In "A Remote Control for Learning," Gene Luen Yang explains how students with different learning styles can benefit when instruction includes graphic novels and comics. Use this classroom activity to see how comics can help students in your classroom understand social justice topics that influence their lives.
- How can graphic novels and comics promote social justice?
- How can images help us analyze complex topics of social justice?
1. Ask your students to talk about whether they generally enjoy reading graphic novels and comic strips—and to explain why or why not. Tell students that some people see graphic novels and comics as effective ways to defend what is fair or right in the world, to combat stereotypes or to teach important historical lessons. Ask students for their ideas on how visual images and texts can work together to communicate messages about social justice and history. What do graphic novels or comic strips have to offer that other media may not?
2. Tell students that they will be creating their own comic strips. (Note: Having students create graphic novels is another option, but it would be a more time-consuming activity.) Then, ask them to respond to these three questions in a writer’s notebook:
- What social justice issue would I like to address in my comic?
- What plot line and characters will I feature in my comic?
- What personal experiences could I draw from to create my comic?
Give students a chance to share these ideas with a classmate and receive input before they get started.
3. Remind students about the structural variety found within this genre. For example, they may choose to create a traditional linear storyboard, draw one large panel or create their own visual storytelling model. Ask students to consider—out loud, in groups or in writing—why an image might make someone more likely to understand or care about the social justice issue explored in their comic. What kinds of images do they think will cause a response or reaction?
4. Provide students with paper to create drafts of their pictures and text. Encourage them to work in pencil so they can erase or edit any sections. Tell students they can go over their work with permanent ink at a later stage—when their work nears completion. If you have the appropriate software, students can also work digitally. However, this work is equally valuable when done by hand.
5. Have students revise and edit their work based on peer or teacher feedback. Some may choose to add color while others may opt to stick with black and white. After publication, instruct students to describe the social issue they address in their comic. Specifically, have them respond to the following questions:
- What social justice issue do you hope people will think about after reading your comic?
- What do you hope people will gain from reading your personal story?
- How might readers react to your comic? Why?
- Do you think your comic will inspire activism and action? How?
6. Be sure to give students a chance to read and comment on each other’s work. Ask them to respond to these questions:
- What personal experiences or social justice issues did your classmates’ comics help you think about that you had not thought about before?
- Now that you have read your classmates’ comics, what action-based steps might you take in your community to tackle these issues?
- How do comics make you think about (in)justice or (in)equality differently than when you read about them in a textbook, novel or online article?