Reading & Literacy

Comics in the Classroom

By Rich Shea — September 29, 2006 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

When he first saw The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, the “comic book version” of the almost-600-page 9/11 Commission Report, on a bookstore shelf, Dan Tandarich was shocked. After flipping through it, however, the 5th grade teacher at Public School 124 in Brooklyn decided that condensing and illustrating the commission’s findings was a great idea. “I wouldn’t pick up a non-graphic version of the report,” he says. “You could have a whole new set of 9/11 [report] readers.”

The readers he has in mind are middle- and high-schoolers, not his own students. (They’re too young.) But Tandarich is among a growing number of educators nationwide using comic books—and their full-length siblings, graphic novels—as literacy tools.

See Also

Read the accompanying story,

Making Spidey Sense

For many reasons—parents weaned on comics, Hollywood adaptations, growing acceptance in literary circles—illustration-based volumes have grown in popularity over the past decade. They warrant their own sections in bookstores and libraries, where picture-heavy takes on classic novels, biographies, and history books proliferate. Critics, however, argue that the content found in such works is either too inappropriate or dumbed-down to use in classrooms.

Tandarich, who helps kids transition from picture and chapter books to full-length prose, disagrees. Reading, in the long run, “has to be something they’re going to want to do on their own that’s not teacher-directed,” he insists. The first step is to rid them of the notion “that reading’s not supposed to be fun.”

A comic book reader since age 4, the 32-year-old is still a big fan of the Marvel classics of the ’60s and ’70s—X-Men and Spider-Man, especially. He says, however, that there are innumerable contemporary publications (superhero- and history-oriented alike) aimed at young audiences, making for a plethora of age- and content-appropriate materials.

Once kids are hooked on characters and their stories, the opportunities to make “teaching points” are endless, according to Tandarich. (See his Spider-Man analysis, left.) The visual cues—facial expressions, dialogue balloons, sequential panels—enable kids to follow narratives while inferring the meanings of words they’ve never seen before. “Distress,” for example, pops up—and is immediately defined—in a graphic treatment of the Titanic disaster. “You’re attaching something [concrete] to an idea,” he explains.

Other Resources

These Web sites specialize in the ways that comic books and graphic novels can be used as literacy tools.

Curriculum and Lessons:

History and Background:

Tandarich first made educational use of comic books in the late ’90s, when, as an Americorps member, he helped run an elementary-level after-school program. That experience led to his getting a master’s in education, followed by his gig at PS 124 in 2001. The following year, he authored an eight-lesson curriculum commissioned by the New York City Comic Book Museum. Although the museum is now defunct, Tandarich says more than 75 schools and libraries across the country have used the curriculum. Next, he’d like to write a book on the subject. Meanwhile, anyone with questions on comic books as literacy tools can e-mail him at

Tandarich, by the way, was one of those kids who got hooked on comics but didn’t stop reading there. As a teen, he moved onto sci-fi novels, mythology, and the classics—all of which he still reads today. “Comic books,” he says, “can spark that imagination and create the foundation for a love of reading.”

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2006 edition of Teacher Magazine as Comics in the Classroom


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
IT Infrastructure & Management Webinar
From Chaos to Clarity: How to Master EdTech Management and Future-Proof Your Evaluation Processes
The road to a thriving educational technology environment is paved with planning, collaboration, and effective evaluation.
Content provided by Instructure
Special Education Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table - Special Education: Proven Interventions for Academic Success
Special education should be a launchpad, not a label. Join the conversation on how schools can better support ALL students.
Special Education K-12 Essentials Forum Innovative Approaches to Special Education
Join this free virtual event to explore innovations in the evolving landscape of special education.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Reading & Literacy Photos Drama and Delight: The Faces of the National Spelling Bee
The 2024 Scripps National Spelling Bee came down to a high-stakes spell-off. Here's a look at the faces behind the event.
1 min read
Shrey Parikh, 12, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., reacts to a fellow competitor's word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in Oxon Hill, Md., on May 30, 2024.
Shrey Parikh, 12, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., reacts to a fellow competitor's word during the finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, in Oxon Hill, Md., on May 30, 2024.
Nathan Howard/AP
Reading & Literacy Q&A A New Plan to Raise the Lowest Literacy Rates in the Nation
Daily summer reading instruction for thousands of students is part of a bigger plan to improve literacy in New Mexico.
5 min read
Arsenio Romero, secretary of New Mexico’s Public Education Department, addresses the audience at the Albuquerque Earth Day Festival on April 21, 2024.
Arsenio Romero, the New Mexico secretary of education, speaks at the Albuquerque Earth Day Festival on April 21, 2024. Romero is leading a statewide effort to improve literacy.
Courtesy of New Mexico Public Education Department
Reading & Literacy Older Students Who Struggle to Read Hide in Plain Sight. What Teachers Can Do
Going back to basics may get to the root of the problem.
6 min read
Image of a seventh-grade student looking through books in her school library.
A seventh-grade student looks through books in her school library.
Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages