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Why comic books can make your students smarter

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Sarang Padhye
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A revolution is taking place across our schools. Comic books, once disregarded as too superficial to rival the intellectual rigour of “real” books, are gaining an increased level of respectability across our classrooms. This is in response to a growing body of research which has shown comic books help increase children’s vocabulary, listening and comprehension skills: three cornerstones of early literacy development.

While comic books used to be seen as a classroom menace, attitudes are changing as more and more teachers are recognising its value as a teaching tool in education. In fact, the Common Core State Standards for scholastic achievement now explicitly recommends that teachers should incorporate comic books into their classrooms. So, what has caused this cultural change and how can teachers incorporate comics into their classrooms?

How comic books promote literacy development

The sea change in attitude has taken place because comic books have been proven to have built-in advantages to improve literacy development. Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, comic books excite the interest of young readers. Rather than being confronted with pages of dense text, comic book burst with bright, attention-grabbing imagery. These dynamic short stories are packed with action, and their superhero protagonists are aspirational. This format can motivate even the most reluctant children who typically prefer online media, as they can be pulled into the story by their visual appeal.

Comics can especially be helpful stories for kids who typically struggle with learning the language. The pairing of visual and written plotlines provides contextual tools that can help foster word recognition but can also increase children’s confidence as the illustrations allow children to comprehend the plot even when they can’t decipher every word. Rachael Sawyer Perkins, an elementary school teacher and comic book writer based in California, explains “for students who lack the ability to visualize as they read, comic books provide a graphic sense that approximates what good readers do as they read.

Strategies for incorporating comic books into the classroom

Given the advantages of using comics to develop literacy skills, teachers are now learning to exploit the genre as a powerful teaching resource. There are lots of different ways that comic books can be incorporated into the classroom, that extend far beyond simply getting children to read quietly.

For example, teachers can encourage students to draw their own comics, using new vocabulary they have learnt. Not only will this increase their understanding of the new words they’ve learnt, but it will also present an opportunity to develop their creative writing skills.

Another innovative method to develop literacy skills is through playing a jigsawpuzzle style class activity. In this activity, students are presented with a comic strip cut apart and they are tasked with putting it back together in the correct order. This develops a range of crucial literacy skills, including developing an understanding of plot sequencing, as well as getting children to think critically. Indeed, there are a plethora of ways that comic books can be used to educate and engage children in a classroom setting.

Building support for comic books in schools

While comic books are being used increasingly as a teaching tool across the globe, the attitude that “comic books aren’t real books” still lingers in some corners of the teaching profession. To overcome this bias, teachers must first articulate their rationale for the use of comic books in their classroom, which will in turn boost student engagement and exam results.

But despite some resistance, it is clear that comic books are no longer disregarded by the majority. Teachers only use what works. And as more and more educators share their success stories of using comics in the classroom, their usage is rapidly set to expand.

However, it is time that teachers embraced comics as a positive teaching and learning tool. Proactive educators are leading a quiet revolution in our classrooms that will ultimately enable the next generation to develop strong literacy skills alongside a love of literature.

Recognising this change, content producers for children are stepping up to provide comics that teachers can use to educate and entertain their students. One such superhero is Aychu, an environmental warrior who loves plants, flowers and all things green. Although she is shy, Aychu shines when she stands up for what she believes in: the environment. Guided by principles and by a strong moral compass, this “Guardian of the Green” can teach kids important moral values, as well as literacy skills.

Aychu’s E-comics can be purchased on the following platforms – Google Play, Amazon, iBooks Store,and Kobo. Parents and educators can also stay up to date with the latest news about the green superhero by subscribing to Aychu’s regular blogs, and following her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Sarang Padhye
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