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Comics in the Classroom: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources for Teachers

By Kelsey Allen

Gone are the days of children sneaking comics past diligent parents and teachers watching out for sub-par literature. The comics of today not only have plenty to offer, they are gaining well-deserved recognition and awards. Take advantage of the natural affinity children have for comics and use them as a powerful teaching tool in your classroom. The following tips, tools, and resources will get you started.

Understanding Benefits and Usage in the Classroom

Understand how comics are beneficial in schools and ways they can be used.

  1. Eek! Comics in the Classroom!. This article describes many of the benefits of using comics and graphic novels in education and also includes resources for places to find appropriate materials for class.
  2. Comic Books in the Classroom. This news story outlines why comic books may be a great way to promote reading in reluctant readers as well as help teach writing, emotions, and more.
  3. Comics in the Classroom. Take an in depth look at the recent trend of using comics in the classroom, whether it is appropriate for the classroom, and resources for teaching with comics and graphic novels.
  4. Using Comics and Graphic Novels in the Classroom. Understand how using comics and graphic novels can help teach complex reading skills, punctuation, outlining, paragraphing, and literary terms.
  5. Comic Book Science in the Classroom. Listen to this NPR report about teaching with comics, including both benefits and concerns as seen by educators.
  6. Maryland Comic Book Initiative. Read about this initiative in Maryland elementary schools, then read the research behind it, get sample lessons, and watch videos of students in action.
  7. MSP#101: Comics in the Classroom. The last half of this podcast features Dr. Peter Coogan, Director of the institute for Comic Studies as he discusses comics in the classroom.
  8. Thoughts About Comics #2 My Comics Classroom. This teacher describes the value of comics in his fourth grade classroom.
  9. Comics in the Classroom. This informative article examines some of the reasons why comics and graphic novels are fast growing in school libraries, but a bit slower to reach the classrooms.
  10. Comic Books in the Classroom. The New York Times takes a look at the value of using comics in education and the success of The Comic Book Project.
  11. Gurney Journey: Comics in the Classroom. Illustrator James Gurney describes a tour of a class using comic books as inspiration. Be sure to read the comments section to hear from the teacher of the class.
  12. Hamlet too hard? Try a comic book. This article describes some of the benefits of using graphic novels in class to help struggling readers and to boost interest in subjects.

Resources for Using Comics in the Classroom

These resources are all valuable sources of information, tools, community, and more to help you use comics in your classroom.

  1. Comics in the Classroom. This site is all about promoting the use of comics in the classroom and includes news and reviews, lesson plans, forums, a blog, and much more.
  2. Teachingcomics.org. This organization helps promote quality teaching through comics and offers such resources as lesson plans, study guides, handouts, connections with other teachers, and featured schools using comics in the classroom.
  3. Comics in Education. This website is the final project for a teacher working on his Master’s degree and includes many resources for using comics in school.
  4. Drawing Cartoons Theme Page. This site offers tons of links to resources ranging from creating cartoons to learning about the profession of cartoonist to teacher resources.
  5. Toon Books. Keep abreast of the latest comic and graphic novels for emerging readers and also find lesson plans here.
  6. Educational Comic Books for the Classroom. This helpful article includes a list of comic books for elementary aged children, tips for using comics in the classroom, and resources for teachers.
  7. Comic Books as Curriculum. This interview with Richard Jenkins, co-author of Comics in Your Curriculum, offers a peek at the book written to help teachers learn how to incorporate comics into their lessons.

Suggested Comics for the Classroom

If you need a little help knowing what comics are both high-quality and age-appropriate, then check out these lists.

