Comics in the Classroom Part 3: Using Comics with Pupils

In part two of this blog series we looked at how comics can create a gateway to a fully fledged love of reading. Now, it's time to look at the way they can be used to enhance learning and teaching in the classroom!

Lisa Murphy
My talented wife Lisa Murphy is (among many other things) the colorist of all my comics. But in a previous life she worked as an English and Special Needs teacher and made extensive use of comics in her lessons. So I have picked her brains for this post on comics-related learning activities that really work - any really good ideas in the following are almost certainly from her...

Comics and comprehension

Lisa suggests first of all using comics to practice reading for comprehension. Talking about what happened in the story and explaining it to someone who hasn't read it can be a powerful motivator for kids who are engaged with the material. Also, if you are reading an ongoing, serialized story in a weekly comic (like, for example, The Phoenix, the fine publication for which I make CorpseTalk and Lost Tales) you can build exercises around imagining what might happen in the next episode. This also allows for discussion of story techniques like foreshadowing, cliffhangers and so on. 

Comics and writing 

Comics are also great for developing writing abilities. Given some basic guidance, many kids who would struggle to write even a small short story or essay will dive right into drawing a comic. One idea Lisa suggests is to have kids draw their story as a comic first, then try using their own comic as the basis for a piece of prose. Have them go through the comic and write a paragraph about what is happening in each panel. This is particularly great for kids who have trouble organizing their thoughts for a longer piece of writing, as the comic structure intuitively shows them how sentences and paragraphs work to divide up narrative ideas. This exercise works well, not only for creative writing but also for narrative non-fiction like "What I did in the summer holidays".

This can work really well across the curriculum - asking kids to create a short comic is a great way to test and cement underdstanding in almost any topic. And of course reading a fantastic non-fiction comic is a great way to introduce material in an engaging and sticky way. Like, for example -ahem- the excellent CorpseTalk, which introduces the life and context of a whole host of historical characters. But there are now piles of great non-fiction comics and more published every day - keep watching the site for a reading list coming very soon!

Image for CorpseTalk, introducing the reanimated corpse of Elizabeth the First

From CorpseTalk, introducing Elizabeth I

Image for CorpseTalk, chatting to Shakespear's reanimated corpse about the tricky language in his plays

From CorpseTalk, taking Shakespeare to task over his use of strange words

From CorpseTalk, talking the divine right of kings with Oliver Cromwell

From CorpseTalk, talking the beauty and power of numbers with Ada Lovelace

Comics and autism

One other thought: In her work as a one-to-one tutor, Lisa also made extensive use of comics for kids with autism. She got frustrated with the bog-standard symbols she was using and began drawing her own simple cartoons. She was drawing dozens of quick sketches every day to remind a kid about upcoming schedule items, to explain his homework plan, to go over social stories, or to translate the contents of a general lesson into a medium he could process, all using simple cartoons.

Ok, you may be thinking, that all sounds very nifty but what about people who can't draw? How am I supposed to draw a comic explaining conjugating French verbs or whatever (yes - I am quite confident you can do this and it will be awesome), or guide my kids through creating one, when I can't even draw a straight line? Well fear not! First of all, straight lines are totally overrated. And second of all, the next post in this blog series will be my top tips to transform even the most timid straight-line obsessive into a veritable comic-book Leonardo! 

You can now read part 4 of this series, where Adam talks about drawing comics, or check out the whole series by clicking on the 'comics for literacy with Adam Murphy' blog tag.

Check out our graphic novel book lists for a wide range of recommendations for all ages.

Comic duo the Etherington Brothers have a fabulous Authors Live event on our site available to watch on demand, exploring the process of creative writing.

Top image from Star Cat by James Turner in The Phoenix comic

Adam Murphy

Adam Murphy is a Glasgow-based comics artist. A regular contributor to The Phoenix weekly comics magazine, he is the creator of Corpse Talk, the comic-book chat show in which he interviews the dead famous from history, and Lost Tales in which he re-discovers and re-interprets forgotten folktales from around the world. Corpse Talk Season 1 and Season 2, and Lost Tales are published by David Fickling Books.