Looking for an idea to encourage reading? Try comic books!

Struggling to encourage reading? I found the solution on Twitter. I watch social media closely and it's my job to share some of the hot topics on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other outlets that teachers, principals, students, and parents are contributing.

Do your students hate reading? Need some help? I found a great way to encourage reading thanks to New Tech Network‘s Twitter account. They posted an article on the Huffington Post written by a teacher named Dallas Rico about how he uses comics to encourage his students to read. He doesn't suggest you replace classic literature with comic books, but rather to use it as a starting point, to get students' toes wet and make them thirst for more.

Let's face it. Books such as The Scarlet Letter and plays similar to Romeo and Juliet are still around for a reason, but they're never going to get reluctant readers excited about reading. They are full of difficult to understand language and were written during a time that expected people to have more patience. Even “more exciting” or “relatable” works that are often fan favorites in classrooms, such as Fahrenheit 451  or Catcher in the Rye, will fail to get stubborn students excited about reading because they have a preexisting a negative attitude and may not get farther than page 1 before deciding the book is boring. In order to get reluctant students to care about classic works, you have to start with something more obviously exciting — yup…  comics.

As stated above, Rico isn't suggesting you throw out To Kill a Mockingbird for Superman. The literary works discussed in classrooms are chosen because they cover an important part of history, tackle difficult topics, have language you have to work through to understand, offer interesting perspectives on the world, and many other reasons that, when stated, will only drive reluctant readers further and further away. Some people might get excited over things like that, but most reluctant readers will file that under “boring,” “difficult,” or “I'll just SparkNote it.” So you have to give them something they'll associate with positive things before they even open the cover. That's where comics work.


encourage reading

Comics might get a reluctant student excited where a traditional novel might not. This is more accurate than ever thanks to the recent boom of superhero movies (as most well-known comics are superhero based), taking traditionally fringe culture into the mainstream.

According to Rico, there's academic ways to use comics too. Many people associate comics with phrases like “Bang!” written in pop-art style as Batman punches the Joker. And, granted, there is a lot of that in comic books, but that's not all they are. There are many comics you could even use to generate meaningful classroom discussion. For example, Persepolis is an autobiography about an Iranian girl growing up during the Islamic Revolution. Another famous example is the Maus series, a comic about a Holocaust survivor in Nazi Germany. A class could do a course on them just as easily as you could on one of the more traditional selections for high school reading.

Rico also states comics will help encourage reading in boys in particular, which is great. We need to encourage more reading in our young men. But there are lots of stubborn female readers too. So what do you do about them if they don't care about Spiderman or even Wonder Woman (or boys who don't for that matter)? Well, the market for comics is far more vast than most people realize. Japan has an unbelievably massive amount of comics (called manga) in an extremely wide range (seriously, everything from cooking to sports to psychological thrillers and everything in between) that are easily accessible in the West. They even have an entire genre of manga aimed specifically at young women (shoujo) and one for young men too (shonen). Some of these titles, like Attack on Titan, sell in the multi-millions per issue in Japan. Europe also publishes a large number of graphic novels and comics. If you're really interested in using stories told through sequential art, then I'd advise getting a well rounded group of them to keep on your shelves so you'll have something for almost everyone.

Do you have any favorite comics/manga/graphic novels? Have you ever in the past turned a reluctant reader into an avid one using comics? What are some other ways you've convinced reluctant readers to read?

Tori Pakizer is the Social Media Editor at SimpleK12.com. She writes regularly about the use of educational technology in K-12 classrooms, and specializes in how teachers use Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and other social media. You can follow Tori and SimpleK12 on Twitter @SimpleK12. If you have ideas for using social media in schools, please send your information or tip to editor@simplek12.com.