  1. Graphic Novels for (Really) Young Readers. Written by an elementary school librarian, this article offers excellent suggestions for beginning readers through more accomplished elementary readers–and a reminder of the powerful effects of using graphic novels in education.
  2. The Best Comics for Your Classroom: A List for All Grade Levels. This resource features lists of highly recommended and recommended comics categorized by age group.
  3. Comics in the Classroom. This PDF lists several comics and includes age ranges, including a "mature teen" rating, and publication information.
  4. Top 20 Children’s Comics. This listing offers descriptions, awards won, and any potentially objectionable material that might be in any of them.
  5. The Twelve Best Comic Books for the Classroom. This list includes five books for grades 2-6 and seven books for grades 7-12.
  6. Comics in the Classroom. This article, despite the numerous grammatical mistakes, does offer a wealth of information as to specific comics and the grade levels at which they may be used.
  7. Comics in the Classroom – The Course in Computer Games. Sent on a mission to discover which comics students could read that might make a good computer game like Second Life, this writer investigates and reports her findings.
  8. Reading, Writing, and Inquiry in the Science Classroom, Grades 6-12. This excerpt from the book includes a brief history of comics, a look at why comics are appealing to children, and a listing of comics and graphic novels that can be useful in teaching science.
  9. Top 10 Superhero Comic Books Your Kids Should Be Reading. This list is from a parent and only focuses on superhero comics, but browse through the comments for more recommendations, including many outside the superhero realm.

Tools

Whether you or your students will be making comics in the class, check out these tools to help you get creative.

  1. Comic Creator. Supply the information you want in this tool that provides people, animals, thought and speech bubbles, props, and backdrops.
  2. How to Use Comic Life in the Classroom. This article describes how to use Comic Life, an inexpensive comic generator, to create a book report for class.
  3. Tech Module: Using Comic Life in the Classroom. Another article about using Comic Life in the classroom, this one also includes several lesson plans utilizing this program.
  4. Howtoons. These comics from Instructables are specifically for teaching children how to do lots of things. These comics make a great supplement to a hands-on lesson.
  5. Make Beliefs Comix. This tool allows students to create comic strips and provides plenty of options for customizing their strips. There is also a section for teacher resources here.
  6. Pixton. Students can create their comic strip here or you can select Pixton for Schools for an education-oriented experience that brings the entire class together on projects.
  7. Bitstrip. Students can browse through other people’s comics and create their own at this site.
  8. ToonDoo. This comic strip generator allows students to create their own comics. Teachers should check the site for appropriate content as it is not specifically an education site.
  9. ArtisanCam. Among the many art projects available here, students can also create comics with this tool.
  10. PikiKids. After uploading images, students can choose their layout, add speech bubbles, and more to create fun comics.
  11. BeFunky. Turn digital photos into digital comics and more with this free tool.
  12. Comiqs. Use templates or design your own images with this cartoon generator that provides results in a slide show that can even be put on a class blog or website.

Creative Ways to Use Comics in the Classroom

These resources offer great ways to use comics in the classroom.

  1. The Chess Comic. A sister site to Comics in the Classroom, this site teaches the game of chess through comics.
  2. Comics and the Smithsonian: A Beautiful Union of Science Curriculum. Learn about this resource through the Smithsonian’s website that incorporates comics into science lessons.
  3. Bringing Comics into the Classroom. This article is written by a college instructor who describes his class on Comic Books as Literature and, while aimed at older students, offers insight into how literature can be taught through comics.
  4. The comic book assignment was a hit!. This teacher shares her experience of using a comic book assignment as a final evaluation for high school students. She shares both the positive aspects and her learning points.
  5. Checking Out Comic Life. This veteran teacher describes how she plans to use Comic Life with her kindergartners.
  6. In the Classroom: Alice in Comic Land. This teacher describes how she used comics while teaching Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. She also includes links for teaching Shaun Tan’s The Arrival.

Lesson Plans for Elementary

Elementary teachers will enjoy these great lesson plans designed specifically for early learners.

