How Do Comic Books Promote Students' Literacy Skills?

Comic books encourage reading skills by combining text and pictures to help create meaning.
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The use of comics in the classroom has grown in the last decade. While students love these colorful tomes filled with graphically colored superheroes and provocative thought balloons, parents wonder if they really do help children improve their literacy skills. Research done by not only writing and literacy experts but also instructional design proponents makes a strong argument for graphic novels and comics as a means to develop literacy.

1 Reading

Reluctant readers benefit a great deal from comics, according to Scholastic. Students in these groups fall into several categories. Some have not acquired grade-level reading skills. Others do not speak English as their first language.

Their ability to engage with comics in a way that they don't with traditional books may have to do with the pairing of words and pictures. Allan Paivio, Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University of Western Ontario, formulated a learning model called dual coding theory. Studies that apply this theory in experiments have found that people better comprehend and remember what they read when they have not only words but also accompanying graphics to help them make sense of a written text.

2 Writing Comics

Teachers don't just teach literature with comics; they also encourage their students to develop writing skills as well. According to an article by Ed Finkel on the Edutopia website, having students create their own comics gives them a chance to develop skills in storytelling and writing, and these students also become better listeners.

This may be related to the collaborative nature with which some organizations approach teaching comics. For example, the organization the Comic Book Project has kids in its program work in groups to develop all aspects of a comic from brainstorming to the drafting of illustrations and stories.

3 Skill Sets

Teachers have discovered that writing comics creates an avenue for students to develop important skills in reading, writing, spelling and vocabulary building. Students also get a better grasp on harder-to-teach concepts such as point of view. Finally, through the use of comics, they also learn about literary devices, which helps them to create engaging plots and write better dialogue for their characters.

4 Classics and Culture

In the classroom, teachers replace superheroes with classic works of literature such as the plays of Shakespeare or the writings of Ray Bradbury. This opens these timeless tales up to readers who might otherwise have no interest in reading these stories. These stories impart important cultural literacy concepts also but put them into a form that students might more readily embrace.

Buffy Naillon has worked in the media industry since 1999, contributing to Germany's "Der Spiegel" magazine and various websites. She received a bachelor's degree in German from Boise State University. Naillon also attended New York University and participated in the foreign exchange program at Germany's Saarland University. She is completing her master's degree in educational technology at Boise State.