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50 Great Ways to Use Graphic Novels in the Classroom

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Language Arts

Check out these ideas for using graphic novels to aid in teaching some language arts basics.

  1. Explore character development. Graphic novels provide the perfect forum to explore basic literary ideas like character development. Have students lay out character studies and explain how the central figures evolve over time.
  2. Analyze the parts of a story. Graphic novels can be a great way to help students see the parts of a story visually. Plot, setting, and characters, read about and seen, can help students better understand how to construct their own ideas into narratives.
  3. Study text on the page. Word bubbles, thought balloons, captions and sound effects can be interesting elements of text to study in the graphic novel format.
  4. Map out a comic or graphic novel. To help students to learn more about story progression, have them map out a graphic novel, putting special emphasis on parts of the story like climax, exposition and resolution.
  5. Understand genres. Graphic novels can provide a great format for learning about literary genres. Take a look at comics, sci-fi, manga and other offerings to help students to better understand the concept.
  6. Study vocabulary. Chances are pretty good that there are a few hard words within that graphic novel, especially those intended for older readers. Have students expand their vocabulary in context.
  7. Create a plot pyramid. You don’t have to stick to traditional text-based tales to study the basics of plot. Graphic novels work well, too. Have your students build a plot pyramid, pulling out the important elements of the story as they go.
  8. Explore cause and effect. Younger students will enjoy learning about cause and effect through the medium of a graphic novel. Pull out elements of the story to illustrate the concept.
  9. Tone and tension. You can apply lessons from novels to graphic novels as well when it comes to tone and tension. Graphic novels have an added dimension of imagery that can give students something else to think about when trying to explain these concepts.
  10. Define protagonists and antagonists. Like many stories, graphic novels are often loaded with heroes and villains. Have students lay out these characters and what defines each in his or her role.
  11. Take a look at point of view. Depending on the graphic novel you choose, you may read a story with several points of view. Students can look at these critically and determine what they do to the telling of the story.
  12. Learn about contextual clues. Working with both text and images, help students learn what the story is saying without actually saying it – or what it might be foreshadowing.


Because graphic novels pair text with vivid imagery, they provide the perfect foundation for studying art and its impact.

  1. Learn about symbols. Why explore symbols though only text when you can use imagery as well? Double up on your symbology lessons by employing a great graphic novel.
  2. Understand visual literacy. Graphic novels are a great way to expose students to not only the basics of language arts, but also images. There are a variety of lessons you can employ to help students understand the essentials of visual literacy.
  3. Discuss the role of pictures. Ask your students to turn a critical eye to what role the pictures in a graphic novel play. Do they tell the story alone? How do they augment the main action?
  4. Learn about lines. Lines are some of the most essential components of illustration, yet they can also be the most evocative. Help students learn about what emotion and feeling can be conveyed through line, as well as dimension, tension and other elements.
  5. Explore the role between text and image. Graphic novels provide a great forum for exploring the ways that text and image interact on the page. Whether students are young or high school age, you can adapt your lessons to fit their needs.
  6. Examine the effect of color. Whether the novel you’re reading is in full color or black and white, work with students to study the impact the results have on the action and emotion of the story.
  7. Deal with realism. There are a wide variety of ways an artist can choose to depict a story. Students should study the images within the graphic novel to determine why the artist chose the style he or she did.
  8. Compare the advantages of visual imagery. Are there certain things that are simply better or more easily conveyed through visual imagery? Ask students to take a critical look at the medium of the graphic novel.
  9. Look at body language. Students can learn a lot about the motivations of the characters by looking at their body language.


Try out some of these exercises to make the most of graphic novels in your lessons.

  1. Compare the experience. Once great activity for students involves comparing the experience of reading a story in graphic novel form versus text only. They can discuss and write about how their experience differed and what each medium had to offer them.
  2. Write your own stories. One of the best ways to get students learning and loving literature is to inspire them to write their own graphic novels. Read a selection in class and have students create characters, stories and illustrations of their very own.
  3. Compare them to poetry. While students can explore famous poetry through the graphic novel medium, it can be an interesting activity to explore an original graphic novel alongside these other works. Look at the way both graphic novels and poems express emotions and events with allusion rather than direct representation.
  4. Use characters to create a new story. Who says the graphic novel has to end when it ends? Ask students to create their own independent tales using the main characters from the book.
  5. Explore the role between graphic novels and cinema. Graphic novels can offer students an experience very similar to that of film. Ask them to compare and contrast the visual experience of each.
  6. Devise a story with a moral. Many comics, novels and graphic novels have a moral at the end. Ask students to determine the main thrust of the novel you’ve read and create their own relevant stories.
  7. Draw out storyboards. To better learn about summarization and stretch their creativity, have students draw out a storyboard that depicts either one scene or the whole of the action from the graphic novel.
  8. Create your own dialogue for graphic novels without words. Not all graphic novels have text. It can be an effective activity to have students write their own dialogue for a wordless book.
  9. Write your own autobiographies. Many famous graphic novels are based on personal experience (Blankets, Persepolis, Epileptic), so why not have students share their own using these autobiographical texts as a model?
  10. Review a graphic novel. Ask students to be literary critics, writing a review of a graphic novel the way they would any other work of literature – particularly examining what the pictures add to the story.


