Challenges and Advantages of Graphic Novels in the Classroom

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2017

19 Pages, Grade: 2,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Definition of “Graphic Novels”

3. Research Study Poster

4. Book Presentation

5. Scientific Reflection of Graphic Novels in the EFL classroom
5.1 Advantages of Using Graphic Novels in the EFL classroom
5.2 Challenges of Using Graphic Novels in the EFL classroom
5.3 Motivating Learners for Reading Graphic Novels

6. Seminar Reflection

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Graphic novels – a term that is used diligently by educators, teachers, parents and their children in recent years. It is indisputable that graphic novels have an increasing fan base. One can find graphic novel supporters advocating the use of it as a new text format in the classroom and opponents who are taking a skeptical view towards graphic novels. I personally have never been a fan of comics or graphic novels, because I never really got in touch with them during my school career. “Graphic Novels and Research” was the second seminar about graphic novels I attended at university to enhance my knowledge and especially on how to use comics in the EFL classroom.

Graphic novels do not necessarily need text to be understood, the reader can freely interpret and analyze what the depicted story means to him. In the EFL classroom graphic novels should be used more often and well-considered, because students are animated to think about the content from another point of view. Some topics might be about sociology, history, gender or culture, many of those topics might be easier understood if adapted as a graphic novel. Students improve their reading competence, transcultural competence and their visual literacy. Hence, graphic novels are a creative, visualized way of approaching and teaching in the EFL classroom.

Since comics are known to be easily read, they are associated with being light literature for people of low literacy (Eisner 2008: XV). Due to this, Eisner preferred the term graphic novel instead of comic to promote his work reaching for literary content (cf. Elsner 2013: 59). Now the question arises if graphic novels can be considered as “high-quality” literature. At least since Maus II (1991) by Spiegelman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, it is clear that graphic novels should be taken as serious literature. According to Weinert since then graphic novels advanced “faster than a speeding bullet” (2003 qtd. in McTaggart 2008: 28).

As the term might indicate wrongly, graphic novels are not novels. They are not a genre at all; according to Elsner “Graphic novels are a medium of their own … ” (2013: 60). This medium can include many different genres which is very favorable in terms of their usage in classrooms. To prepare students for our interconnected and fast progressing world, graphic novels as a multimodal text form are suitable for EFL classrooms (Elsner & Viebrock 2013: 18).

In the following chapters definitions and a short scientific reflection on graphic novels are provided, as well as the research study poster and the book presentation which were conducted in the seminar.

2. Definition of “Graphic Novels”

Before we go any further it is important to firstly define the term graphic novel which is not as easy as one might think. Different attempts to clearly define graphic novel by several librarians, educators and supporters exist manifold. The terms comic book, graphic novel, manga, and sequential art seem to be interchangeable since this field of study is in its infancy (cf. Tabachnick 2010: 2). A clear definition is still lacking, that is why instead of listing every existing definition, only a few distinctive definitions will be provided.

Quoting Spiegelman’s (2011) simple definition, a graphic novel is “a long comic book that needs a bookmark and has to be re-read.” This definition implies that any graphic novel can be seen as a comic but vice versa this is not the fact; not every comic is a graphic novel (cf. McTaggart 2008: 31). Graphic novels cannot be described as sequential art as Eisner does, since this definition does not tell anything about style, matter or subject of the graphic novel (cf. McCloud 1994: 5). McCloud defines comics as “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer” (2006: 9). Comics in Japan are called mangas and have their own special style (cf. Tabachnick: 2010: 3).

According to the OED a graphic novel is “a full-length (esp. fiction or fantasy) story published as a book in comic-strip format”. In general, one can distinguish between three types of graphic novels:

Graphic novels can be structured as sequential art without any words up to a reduced amount of words. One can also find fictional texts containing graphic elements (cf. Elsner 2015: 34). McCloud (1994) insists that an ultimate definition is not available yet and defines the term as an on-going process without an ending in sight.

3. Research Study Poster

First of all, I have to admit, that I personally have neither read a GN1 by my own (until I went to university), nor during my school career. I assume this is a result due to many prejudices concerning GN, for instance that only boys would read comics. Since I have been to a girls school, this topic never came up. Elsner conducted a study in 2014 looking for the reasons, why German EFL teachers still hesitate using graphic novels as teaching material. While in the U.S classroom GN are more and more used, the teachers in Germany still stick to traditional books (cf. Elsner 2014: 153). According to her study, many different reasons are mentioned for the lacking interest in GN. In short, many teachers would like to use GN but do not know how to proceed and they also would like to have appropriate teaching material to actually teach a certain GN. Others would not use GN at all or they would use them only as add-on material beside the “serious” literature. Some teachers also hold the view that GN are not academically legitimate, associated with “light literature” and are not valuable to be used in a classroom.

