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Tip of the Week: 15 resources for using comics in the social studies

It was part three of the four part 2017-2018 ESSDACK social studies PLC. We get together throughout the year to share ideas, ask questions, discover new resources, and eat some awesome food.

Last Wednesday it was more of the same. Valentine’s Day cupcakes. 3-D glasses. And comics. Lots and lots of comics.

I’ve always loved comics. I lean a bit more to things like Calvin & Hobbes and Doonesbury rather than the Marvel and DC universes that my kids love. But no matter what I was reading – growing up or now – I’ve always been intrigued with the idea of visual storytelling.

So it shouldn’t be a surprise that I’ve also intrigued with the idea of using comics and graphic novels as part of social studies instructional design. And Wednesday, the group nerded out with some great conversation about what that can look like.

We started by doing some basic action research in the pros and cons of comics and graphic novels. And then broke up into a couple of groups – one representing classroom teachers and one representing concerned parents – each spending some time creating a case for and against the use of comics as teaching tools. Those two larger groups then jigsawed back into smaller groups with both teachers and parents included.

We used a variation of the Structured Academic Controversy discussion activity – one that I especially like because it encourages the art of civil discourse. And it really encourages kids to look at questions from multiple perspectives. After our SAC, I think we all came to the agreement that we should be using comics and graphic novels. I especially enjoyed hearing all of the great conversations about possible uses.

The best part of the morning? We got about 30 minutes of conversation with Tim Smyth.

Tim is @historycomics on Twitter and a true superhero in the graphic novel / comics as teaching tools world. A high school teacher in Pennsylvania, Tim’s room is packed with comics, posters, and memorabilia. And his teaching toolbelt is full of ideas for how using comics might look in the classroom.

He shared some sample comics and described some of the comic books he uses in his instruction. We had time for a few quick questions and he was back with students. Even though we had just a few minutes with Tim, I was super impressed with his passion for using tools and strategies that he knew connected with students. And afterwards, the room was buzzing with ideas and possibilities.

Some quick takeaways from our conversation:

  • Have kids make their own comics using Pixton and Hero Machine.
  • Amazon is a great place to find inexpensive comics. And always check local comic book stores.
  • You need to teach kids how to “read” a graphic novel and other forms of visual literature. (We created a Google Doc with tons of resources that can help with that.)
  • Be aware of the “power of visuals.” What might be acceptable as fictional text can become inappropriate to parents and admins when read in a graphic novel format.
  • Just like other forms of literature, comics and graphic novels are a “reflection of our society” and can be seen as both primary and secondary sources.
  • Find other teachers to talk with. Tim suggested joining the Comic Book Teachers Facebook group.

Get more of the awesomeness that is Tim at his History Comics site and be sure to explore his list of comics and graphics novels organized by social studies content areas.

Need something small to start with? Try Pop Culture Classroom’s How to Teach with Comics. You get three sections – how to read a comic, explaining comics to parents and administrators, and how to use comics to teach.

Need more? We’ve got more. I mentioned our Google Doc – it’s two pages chock-full of research, resources, teaching ideas, lists, and comic creation tools. Head over there to explore all of those goodies.

Have fun!


4 Comments Post a comment
  1. History Tech,

    I really liked reading this post, I feel that this is a great idea to have students create a comic strip, by having them do something this engaging it will help them to learn some material and have fun at the same time. I also think that using comics in a lesson is a great idea, kids love comics, well at least I did and still do, don’t get to read as much of them as I used too, but that is neither here nor there. Anyway, good post, I really enjoyed reading this and I think it is a great idea to add to a classroom. Thanks for sharing.

    Peter Hernandez III

    February 25, 2018
    • glennw #

      You’re right, comics can be the double edged sword – kids can consume them for content or create them as assessments. So powerful in so many ways!

      Thanks for the comments!


      February 26, 2018

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