Anne Messley Mini-Course: Graphic Novels as a Classroom Resource

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Overview and Purpose

Graphic novels are an excellent resource for classrooms. Graphic novels use images to relay messages with and without text accompanying them, adding dimension to the story. Authors can make inferences with imagery, with text, or with both in combination. It is genuinely a multimodal work of literature that facilitates and supports students’ ability to visualize and understand complicated ideas. Components of novels, picture books, and film are all working together to create a new literary form that is higher level than if reading a print-based text by itself. Graphic novels enable one to analyze a work for literary elements such as figurative language, dialogue, character development, plot construction, etc. Graphic novels also allow students to analyze the work using film technique analysis including elements such as the use of color, angles, framing, foregrounding, and backgrounding. The vocabulary in graphic novels is approachable and manageable which can reduce text load and decrease stress related to print-based reading. This creates work that captures a student’s attention, increases student motivation, and promotes a positive association with reading. Students find that they pay more attention to what the author is explicitly stating and where the reader must infer to find details and overarching ideas. The images support reading comprehension.


Students can access sensitive and difficult topics that are difficult to discuss through graphic novels dealing with social and historical situations through graphic novels, which feature complex plots, a variety of literary elements, and character development that present historical events, situations, influential people, and time periods with illustrations and text. Graphic novels can provide students with an opportunity to interact with history in an engaging way that is sometimes more influential than just text or images alone.

The goal of this course is to illustrate how one may use graphic novels in the classroom to enrich a students' understanding of historical time periods, motivate future reading, and develop an understanding of how one may communicate through the use of words and images together.

Needs Assessment

Intent: Many times students have difficulty connecting historical events and figures with reality and their own life experiences. Instead of having students connect history to a series of dates and events, a graphic novel offers an opportunity with people involved in the events and finds personal connections with the events that shaped history.

Graphic novels are a mode of visual literacy and storytelling. They combine the classic components of a novel including plot, character development, theme, etc. with elements of the film where one uses the interpretation of imagery to develop meaning. In the case of graphic novels such as March by John Lewis, they offer students an opportunity to learn from one's personal experiences in a memoir format to learn about how certain events came to be, why the people involved felt they were necessary, and how it impacted the individuals involved and history. John Lewis's graphic novel begins with the telling of Lewis's early life and how he became involved in the civil rights movement as a teenager. By utilizing graphic novel memoirs in a history classroom offers teachers the opportunity to engage students on multiple levels while teaching them about historical events and the effects those events have had upon society.

What is to be learned: Students will learn how to analyze the content of a graphic novel to interpret visual and textual information relayed by the author. Students will also learn how to incorporate graphic novels into their curriculum and create interdisciplinary units that engage students at differing reading levels, captures student interest, increases student motivation, and promotes positive associations with reading. Using graphic novels' visual nature and the format makes the content more relatable and engaging for students as well offers them an opportunity to practice analyzing a work for explicit and implicit meanings. Lessons in this course will be focused on using the graphic novel, March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell but will also provide examples of other graphic novels that may be used in a history classroom for other units covering other historical time periods and events.

Goals: The goal of this mini-course is to show graphic novels that may be used in a history classroom to engage, motivate, and instruct students about historical events, persons, and the impact they have upon today's society. At the end of this course, students will learn about how graphic novels relay information in a multimodal format, promote literacy, offer opportunities for differentiating instruction, improve comprehension, and help students develop an understanding and appreciation for history and/or different cultures.

Performance Objectives

At the conclusion of this mini-course, learners will:

1. learn various strategies for teaching graphic novels including tea party, sequencing, cloze passage, predicting, dialogue, cumulative story, panel storytelling, summarizing, reader's theater, literature circles, writing/drawing collaboration, carousel activity, silent discussion, ABC book, acrostic poem, parallel timeline, a moment in time, collage, and book report.

2. identify reasons why graphic novels are helpful tools in the classroom which increase literacy and comprehension and create an argument for use within their classroom.

3. how graphic novels can facilitate comprehension and increase student engagement and compose a reflection statement about how graphic novels would assist their students.

4. compose an analysis of a graphic novel in terms of its readability, literary structure, and historical representation of events.


Mini-course learning objectives:

To explore the genre of graphic novels.

To understand the various definitions of graphic novels.

To consider how text and graphics function separately and how they may function differently in combination.

To communicate the interpretive positions, insights, questions, and information about the graphic novel examples provided.

Define and apply the basic vocabulary of graphic novels according to Scott McCloud's 1993 book, Understanding Comics.

Exhibit critical reading skills and cognizance of multimodal writings.

Analyze the effect of storytelling with graphics and text on readers.

Recognize and analyze the diverse cultural viewpoints within graphic novels.



Objectives listed below are for the sample unit plan and follow the Common Core Standards. See Teaching Graphic Novels: Related Objectives in the Common Core Standards

Course Units

This mini-course includes the following units. Click the title of a unit to go to its page.

Unit 1: Define graphic novels & identify misconceptions about graphic novels

Unit 2: How graphic novels help students learn

Unit 3: How to teach history with graphic novels

Unit 4: How to analyze a graphic novel to determine appropriateness for classroom usage

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Extended Resources

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