Background reading: What are graphic novels and how might I use them in my classroom?

Graphic novels take a number of forms, but can be described loosely as book-length comics. Graphic novels can be compendiums of comics that have each been published separately in true comic book form (e.g., Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" series, or Alan Moore's "Watchman" series); they can be episodic publications that include that period's latest installments of a range of ongoing comics series (e.g.,Shonen Jump); they can be full-length novels designed as novels, too, and which in turn can be a series (e.g., Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, and Joe Sacco's Palestin; Bill willingham, Mark Buckingham and Steve Leialoha's Fables series).

Graphic novels require a range of interpretive strategies not necessarily required for reading everyday prose-type texts (e.g., being able to infer action between panels; being able to read particular illustrations conventions, such as "emanata" and "symbolia". For more, see comics vocabulary). Despite the complexity of graphic novels, many students typically identified s "struggling" readers have little trouble reading reading them.

To learn more about grpahic novels, the following resources will prove useful.


Practical Teaching Resources


Free online graphic novels and manga

As with all resources we use with our students, the following texts need to be read carefully and decisions made about how controversial or confrontational texts can be in our classroom. The following recommendations may contain strong language or violent scenes that some readers may find offensive; other readers will find such things integral to the story being told. What follows is nothing more than a list of possible resources.


And don't forget National Free Comic Book Day in the U.S., either.


Important figures in the graphic novel/manga/comic world



Fans and manga

Fans of manga often like to extend the pleasure of the text into their own writing and imaginative work. This can include writing fan fiction (or fanfics), creating anime music videos (or AMVs), and participating in fan art affinity spaces.

Rebecca Black provides a good introduction to fanfic in her article, Publishing and Participation in Online Affinity Spaces

Fanfics devoted to manga and anime series can be found at:

Manga and anime fan art can be found at:

Anime msuic videos can be found at:

Create your own Yu-Gi-Oh! playing cards here:


Manga and strategy card games

Many students also master complex strategy card games at a startingly early age. James Paul Gee's article, Lucidly Functional Language , talks about how the rich context established by the game (and by manga books, television shows, etc.) helps children to understand and use complex terms and strategies as they play.

Here are some resources pertaining to strategy games that will give you some insights into these games:


Classroom project ideas

  • Have students collaboratively write fan fiction based on a graphic novel or manga. They could use a collaborative writing space like Google Docs to write their narrative (final narratives can be posted to this wiki if your school filter blocks host sites like Fanfiction.net). Middle School students often use instant messaging or chat to role play their narratives first nd this might be something to consider building in, too.
  • Use Comic Life (ships free with newer Macs) or download a free trial version of Comic Book Creator 2 (PC) for students to use to create responses to, or commentaries upon, a graphic novel or manga
  • Have students create an Instructables procedural text to help adults read manga effectively.
  • Have students use iMovie or Windows Movie Maker to create trailers for hypothetical movies based on a graphic novel or manga.
  • Have students try out the comic strip activities designed by Adrian Bruce at "Make a cartoon of your favorite joke".