  1. Comics in the Classroom as an Introduction to Genre Study. Perfect for 3rd-5th graders, this lesson helps students understand the genre of comics through examining and creating comics.
  2. Comic-Strip Challenge. Teach sequencing by using comic strips in this lesson appropriate for grades 2-5.
  3. Creative Writing Using Comics. Teach creative writing to 4th through 8th graders with this lesson that also expands to include vocabulary and a group activity.
  4. Learning Storytelling Elements the Fun Way!-A Visual Storytelling Lesson Using Comics. Second and third graders can practice storytelling and sequencing with this lesson.
  5. Buzz! Whiz! Bang! Using Comic Books to Teach Onomatopoeia. Great for grades 3-5, this four-part lesson lets students create their own comic strip while exploring onomatopoeia.
  6. Comics in the Classroom as an Introduction to Narrative Structure. Sequencing, story-telling, and plotting are all part of this lesson appropriate for 3rd-5th graders.
  7. Creating Comic Strips. Students in 4th through 6th grade can learn about sequencing, drawing, and humor with this lesson.
  8. Make Family Comic Strips. Appropriate for grades 2-5, this lesson guides students through creating a comic strip depicting a funny event from their family.
  9. Story Switch Comics. For learners in 1st-3rd, this lesson allows students to change the problem in a familiar story and draw it in a cartoon.
  10. Book Report Alternative: Examining Story Elements Using Story Map Comic Strips. Students will independently and as a group read a text, identify elements of the story, then create a comic strip to report what they learned.
  11. Gabbing About Garfield: Conversing About Texts With Comic Creator. Students play an online sequencing game using Garfield comics, discuss the elements of comic strips, and create their own.
  12. To, Too, or Two: Developing an Understanding of Homophones. After studying homophones, students will create a skit acting out the homophones, then convert their skit to a comic strip.

Lesson Plans for Middle School

Middle school teachers will find plenty of great ideas for teaching with comics among these lesson plans.

  1. Comic Book Characters. 5th through 7th graders can study gender representations in media through an examination of comics with this lesson.
  2. Greek and Latin Roots Lesson Plan: Superhero Comic Strip. Let students show their knowledge of Greek and Latin root words by creating a superhero comic strip in this lesson plan.
  3. Comic Book Project – Grades 5-8. This writing lesson emphasizes such concepts as creating conflict and resolution, sequential writing, action verbs, descriptive language, and onomatopoeia.
  4. Comic Strip (Lesson Plan). Students create their own comic strip in this lesson that is easily adjusted for any age.
  5. Fair Housing Lesson Plan. This lesson uses a bilingual comic book as the text and teaches 7th and 8th graders about the Fair Housing Act.
  6. Cartoon Project. 7th through 12th graders can reinforce math concepts of ratio and proportion in this lesson.
  7. Change Happens. Study the development and change of tools and systems through creating comic strips.
  8. Make a Statement. Students take a position on the politics during the American Revolutionary War and convey their stance through several different mediums, including comics.
  9. A Directed Listening-Thinking Activity for the Tell-Tale Heart. Students listen to a reading of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and write a response in comic strip form.
  10. Book Report Alternative: Comic Strips and Cartoon Squares. A great alternative to traditional book reports, this lesson has students explore comic books and graphic novels in order to create a report of a traditional book.

Lesson Plans for High School

These lesson plans supply creative, engaging, and educational ways to incorporate comics.

  1. Lesson Plan: Maus. This high school lesson uses Art Spiegelman’s comic book, Maus (the first comic to win the Pulitzer Prize), to teach students about the Holocaust and World War II. Read through the information about comic book programs, then find this lesson plan at the end of the report.
  2. The Comic Book Show and Tell. Students will draft a comic book script based on a prompt, create a layout, revise their drafts, and share revisions with others.
  3. Comic Book Show and Tell. Related to the above lesson, this group activity allows students to create and draw their own story through the medium of comics.
  4. Comic Makeovers: Examining Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Media. Students will learn to recognize stereotypes as presented by the media in this two-week lesson that culminates in a "comic character makeover."
  5. Man in the Iron Mask Teachers’ Guide. This detailed lesson plan for the Marvel Illustrated version of Man in the Iron Mask includes vocabulary, cross-curricular applications, literacy standards, and detailed instructions for lessons.
  6. Last of the Mohicans Teachers’ Guide. The second from Marvel Illustrated, use this lesson plan and graphic novel to supplement your class’ reading of the novel.
  7. Treasure Island Teachers’ Guide. The third in the series, be sure to use this lesson plan when studying Treasure Island in class.
  8. American Born Chinese Lesson Plans. This guide offers suggestions for teaching culture and history using graphic novels.
  9. Examining Transcendentalism Through Popular Culture. Students learn about Emerson, Thoreau, and aspects of transcendentalism through popular culture–including comics.

