Picture It: Comics As Teaching Tool

10 December 2013 31,701 views No Comment

Comics are educationally effective because they create a story (Mallia, 2007). Narrative is a powerful tool in teaching, and provides necessary context for a learner to assimilate the new information into existing cognitive schemas (Nelson, 1989). Since comics are meant to be humorous and entertaining, they can use fantasy to simulate scenarios where a certain concept has been taken to the extreme – sometimes the best way to really understand the uniqueness and limitations of a new concept.

Because they are primarily visual, comics are appealing to younger children who might shudder at the thought of a page full of text. Also, sometimes a picture really is worth 1,000 words and illustrations can make a concept clear in much less time than text. Text and illustrations can work hand in hand where one medium extends the other; comics tend to use both media to good effect. Stories also tap into the affective, or emotional, component of learning, which is another way to add context and increase motivation (Egan, 1989).

An example of using narrative to show concepts in a relevant context is the graphic novel by Flat World Knowledge called Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed (http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/node/15264). It is a novel about a young man in business school, learning about business, and trying to apply concepts to his own life – with mixed results. It is meant to be used in business class, and shows students not only how what they are learning is relevant to business, but also to their daily lives.

The comics Constitution Construction (http://www.chestercomix.com/constitution-construction/) show the difficulties involved in creating laws for a new state and many of the complexities that are involved. This is a difficult thing to teach, but by integrating the principles into a story form and showing the progression that it might take based on the interactions between people, the comic is able to explain a difficult concept in a simple way. The illustrations show what can happen when a principle is taken to an extreme, for example when a crab is sent to prison for worshiping a crab instead of a god, and humor serves both to gain the reader’s attention and also to drive home the point – for instance, when Lockezan wants to protect his property, the tiger makes fun of him because he does not own any property other than his loincloth. This opens it up for Lockezan to talk about what the basic definition of property is and how it applies to individuals, without confusing the reader with a complicated discussion of transactions and ownership. It also keeps the discussion informal and friendly, which makes it easier for the reader to relax and therefore learn better.


Atlas Black: Managing to Succeed. Graphic novel published by Flat World Knowledge.     http://www.flatworldknowledge.com/node/15264

Constitution Construction, retrieved from http://www.chestercomix.com/constitution-construction/

Egan, K. (1989). Memory, Imagination, and Learning. Retrieved November 22, 2010, from     http://www.jstor.org.libproxy.boisestate.edu/sici?sici=0031-    7217%281989%2970%3A6%3C455%3AMIALCB%3E2.0.CO%3B2-    A&origin=serialsolutions&

Mallia, G. (2007) Learning from the sequence: The use of comics in instruction. ImageTexT:     Interdisciplinary Comics Studies, 3(3). Dept of English, University of Florida. Retrieved on 11     Mar 2011 from http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v3_3/mallia/.

Nelson, O. (1989). Storytelling: Language Experience for Meaning Making. The Reading Teacher,     42(6), 386-390.

Elisa teaches online professional development courses for teachers at teachertechtraining.com.
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