Publish at March 07 2023 Updated March 07 2023

The use of comics to teach

Awakening the superhero in every student

Reading is a great thing. However, school quickly separates good reading from "bad" reading. Classic novels are highly recommended far more than popular works touching on fantasy, science fiction and the like. Comic books are even more often relegated to being second-rate reading for children. Yet these preconceived notions about the ninth art do not take into account the educational possibilities of the world's creations.

Already, to associate comics with simply children's literature would be to omit the multiple graphic novels available that, on the contrary, are even more aimed at an adult audience. Whether it's the story of the Holocaust with Maus or the Iranian Islamic Revolution with Persepolis, very pointed subjects can be addressed by books, sometimes true masterpieces.

One noticed effect of comics is of course a greater motivation to read. Yet, using comics allows learners to effectively retain information. A study published in 2015 showed that participants who absorbed information through a comic book panel understood better than those who only read it in text format.

Superman, a supereducator?

It should not be assumed, however, that only graphic novels are pedagogically interesting. Even comic books, those famous American comics featuring superheroes, harbor educational potential. Obviously, the use of creations featuring popular protagonists found in movies and series has a great appeal to youth. Yet, this art offers an interesting grid of analysis since the use of colors, particular phylacteries and the like all have importance in conveying an idea and emotion. This is the ninth art's version of figures of speech.

Even more so, we should not forget that Marvel and DC were quick to grasp that this literature was aimed in part at children and so used superheroes to instill good health habits, for example. Denis the Mischief was used to address the issue of dangerous products in the domestic sphere so that children understand not to consume what they don't know.

Some historical figures have appeared in comic books. Think of the first issue of Captain America where he gave Adolf Hitler a solid right in a context where the United States had no desire to get involved in the conflict. The X-Men have often been seen as a way for Jack Kirby and Stan Lee to address the struggles of racial or sexual minorities.

Uniquely these elements point to many possible reading and discussion opportunities with students. Yet other more personal elements also enter into the balance of benefits.

For many children, comic books have given them an escape from reality, a belief in their potential, etc. Teacher Tim Smyth is one of those people who sees the emancipatory power of comics. He was able through this art to introduce his two daughters to strong female role models that they could learn from. His son, labelled as a "boy who doesn't like reading", plunged head first into reading more and more demanding works thanks to his father. He will affirm that the comic strips are only the continuity of pictorial achievements. After all, isn't the Bayeux Tapestry a huge comic book fresco in which William the Conqueror's conquest of the English throne is told?

Integrating comics into the classroom

How do you integrate comics into the classroom? Of course, providing them is already a good way so that curious students will start reading and discussing them. A prior analysis of the works by the teacher then allows for the combination of ninth art titles with historical, language, social, etc. concepts.

Tools for creating them online can also be a good way to stimulate learners' creativity and address a variety of themes related to the course. They could design superheroes based on characters from history using, among other things, this software, which, however, requires a Flash player that can be used outside of a browser.

For that matter, some haven't waited to add a superheroic touch to material. "Solution Squad" picks up the imagery to address math questions through heroes with gifts of mental calculations, equations, the Pythagorean theorem and more. Researchers and teachers have been able to test physics principles by drawing on the talents and equipment of popular characters such as Iron Man, Captain America, Batman, etc.

Finally, in the United States, groups and organizations are helping teachers incorporate popular works into their pedagogy. Comics4Culture literally offers teaching resources and suggestions for comics to use in the classroom. Bat City Comic Professionals uses the ninth art in creative workshops for students, provides comics to schools and curriculums based on the comic universe.

There are a few such initiatives in the French-speaking world, such as "La BD en classe." The dossier Éduscol gives a good overview of these, and there is nothing to stop some people from taking inspiration from what is happening in Uncle Sam's country to propose Canadian, French, Congolese, Belgian and other versions.

Photo credit:


"3 Ways to Use Comics & Superheroes to Teach Social Studies." Pop Culture Classroom. Last updated August 31, 2022.

Aleixo, Paul. "How the Humble Comic Book Could Become the Next Classroom Superhero." The Conversation. Last updated March 2, 2017.

Bat City Comic Professionals. Accessed March 2, 2023.

Comics 4 Culture. Accessed March 2, 2023.

Dubé, Marianne. "La Bande Dessinée S'invite Sur Les Bancs D'école." Montreal Campus. Last updated April 19, 2022.

HeroMachine Character Portrait Creator. Accessed March 2, 2023.

Kharbach, Med. "Tips and Tools to Help You Integrate Comic Strips in Teaching." Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. Last updated May 25, 2022.

McClain, Jim. "Using Comics and Superheroes to Teach Math." The Science Of. Last updated June 17, 2020.

McDonald, Lisa. "Video: Superheroes Inspire Learning in Both the Classroom and Laboratory." The American Ceramic Society. Last updated September 17, 2021.

Miller, Andrew. "Using Graphic Novels and Comics in the Classroom." Edutopia. Last updated January 11, 2012.

Pasquantonio, Victoria. "Educator Voice: How Teaching with Comics Gives Kids the Superheroes They Desperately Need." PBS NewsHour Classroom. Last updated October 22, 2022.

Roth, Ginny A. "Making A Case for Comic Books in the Classroom." Circulating Now from NLM. Last updated September 23, 2022.

National Publishing Union. Comics in the Classroom

Eduscol File - Comics in the Classroom

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