Skip to main content

Using Social Justice Graphic Novels in the ELL Classroom

Written by: Brandy Barter‐Storm and Tamara Wik
Published on: Mar 15, 2021

John Lewis
Image credit: Mobilus In Mobili / CC BY-SA (image cropped to fit).

Graphic novels are a form of authentic text that have started to gain widespread acceptance in the English language arts field and have been shown to increase students’ motivation to read and engage deeply with texts.

By integrating text with pictures, graphic novels have the advantage of requiring a lighter cognitive load than traditional full‐text novels and can be more visually and emotionally impactful.

This article discusses the need for graphic novels in the English language learner (ELL) classroom and their benefits as authentic, multimodal texts that lower the obstacles to engaging with challenging social justice issues. The article provides a sample unit plan that takes an in‐depth look at the graphic novel trilogy March by John Lewis, which provides a first-hand account of the U.S. civil rights movement.

The unit plan and supplementary resources can be adapted to facilitate discussion in ELL classrooms worldwide regarding a variety of equity‐oriented issues. The article explores how graphic novel texts can engage students in deeper thinking about difficult issues through readings, discussions, journaling, and completing research projects on social justice themes worldwide.

TESOL Journal