Comics in the classroom bring literacy learning to life

Issue: Volume 100, Number 12

Posted: 23 September 2021
Reference #: 1HAPqK

A new resource is giving teachers the tools they need to bring comics and graphic novels to life in the classroom, giving learners a new pathway to quality literacy learning.

Miri and Raru by Dylan Horrocks, in School Journal Level 3 October 2015.

Miri and Raru by Dylan Horrocks, in School Journal Level 3 October 2015.

Comics are one of the fastest-growing text formats and are a popular choice for students.

They frequently increase student motivation and engagement as they offer an exciting alternative to more traditional articles and stories. They also provide many opportunities for students to develop their close-reading skills, including inferencing, critical thinking and sequencing.

Over the past 10 years, over 20 comics have been published across the Instructional Series (the Junior Journal, the School Journal and the School Journal Story Library), reflecting the growing recognition and appreciation of comics as a valid and engaging literacy form.

While comics have been accepted as a valuable literacy resource, teachers may not know how to use them effectively in their classroom programmes. When used with explicit teacher instruction, comics offer new opportunities for students to develop the literacy skills needed to meet the reading and writing demands of the curriculum.

Supporting teacher confidence

A new Teacher Support Material (TSM) resource has been developed by Lift Education E Tū LTD for the Ministry of Education to support the School Journal Series.

The purpose of this TSM is to help teachers feel more confident, informed and assured about using comics in the classroom, particularly those published as part of the Instructional Series.

Many comics published in the School Journal series have corresponding TSMs that outline specific activities and supporting strategies for that text. The Reading Comics TSM brings all of those strategies together in one place.

The TSM offers teachers and students support on how to read, respond to, and think critically about comics by unpacking the artform’s conventions, metalanguage, visual and written features, and how words and pictures work together to convey meaning.

The resource was trialled during its development and was reviewed by teachers from Owhiro Bay School, Miller Ave School, Northland School, Kenakena, Porirua School, Kilbirnie School and Newtown School. Reading Comics received a very positive response from teachers and they found the resources to be accessible, engaging, and informative.

This TSM will support teachers to make the best use of comics and graphic novels in their classroom literacy programmes.

The Reading Comics TSM is available at TKI online.(external link)


Visual learning: Comics can be found in many School Journals, and on Te Kete Ipurangi online.

Visual learning: Comics can be found in many School Journals, and on Te Kete Ipurangi online.

Porirua School finds value in comics

Lyndsay Patten is a teacher at Porirua School, and also the senior school team lead. She says the senior schools works closely together and uses a shared planning space to create and share resourcesand ideas.

“I started exploring the use of comics to support literacy learning last year and have shared this with the team. The other teachers have started exploring the different texts and resources this year and are beginning to use the texts when they fit with our inquiry focus.”

The texts she has most enjoyed with the with tamariki have been, Te Tiriti o Waitangi, Miri and Raru and TheBittern.

Education Gazette talked to Lyndsay about her experience in using the new Reading Comics TSM.

What is the importance of a resource which offers new opportunities to develop literacy skills?

It’s crucial that we are exploring new resources and ways of teaching and learning in literacy, so our learners are exposed to a range of different texts and purposesto explore and critically examine.

In order to do this well, teachers do need guidance and support to make the most of the new resource and also to allow for the continual development of our own knowledge and skills.

How does this help with engagement and learning?

Opening a text and seeing a ‘wall of words’ as some of my learners describe it, can be very confronting. However, when they open the text and discover that we are reading a comic, their whole interaction with the text and the lesson changes.

They’re still doing the decoding work they would with any other text, but by having the words so strongly supported by the visual aspects of the text, they are able to draw on their strengths of inference and making meaning from images to support their understanding of what the text says.

They enjoy ‘telling the story’ by first examining the images and visual features, and making predictions and inferences about the characters and plot naturally as they discuss what is happening with their peers.

They feel more confident thinking critically about the text, offering ideas such as, ‘I don’t think his face should look like that, he’s only just found that out, he should be more confused’ – showing they’re closely examining the choices the author/illustrator has made.

They are then more than ready to start reading the text and find themselves far more successful at decoding unfamiliar words, and using contextual cues to help make meaning of the languageused.

I am seeing these learners carry these skills and confidence into other text types which is exciting to see!

Did you use comic books in the classroom before? If so, are you finding the TSM helpful?

I did not previously use comic books in the classroom. However, the resource from the Ministry has been incredibly helpful to upskill my own knowledge and to helpmake the purpose for reading very clear for my learners.

In taking part in reviewing the comic support material, I discovered that these rich resources existed and were high-level texts in terms of themes or messages, and the typical text challenge of traditional narratives had been removed which allowed for more of my learners to access and discuss these more complex themes.

How do you approach learning through comic books, and theartform’s conventions, metalanguage, visual and written features?

I have made up visual feature cards that name the feature e.g. speech bubbles, and include a brief explanation of their purpose (information from the TKI resource), and an example.

We then use these cards when we are first exploring a comic to do a scavenger hunt; this is to identify and notice these features and also practise using this new language which allows the students to speak confidently about what they have noticed.

I also split the group up so children are looking at one or two pages with a buddy and just focus on the illustrations and the choices that have been made with the illustrations, like colour or facial expressions. This allows them to start making connections between the choices the author/illustrator has made and what they are trying to show us.

To prompt this, I ask a lot of ‘why do you think they ...’ type questions and allow students to respond. The best way to do this has been to print A3-sized copies of the pages and give the children sticky notes to annotate their thinking on.

Something else I have tried is a picture and text match up – I blocked out the text on a page and then had students insert the text where they think it should go. This encouraged them to think about the sequence of the text and to make clear that the text and visual features are very closely linked. 

school journal

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:15 am, 23 September 2021

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