Learning Tools for Critical Thinking

Comics and books, what’s the difference?

Before we talk about Comics as tools for learning we need to properly define what a comic is and discuss the different genres that our learners have access to. To keep it simple, we will go with the definition outlined in How Comics Work by Candida Rifkind and Brandon Christopher;

“Comics are an art form that conveys meaning through a complex combination of text and image through the juxtaposition of those image-texts in sequence.”

Simple right? Comics are complex creations and consist of a number of different contributors including writers’ artists and colorists. Then there are the different styles, not to mention the different layouts. There are also many genres including superhero, historical, horror, science fiction and coming of age comics. Don't forget comic strips, graphic novels, and digital comics. Needless to say there are a lot of choices.

Comics as a teaching tool? Really?

If we take the time to look at what is actually involved in understanding comics we can see how complex they actually are. Although the pictures tell us a story, when text is added in bubbles and boxes the reader must now decode them sequentially and make note that every pen stroke and panel is there intentionally to convey meaning. All of these elements together form complex meanings that the reader must work to decode. This is truly a multi modal experience. Not to mention that comics are fun and interesting to the junior learner and allow for the use and development of a wide range of skills. Comics can also help with higher level thinking (Sequencing, predicting, inferring, synthesizing and analyzing and evaluating)


Now that we know how powerful comics can be as learning tools, how exactly do we integrate them into our classrooms effectively? One way is digital story telling: Students can create a story line and then illustrate it with the appropriate graphics. We could also use comics to introduce a topic and have students brainstorm ideas. Another great idea would be to provide students with a pre-designed comic strip that is missing panels and ask students to fill in the missing panels to complete the story. Comics can also be a tool to approach topics like racism or bullying. If students are interested in creating their own comics their lots of programs that they can use. For older ELL students, Comics are great tools for language learning.

Graphic novels worth noting

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Interested in using comics in your classroom? Here are some links and resources that you might find helpful