people learn about a wide range of instrumental figures and works in chemistry, physics, and biology. Just this fall, Jim Ottavani, with the help of illustrator Leland Myrick, released a book on the life of the famous quantum physicist Richard Feynman. Ottavani isn’t just a science geek, he’s also a reference librarian at the University of Michigan. He believes that graphic novels are the perfect medium for talking about science and scientists because they allow text to easily be paired with diagrams and illustrations that can make understanding difficult concepts a little easier. Ottavani isn’t alone in his enthusiasm for science-focused graphic novels. Other big hits have been Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A Graphic Adaptation by Michael Keller and Introducing Time: A Graphic Guide by Craig Callender and Ralph Edney.

  12. The state of Maryland has a Comic Book Initiative which is brining greater numbers of graphic novels and comics into education

    Started in 2004, the Maryland Comic Book Initiative has been adding more graphic novels and comics to the curriculum in its public schools, with the goal of helping to engage reluctant readers. The program was the first of its kind in the nation, with students in the state’s K-12 classroom using the materials to study everything from mythology to great female scientists. School officials have been careful to state that the books aren’t replacing traditional tests, but supplementing them, and allowing many students who struggle with reading to find a new avenue to learning and understanding. Despite the success and popularity of the program, many are still skeptical about comics in the classroom, believing they don’t teach kids the same skills as reading a traditional book.

  13. Art teacher at Mark Twain Middle School in Fairfax County, Jan McCormack, is using comic books to teach students more than drawing skills

    To create a great graphic novel or comic, students need to know more than just how to draw the human figure. Art teacher Jan McCormack is helping them to learn those skills, incorporating lessons about math and graphing into her art courses on cartooning. Students use their newfound math skills to help them draw figures to scale and keep proportions in check as they develop their own comic books and graphic stories. The interdisciplinary lessons may just help revitalize art classes in a time when many are being cut due to budget shortfalls.

  14. Maureen Bakis, a 12th-grade English teacher at Masconomet Regional High School, uses graphic novels to improve visual literacy

    Our world is filled with pictures, whether on the internet, on TV, or in advertisements. Knowing how to read and understand these visual images is an essential life skill that students will need as they try to navigate the 21st century world and graphic novels are the perfect way, Bakis believes, to bridge the gap between text and visual imagery. Of course, the benefits aren’t just in the visual realm. Bakis uses a variety of graphic novels to help students bolster their skills not only in visual literacy but in writing, global studies, and even making their own artwork. She’s also found the works to be incredible tools for helping students to understand literary elements and narrative structure, lessons they can carry with them as they approach other, more traditional forms of media as well.

  15. Northfield District Library offers classes, taught by cartoonist Jerzy Drozd, on understanding comics

    Drozd believes that comics in all their varied forms can be valuable learning tools for kids, especially those who are struggling with their classes. He challenges young readers to think about why comics are laid out the way they are and what different uses of space and line can indicate to the reader, as well as making inferences from character expressions. He also teaches kids how to draw their own comics and tell their own story, which he believes is a way of empowering them that may help them stop acting out in other ways, especially in bullying other kids. Drozd has toured a variety of Michigan towns offering these workshops, working with comic writer Dan Mishkin to show kids that they, too, can find expression and escape with a few pieces of paper and a simple pencil.

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