Teaching English through the use of Graphic Novels & Comic Strips.

A third portion of my Master’s Degree project was dedicated to teaching English as a second language through the use of comic strips and graphic novels. Therefore, my current Academic Manager asked me to lead a professional development session based on that particular portion. She wanted me to introduce the teachers to the incorporation of this media into their classroom. So I had to revisit and revise my project.

Teaching through Comics is based on the Discourse Approach. An approach that is concerned with teaching language through the use of authentic and real life materials. It is concerned with enhancing student’s pragmatic and communicative competence rather than just their linguistic competence. For example, it teaches register and genre of the discourse, turn taking, grammar structures in context, and the role interlocutor and the social convention of the discourse, etc. Ultimately, students will not only be able to use their declarative knowledge, but will also be able to efficiently gain and apply procedural knowledge in their second or foreign language. 

So why Comics and Graphics? And how do they portray real life-like discourse? According to Steven Cary, Graphic Novels and Comic Strips are highly reduced in speech, therefor they imitate real life conversation. Most of our conversations are bits and pieces of sentences combined with expression and body language. Pictures also deliver the body language needed to express the register and context. He also argues that using them will introduce the second language learner to native-like vocabulary. Therefor, they can help them attain native-like vocabulary skills.

Graphics novels and comic strips can also give students a sense of accomplishment. After finishing the book, students will feel they have read a whole book. It will make them confident. In this day and age, students attention span is significantly short. Therefor, more and more students find it difficult to finish a book. Graphic novels will provide that bridge to more complex reading that will introduce heavy-in-text media gradually. Finally and most importantly, graphic novels and comics are viewed by the majority of people as fun and leisure, contrary to traditional text books. They will lower students’ affective filter. Anxiety will become low. To support what I am saying, a study investigated the effects of graphic novels on critical thinking done by Ching & Fook (2013) showed that graphic novels magnify the skills of critical thinking if implemented in language curricula and model lesson plans. They created their own graphic novel based curriculum to teach 3 groups of students about the Japanese Occupation in Malaysia. The group that incorporated graphic novels and videos scored the highest among their peers. 


My suggestion for lower level students, a teacher must create lesson plans based on the comics that they see fit. He/she might want to create controlled activities to control the learning and results. As for higher levels students, giving them these graphic novels for freestyle reading, then creating critical thinking questions will benefit them better than reading in class. They can read on their own free time and let the novel sync.


FINAL TIPS:

  • Before employing graphic novels, consider the objectives of your course.
  • Examine the graphic novel for level of language appropriateness. For example, large amounts of text can be daunting for lower levels.
  • Choose a comic that is light in jokes, or written by non-native speakers of English. Unless you’re teaching Advanced learners. Then humor is part of the communicative skills you would want to teach.
  • Most of comic strips don’t have a title. Ask your students to come up with a title for a comic strip.
  • Consider the type of comics you intend to employ. Graphic Novels can be used to stir interest in social issues. Relate them to students’ real life.
  • Teaching creative writing through prompts asking students to write alternative endings, preludes or epilogues.
  • You can also ask your students to predict what would happen next in a comic strip. They can verbally tell, or drawing the next frame.

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