Taking comics seriously

Going with the flow

Over and over, students tell me that the only reading they do is comics - invariably manga from Japan. While I wish it were otherwise, I know that if I want my students to read more, one way to encourage them to try doing so is to use comic books.

Choosing comics

Many Western comics that vary in content and theme are available, such as the Archie series. Western comics are often available in pocket-book sizes, with each containing up to 100 pages. In addition, as they will need to be photocopied, two pages fit comfortably on one A4 page, good for reading exercises; or one page can be enlarged to a full A4 page, useful for writing exercises.

In addition, Superman, Batman and other superhero comics are useful as the reading and vocabulary levels progress. Finally, English classics, including Frankenstein, Dracula, Black Beauty and Treasure Island, are useful, as the story lines will already be familiar to most students, even if the language may be a bit more demanding.


Returning to the Archie series of comic books, each story can be employed in different reading exercises.

Longer stories can be used for extensive reading in which students are asked questions about their favourite character, how they would behave in the situation portrayed, how they might change the story, and finally, how the experiences illustrated vary from their own.

With longer stories, parts can be left out, encouraging students to think about what might have happened in the missing sections or what might follow.

Shorter stories can be useful in presenting vocabulary, in particular, idioms and collocations that young people use. Comprehension questions, skimming, scanning and intensive questions can also be written around different stories or based on the advertising contained in each comic.

Writing your own

Students can write their own stories based on stories where some or all of the content has been removed by studying the pictures and storyline to add their own ideas. With lower-level students, prompts based on high-frequency words can be left to provide guidelines, while with more-advanced students, low-frequency words or idioms can be left and then incorporated into their writing.

In writing, students have two sets of content to produce: descriptions of what is happening, which are given in the header or footer in many panels; and dialogue, given in speaking bubbles. In addition, as these spaces vary in size, students will need to adjust what they include, thereby requiring self-editing.

When finished, stories can be passed around, along with the original, so students can see what others have done and what the original story contained, thereby providing another reading opportunity.


With many stories, students can be asked to act out the dialogue as a radio play, and, if needed, to add another voice to provide narration. With lower-level students, this will require practice with pronunciation and chunking. Higher-level students will need to include vocal variety and pauses to bring a story to life. In both cases, this will require students to read and understand a story and then add life to it through the way they read or recite it.

As the key is to introduce students to the fun they can have reading English comics, a careful balance needs to be struck between using comics for overt learning purposes and at the same time encouraging them to read in English rather than in their own language.

While literature would be better, if comics are the best reading materials that students will read, then it would seem best to have as many as possible for them to try.

While reading comics may not be the best way to improve one's command of English, it should have some positive effect, certainly more than if students read only manga translated into Thai.

Dr Timothy Cornwall has been teaching EFL for 30 years and is part of the Shinawatra University faculty. Co-founder of Thailand Educators Network, he can be reached through http://thaiednet.org, at mailto:mtim@speechwork.co.th , his website http://speechwork.co.th , via his blog on http://ajarn.com, or on 081-834-8982.

About the author

Writer: Timothy Cornwall, PHD, DTM
Position: Writer