If you want to get kids reading – particularly those who try and avoid it – you might want to try a comic book or graphic novel, according to the former Comics Laureate for Great Britain.
Dave Gibbons, the illustrator of the best-selling graphic novel of all time, Watchmen, believes now, more than ever, young people are keen to embrace more visual mediums.
“In today’s very visual world, the pictorial qualities and cinematic structure of graphic texts have a particular attraction to young people,” he explains. “Graphic texts have visual appeal, not only on the covers but on every page and every panel, attracting the reader’s attention and propelling them forward through the narrative.”
Putting his money where his mouth is, Gibbons – who was replaced by The Walking Dead artist Charlie Adlard as Comics Laureate in October – has been working as a series editor on Oxford University Press’ Project X Origins Graphic Texts. The series presents classic stories and poetry in a new format – designed to develop children’s comprehension and motivate them to read.
How should you use high-quality graphic texts in the classroom? Gibbons has some tips from his experience consulting with teachers for this series and feedback from the books being trialled in schools. Here's the four main things to remember, in his own words.
1. Embrace it as a different kind of text
"One of the many great things about graphic texts is the opportunity to explore the choice of 'shot' (ie, camera angles used), the colour palette, the interaction between the characters, what is shown in a scene, what’s not shown, in a way that just isn’t possible in a regular narrative.
"And then there’s the intensity of the language: every word on every page, in every frame, will have been carefully chosen to make the most impact as economically as possible, but far from diluting the narrative, this selectivity energises it."
2. Get students to create their own graphic texts
“One of the most fun activities relating to graphic texts that you can try in the classroom is to get children to make their own mini graphic text. Give children some pre-ruled pages with, say, six panel boxes and ask them to tell a story as a graphic text.
“It can be something that happened to them, a story they‘ve been told, a joke, something from a film, TV or a game. Even simple stick figures and basic faces can tell a good story and be very expressive and entertaining.
“Lots of students find it really fun thinking about all of the movie-style shots and angles: long shots, close-ups and changing locations etc. They can also play lots of different roles – not only can they pretend to be the movie director, but the writer, the casting director and set designer, and the wonderful thing is that, unlike movies, their budget is unlimited."
3. Encourage reading of comics and graphic texts at home
“A recent Ofcom study reported children are spending a huge 15 hours per week online. So directing children towards highly illustrative ebooks, comics and graphics texts on their tablets can be a really good way to encourage them to keep reading both on and off screen. You can access four Project X Graphic Texts titles for free on Oxford Owl for Home.”
4. Use them as a gateway to different types of text
Graphic texts can offer children an alternative way to access texts that they may have dismissed as ‘boring’ or ‘difficult’ in the past. For example, I helped develop the Project X Origins Graphic Texts to provide a new way for children to explore classics, non-fiction, and poetry.”