Why I use graphic novels in my English class (and you should too)

Educators often underestimate the complexity of graphic novels, but these texts are by no means light reading, writes Paige Przybylsk for Education Week.

Przybylsk, a library media specialist at Harborside Middle School, notes that she, too, once thought graphic novels were reserved for young readers or superhero fanatics. But when she picked up Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, an account of the author’s childhood in Iran, and The Odyssey, Gareth Hinds's graphic novel depicting Odysseus’ journey home, Przybylsk realized how complex the genre could be.

She also noticed the strong appetite students have for graphic novels. "Our 6th through 8th grade students, regardless of reading level, flocked to the graphic novel section," writes Przybylsk.

While graphic novels have less text, they can help students develop visual literacy, argues Przybylsk. Students who read graphic novels can analyze the color, shape, texture, and layout, in addition to the text. Visual literacy is a skill that will be increasingly important for students navigating the world of digital media, she adds.

Related: Reading fiction makes you a better person, study shows

Przybylsk, who uses graphic novels in her class, explains how educators can use these texts to help students strengthen their visual literacy.

First, present students with a spread of graphic novel pages and ask them what they notice, she recommends. Students might point out the colors used, how the text and images are arranged, or the figures included.

Once students have observations, the class can analyze what they noticed, writes Przybylsk. Ask students what feelings the images evoke and what they think the author/illustrator's message is. Push students to defend their analyses with evidence from the text, adds Przybylsk.

Graphic novels are a particularly valuable resource for struggling readers and English-language learners, argues Przybylsk. Students can read graphic novels and text-based novels in tandem to strengthen their comprehension by thinking about what important ideas from the text were reinforced by the graphic novel, she recommends (Przybylski, Education Week, 3/6).

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