Making Curriculum Pop


As part of my master's program I have to give a one hour workshop for an English Teacher's Conference. I'd love to talk about the comic book.  I was wondering what the average English teacher needs to know in order to teach this complex medium.   I've been reading comics for over twenty years now and studying them for about four.  Like many of us, I love McCloud and everything he has done for comic studies.  But I'm not sure if an hour of talking about Understanding Comics is the best use of time.   


Right now I'm thinking about looking at teaching comics on a spectrum.  

Print Literacy (Comics = traditional print text)  <---->   Visual Literacy (Comics = image and art)


On the Print Literacy end, you can teach comics in the same way you teach any novel.   Focus on plot and character.  Here you can use graphic novel adaptations to aid struggling readers with the print text version.


As we get closer to the Visual Literacy end of the spectrum, you could look into Understanding Comics and Making Comics, perhaps some of Will Eisner's work and talk about Pictorial Vocabulary, Transitions, Word/Picture Relationships, Page Design, and McCloud's Four Tribes (from Making Comics).   


For the record, I don't believe that comics truly exist on either extreme end of this line, it is a combination of both Print and Visual Literacies that make comics work.  That said, I think that sort of thought process helps people organize their thoughts on how to teach them.


If you were attending a workshop on how to teach a graphic novel, what would you want from it?  Would it be a mistake to talk about comic book theory (McCloud, Groensteen, etc?).  If not, how much is too much?


I'm already working on a resource handout that would point people to both books like Understanding Comics, websites like this one, and good comics to read.   I know that I'll need good examples of how the theory works, feel free to suggest examples.   I'd also like to have a few practical activities and ideas for how to use comics with middle/high school students.  


Any feedback would be great.  Think of this as both helping me with the workshop, and as just a place to post up ideas on how to teach comics in general.   I've posted this in other websites to get the best responses possible, sorry if you've already read this.



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Hi everyone,


I believe that a HS English teacher needs to know that comics can tell compelling stories. Show a panel or two from The Comic Book Project's (CBP) "Big Fight." The curriculum from the CBP is certainly unwieldy for elementary lessons, but could perhaps work well for HS.  I used it as the basis for my dissertation research, but will avoid blathering on about it here.  A gentleman is someone who can play the accordion, but doesn't.


The one necessary book for teachers is Adventures in Graphica, which explains all the Language Arts concepts you can teach with comics.


Good luck,


Very cool link! I think you've hit on some really important stuff. The notion that comics, graphic novels, etc provide an altogether different (or at least complementary) set of cognitive skills than traditional novels offer is significant in disrupting the idea that the media is lesser-than or second-class in terms of educational value and literary merit.

Bringing comics in from the educational margins is one of the biggest hurdles I have faced in working with teachers who are either reticent to include alternatives to traditional pedagogy.

I'm really interested to hear how the workshop goes for you.

I'm interested in your focus as far as comics as an educational tool. As a teacher in the workshop, I'd be interested to know how comics provided me something different or unique that other, more traditional methods did not or could not. What are your thoughts regarding what skills, tools, etc that comics, graphic novels provide a teacher and his/her students with that aren't found elsewhere other than they're cool? (Which they are, IMO.)

this post is a little rambling and please if anyone has any thoughts on this I'd love to hear them.


Well I've been trying to read up on Visual Literacy in general, but I'm also looking into the works of Jeffery Wilhelm Reading is Seeing and other forms of the visual imagery and how that relates to both reading comprehension and writing.   


One of the skills that comics bring us is to look at how reader response works, that we all clearly see the same image, and yet a variety of different attitudes and ideas can come about. 


Jeff House has a book called Writing is Dialogue, in which he uses photos and art to help scaffold finding evidence to support your arguments.  Anyone who has written a paper on a comic book knows that using the panels of a comic as support is very different than in a traditional text.  Yes you can write a paper and discuss various ideas and themes of a comic, but to describe the angle of the reader's point of view  and how that gives power over characters is so specific.   This kind of look right here on this page I think could transfer to writing on any other print text very well.


And finally, I think that drawing your own comics (or art in general) can be a great way to help certain students better formulate their ideas.  For example, let's say you are writing a paper on bullying in school.  So you have the student draw out a montage of images that come to mind when they think of bullying.   Then have them focus on one portion of the image that seems most important.  Then draw just that section.   The idea is to find the most relevant ideas.  


To bring comics more into this, you could have students summarize a story by creating exactly six panels of a comic.   That way they're forced to find only the most important details of the story.


I'm heading out of town for a few days, when I get a chance I'll come back to this.  Great Question.  Can't wait to see what other people say.



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