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How Teachers Engage Reluctant Readers with Classroom Comics

two students reading classroom comics

“Comics are a gateway drug to literacy.”Art Spiegelman

Comic book, graphic novel, sequential art. Whatever you call it, this ancient medium is in the middle of cultural resurgence. Superhero movies are breaking box-office records, literary authors like Margaret Atwood are writing comics, and publishers like Image and Marvel have made headlines with increasingly diverse and critically-acclaimed offerings for all ages.But comics have a lingering bad reputation and aren’t considered “serious” literature in many circles. Many teachers are pushing back on this stigma, finding new and creative ways to use classroom comics. Comics provide a great opportunity to engage students who have trouble reading traditional literature, and to help all students connect the books they’re reading in class to the culture that surrounds them.Here’s how a few DonorsChoose.org teachers are using comics in the classroom.

Encouraging Reluctant Readers with TOON Books

Two students read a TOON book together

Ms. Godefroid knows many of her 4th graders don’t have reading materials available at home, so her classroom library is an important tool to build their love of reading. Even her struggling students loved to take home the comics and graphic novels she already had on her shelves, so she created a project for a collection of TOON Books to beef up her collection.

"My reluctant readers absolutely love graphic novels. I can't get these books in their hands quick enough. These books are brightly colored and highly engaging to students, yet they are becoming even more fluent readers, all while increasing their comprehension."

Teachers can take advantage of this match offer sponsored by TOON Books to help build their own classroom comic library.

Mrs. Cox and her students March their way to learning

Congressman John Lewis talks with students

Teachers across the country have used Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis’s New York Times best-selling graphic memoir March in their classroom, but Mrs. Cox, a Utah high school teacher, had a unique opportunity: the chance to meet Congressman Lewis in person. To prepare, she created two separate DonorsChoose.org projects to fund copies of March for her students, one project for Volume 1 and another for Volume 2.

"John Lewis helped change history, and now my students and I have the chance to learn about him and to shake his hand. We will engage in reading, writing, research, speaking, and more with the goal of being as informed as we can possibly before meeting this man I know none of us will ever forget."

Mr. Shulkin connects superheroes with myths and folklore

left: a classroom of students reading comics right: a single student reading comics

With two-thirds of his students speaking something other than English as their first language, Worcester’s Mr. Shulkin needed a creative way to introduce myths, legends, and folklore to his 9th graders. He turned to, in his words, mythology’s “natural contemporary parallel”: superheroes. Once his project was fully funded, his students got the chance to read classics like V for Vendetta and modern takes on the genre like Ms. Marvel.

"My students have taken to concepts like allegory and archetype much quicker than normal because of these books, and next week will be using various literary theory lenses to analyze the X-Men. Not only is my students' engagement in class higher than past years, but so is their excitement to take on a new project or essay topic."

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