10 reasons to use comics and cartoons in the classroom

Idea! by Terry Freedman

Idea! by Terry Freedman

How I’ve used comics/cartoons in the classroom

Much of my misspent youth was taken up with reading comics, such as Superman, Batman, Classics Illustrated. I've also always loved cartoons. So it was only natural I often used cartoons and comics in my teaching. I always found them to be very effective in helping kids to learn. The question is: why?

They can be used as a form of assessment

The cartoons in newspapers are useful because they assume that you already know a lot of background information -- otherwise they simply wouldn't be funny. I found that sharing a cartoon with students could be a good way of finding out what they already knew, or thought they knew, about the topic in hand. 

They can be used to start a discussion

I would use newspaper cartoons to start a different sort of class discussion going. They always encapsulate implicit assumptions as well as current information, so you can sometimes use a cartoon to start exploring what those assumptions might be.

Even a silly comic strip you create yourself can be useful in this regard. Consider this for example:


Depending on what your subject is, you could use this to start a discussion along the lines of:

  • How do you go about creating an app?
  • What exactly is a hologram?
  • How could holograms, 3D and virtual reality be used in everyday life?
  • What is cloning, and when should it be used, if at all?

A picture paints a thousand words

Comics and cartoons are useful because they can convey a great deal of information very quickly. Many devices these days come with a quick start guide comprising pictures and little else. There's a reason for that.

They can lead to better retention

Comics etc are efficient from the point of view that presenting text and images together has been found to increase retention. For more information, see https://teach.com/blog/why-comics/.

They provide humour

Cartoons bring a touch of lightheartedness to lessons, which is often no bad thing. In my experience, kids are more receptive to learning new concepts, and less prone to disrupt the lesson, when there is something we can all laugh with together.

They can motivate reluctant readers

For some pupils there is little more off-putting than a page full of text. Comics and cartoons can break through this barrier. See — https://plasq.com/education/the-benefits-of-comics-in-education/.

They can help autistic pupils

There is some research that suggests that students with autism find comics, especially Manga, easier to read than plain text. See Manga and the autistic Mind for more information.

Some kids more expressive in drawing than in writing

When it comes to getting kids to write an explanation or a report, some may find it easier to do an illustration with a small amount of text rather than lots of writing.

They provide opportunities for collaboration

Pupils don't have to work alone in order to produce a comic strip, say. In fact, if one pupil is good at drawing and another good at writing, that pair can make a great team. Not that you even have to be good at drawing: there are comic-creating programs which enable you to select and combine ready-made elements. See the bottom of this article for a link to lots of applications.

It’s part of the milieu

In Japan, Manga comics are ubiquitous, and cover every conceivable topic. In the west there are graphic ‘novels’ covering such diverse topics as the financial crash of a few years ago, computing, quantum physics and the Iranian revolution (see the Digital Education newsletter for my top ten illustrated books). Even the New York Times has got in on the act — see New York Stories

See also:

7 ways to use comics and cartoons in the classroom

A cornucopia of comic applications