These suggestions for using graphic novels in the classroom can help students improve their reading skills, build confidence and even tackle tough subjects.

  1. Explore a classic. Check out a classic book like Beowulf, The Great Gatsby or The Metamorphosis in graphic novel form. It could help your students take on a challenging read with greater ease.
  2. Encourage kids to read. Got kids who aren’t big into reading? A graphic novel could be a solution. Pictures alone could be all you need to get them interested in books – the text can just be a bonus.
  3. Improve language acquisition. Kids who are struggling with their English language skills can get a boost with some help from graphic novels. The pictures can help kids make better guesses at the words and improve their vocabularies, slowly and steadily – all while being entertained.
  4. Help autistic students. Graphic novels can not only help other students learn about this oft-misunderstood developmental disorder, but can help autistic students improve their social skills. Illustrations alongside text can help them to learn about social interactions, body language and facial expressions– something many autistic kids struggle to grasp.
  5. Take on a challenging read. Works that are incredibly challenging in simple text form can be more approachable when taken on in a graphic novel. Students can even find accessible adaptations of challenging fare like McLuhan for Beginners and Introducing Cultural Studies.
  6. Engage young readers. Graphic novels aren’t just for older students. Selections like Owly, a wholly image-based narrative, are great for young readers just spreading their reading wings.
  7. Become critical consumers. With graphic images surrounding students in advertisements, its essential that they become critical consumers of visual imagery. Help students hone their visual skills while reading a graphic novel, then apply what they’ve learned to advertisements they’ve chosen.
  8. Use them as Cliffs Notes. Sometimes all students need to get though a difficult piece of literature or idea is another approach. Graphic novels can provide that– try it out with publications modeled after difficult books and philosophies.


Graphic novels can help you explore more than just literature. Here are some ideas for using them to teach history, math, science and more.

  1. Study chemistry. Students bored with their chemistry lessons? Have them read about the elements and create a graphic novel featuring superpowers inspired by a particular entry.
  2. Examine race, class and gender. Many graphic novels touch on subjects that may be controversial, but are essential for students to learn to understand and examine critically. Check out selections that employ stereotypes and have students re-imagine them through another lens.
  3. Delve into philosophy. If your students are having a hard time grasping the intricacies of the great philosophers, try looking at them through the lens of a graphic novel. Logicomix provides an effective starting point.
  4. Get a human perspective. History can seem very abstract unless you learn how it really affected the people who lived through it. Have students read graphic novels like Persepolis and The Four Immigrants Manga to better understand larger ideas.
  5. Study big social issues. Race, class, gender, oppression, and stereotypes are all great topics to examine using the graphic novel format. Illustrations may help bring the pain and true meaning of these struggles to life.
  6. Get into math. The Cartoon Guide to Statistics and The Number Devil are great choices to get kids old and young alike interested in math through fun illustrations and great stories. They may even learn to love it!
  7. Use them to understand science. From chemistry to social science, there are loads of things graphic novels can teach students. For a great lesson, have students create their own art and narratives centering around a famous figure in scientific history.
  8. Learn about history. The Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic novel Maus is not only a great read, but illuminates important parts of history (most notably the Holocaust) in an incredibly vivid and powerful way.
  9. Get a view of another culture. There are a number of amazing graphic novels out there that you can use to help students learn about the history and values of another culture – from the Middle East to Africa, and everywhere in between.
  10. Study the history of comics. Graphic novels and comics have a rich history of their own, which can make for an incredible lesson for students. Especially when interwoven into other subjects!
  11. Learn about art history and styles. Graphic novels are printed in a wide range of styles, from the extremely real to the extremely stylized. Base lessons around these artistic decisions and help students learn about the history of art and the role of graphic novels within it.