This nontraditional type of literature—often dismissed by educators as superficial and shallow—is highly visual, contains complex literary elements, and lends itself to critical examination of moral, ethical, and social issues. B. Norton
The following ideas can be used to help students acquire the literacy skills necessary to understand the unique way in which words and images work in comics and other graphic texts to convey meaning. Immersion into text is always the beginning of reading and production activities in the ELA classroom.
Many of these activities can be adapted to use with students throughout elementary school. As is true with most learning activities it is preferable to have students working in pairs or small groups.
Have students compare a cartoon, comic strip and a page from a graphic novel. What are the similarities? The differences?
Give pairs of students a variety of graphic texts and have them brainstorm the structures and features that help readers make meaning.
Discuss ideas. Help the students understand that comics draw on commonly understood meanings to communicate.
Have them try to illustrate some concepts e.g. heat, cold, surprise etc., with their own ideas.
Because comics are such a highly visual medium it is easy to find examples of symbolism. Students can explore the use of symbolism in comics. What is its purpose? Why is it used?
In small groups have students explore how we use reading strategies for reading graphic texts. See more ideas under Reading Comics.
Students explore how sound is depicted in a graphic novel or comic strip and consider how it contributes to the meaning.
See image for discussion questions.
Students can experiment with their own use of sound effects in a comic panel or strip by producing the same event or scene with or without sound effects.
Students can create a dictionary of comic book words that represent different sound effects. Check out Ka-Boom! A Dictionary of Comic Book Words, Symbols & Onomatopoeia by Kevin J. Taylor
Younger students can compare the way some of their favourite authors, like Robert Munsch, use comic book sound effects in illustrated picture books. Students may use some of these in their own writing.
Students explore examples from graphic texts to discover how the author creates emotion. Encourage them to look beyond the obvious words and facial expressions. For example ask them to look a the shape of word balloons, font styles, symbols, etc. Then ask students try to draw a line that represents an emotion, anger, madness, joy, etc.
Have students create their own original comic strips These can be done by hand or on a computer using a free online comic strip creator.