In contrast, during this seminar, I learned many interesting aspects about how to use GN in the classroom and also how to conduct a research study question. As a group, we firstly discussed different aspects about GN that seemed interesting to us. Since we could not decide which GN we would like to work with, we decided to have a look at the broader aspects of the GN usage. Due to my own (non-existent) experiences with GN, I personally was very interested in finding out pupil’s motivation to read GN.

The research question was chosen as following: “Is there any motivation for students to read GN?” As a Hypothesis, we assumed that students are more motivated to read GN compared to ordinary novels because they contain visual material and are therefore more attractive to read for students.

The Participants

Our assumption is that older adolescents might understand GN in a different, better way than younger readers, hence we decided that all participants of the study would be 9th to 11th grade students at a German secondary school which agrees to carry out the study. The age range would differ from 14 to 17-year-old students.

Material, Design and Research Methods

In order to carry out the study, a questionnaire sheet with four subcategories was designed. The first category contains of questions about the children’s general activities in their free time concerning reading. The first part could also be conducted as an interview, however then the number of students would have to be reduced since the realisation would be very time consuming. To later differentiate between the preferences of same age groups (14-15, 16-17, 17+) and grades, students give information about their age and grade without names. All other questions may be answered with yes, no, other and a freely written response in the last section. The subcategories would be:

1. General information (questions 1-4)
2. The influence of the Graphic Novel topic (questions 5-7)
3. Deign preferences in Graphic Novels (questions 8-10)
4. Student’s experience so far, focusing on their motivation and preferences

The questionnaire might look like the following sheet and shall only be seen as a brief example:

Why Graphic Novels?

Please answer the following questions. You may tick YES, NO, OTHER or answer in full sentences. Thank you!

1. Your Age: _______ Your Grade: _______
2. Do you read Graphic Novels in your free time? YES NO
3. Have you ever read a Graphic Novel in any of your subjects? (Give examples if possible) YES, ___________________________________________NO
4. Which form of reading do you prefer in your free time? Novels, Comics…
Topic preferences!
5. When choosing your graphic novel, would a historical background be vital for you? YES NO OTHER
6. Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? __________________________________________
7. Would you choose a Graphic Novel according to actual topics (e.g. in politics etc.)?
When considering the design, a Graphic Novel should…
8. …Have important specifications, if so, which?
9. … be in a comic style outline? YES NO OTHER
10. … be in black and white, colour, soft toned colours..? Please explain your preferences.

In a few sentences, explain your main argument to read Graphic Novels. If you have never read one, please explain why you would like to read one and what you would expect from it!

Of course, if this study would be carried out, more (precise) questions have to be added. This study would be adapted as a quantitative research, as according to Muijs and Babbie (2010):

“Quantitative methods emphasize objective measurements and the statistical, mathematical, or numerical analysis of data collected through polls, questionnaires, and surveys, or by manipulating pre-existing statistical data using computational techniques. Quantitative research focuses on gathering numerical data and generalizing it across groups of people or to explain a particular phenomenon.”2

Our study would use questionnaires which can then be evaluated and transformed into statistic data. After a careful evaluation, the data can be used to choose appealing GN’s for students in order to reach their full potential when teaching this GN in class. Also, their preferences can be taken into consideration and may open new tasks during, pre- or post the reading process. To compare the study further, a comparison between graphic and non-graphic novels may be conducted, or a combined study between in how far motivation correlates with increased reading skills etc. A conclusion of all these questions and data might include further research topics.

The following research study poster was created during the seminar session and serves as a general outline with a brief overview of our thoughts.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Abbildung 1: Research Study Poster

4. Book Presentation

This chapter deals with the in-class presentation of a GN called Flink by the author Doug TenNapel. A brief overview is given in the handout below.

After the interesting book discussions, we have had during the course and the different kinds of using them in class, I must admit that, in my opinion, Flink is not the best choice to work with, especially not for older students. The story and the illustrations didn’t impress me and my group members either. First of all, the images in the book are all black and white and only very few speech is given. Especially the colorless pictures make the story about Bigfoot less attractive for children and teenager. The rare and short dialogues create an outward impression of the story being superficial and boring, so that students cannot identify with any character. In addition, the whole story is very condensed and many questions are left open. Maybe Flink is more suitable for an introduction to GN for younger learners, e.g. fifth or sixth grade, mainly because of the short story. Although the story seems to be very superficial, it contains topics about family and friendship, loss, reunion, prejudices and taking risks for those you care about. These topics are included in the intercultural competence and creative pre-, while- and post- reading activities can be constructed to make the story more interesting for students.


1 In the following, the term “graphic novel(s)” will be abbreviated as GN.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Challenges and Advantages of Graphic Novels in the Classroom
University of Frankfurt (Main)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
challenges, advantages, graphic, novels, classroom
Quote paper
Nicky Jan (Author), 2017, Challenges and Advantages of Graphic Novels in the Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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