Lesson Plans for All Ages

These lesson plans are adaptable for a wide range of student.

  1. Comic Strip Lesson Plan. This lesson plan is actually for an ESL class, but can easily be used in any class and is adjustable to the age and/or reading level of the students.
  2. Superhero Comic Strip. This lesson plan can be adjusted from 3rd grade up to 12th grade and focuses on the difference between a hero and a superhero as well as creating a comic strip.
  3. Character and Plot Development Through Comics. Character, plot development, point of view, and tone are learned through this lesson plan that is specifically aligned to the Florida testing standards.
  4. Comic Strip. This lesson can be adjusted for any age and reinforces listening skills and comprehension.
  5. Art Lesson Inspired by Japanese Manga. Adaptable to any age, this art lesson uses Manga as inspiration for learning to draw.
  6. Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked!. This study guide from the History Channel offers suggestions for teaching this lesson to middle and high school students and also includes a link to the video.
  7. Comic Concepts. For students in 4th to 12th grade, this lesson allows students to create and draw their own comic narrative based on one of three styles.
  8. Autobiographical Comics. This project steps teachers through guiding middle and high school students through creating comics to detail autobiographical stories.

Manga and Anime

Manga (the written comics) and Anime (the motion cartoons) are not only super popular in Japan, but have gained a huge following around the world as well. Both Manga and Anime provide important lessons not only about Japanese culture, but about education and life lessons as well.

  1. Using Manga Comics in Education. This article details the use of Manga in classrooms outside Japan.
  2. Wanna Learn About Statistics? Read a Comic. This article describes a Manga comic that teaches statistics and previews others coming up that will cover calculus and more.
  3. Manga Another Comic Format Worthy of Classroom Consideration. This blog post offers a detailed look at Manga, why it can be an important teaching tool, and the age-appropriate levels for Manga.
  4. Anime and Manga: It’s Not All Make-Believe. This professor examines both the benefits and drawbacks of teaching these forms in the classroom and also offers some excellent recommendations for classroom use.
  5. Manga Start! Resource Library. The lessons here are specifically for K-12 teachers who want to teach their students to draw Manga.
  6. Anime (and Manga) for Parents (and Other Grownups). This site is an excellent starting place for parents and teachers to learn about Anime and Manga, and it also provides recommendations for both.

Free Comics for Educators

Now that you are ready to start working with comics in your classroom, find out how you can get started with these free comics.

  1. Classical Comics. Teachers and students can download these comics based on Shakespeare’s works such as Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest.
  2. Free Comic Book Day is This Saturday. While it’s too late for this year, put the first Saturday of May on your calendar to receive free comic books.
  3. Career Comic Book. Get free samples of this comic book that details the work veterinarians do.
  4. AMU Reprints. Teachers can receive seven reprints a year from this service that archives most of the popular comics found in print.
  5. verb lesson – grammar comics. Download this free comic that teaches about verbs from the ebook, Grammar Comics!.
  6. The KidsKnowIt Network Funny Pages. These original comics are free for educators to download and change weekly.
  7. Nature Special Comic Book Offer. The PBS show, Nature, is offering free comic books targeted at pre-teens and teens to educators and cover stories related to three Nature episodes.
  8. Cindi in Space Comic Book. Download this free comic book that is specifically for grades 6-9, but appropriate for students outside that range.
  9. Free Comics from TeachKind. This organization offers four free comics for teachers that are targeted at students from 7-13 years old.

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