Happy and Engaged Writers: Graphic Novels and Underpants
- Grades: 1–2, 3–5, 6–8
Picture reading a book to your class while they all sit on the edge of their seats, anticipating the next word. Picture hearing your class roar with laughter when you get to the punch line in a novel. Imagine a text so compelling that even your most reluctant writers are inspired to create their own books upon hearing it. Sound impossible? Then you haven’t had Captain Underpants visit your class.
Conquering Teacher Trepidation
I was slightly reluctant to introduce the good Captain to my students. I didn’t want parents to rant about potty words or what they deemed inappropriate topics. I didn’t want to spend time on silly stories and not fine literature. What changed my mind was reading author Dav Pilkey’s letter to teachers in his Ultimate Epic Teacher’s Guide. As he toured schools he found kids afraid to write or draw because they feared they weren’t perfect. Using George and Harold's Captain Underpants cartoons, he set out to show them that being imperfect is okay. I realized he was right, and decided these books would be the perfect introduction to a whole new style of writing for my students.
Guidance for Grown-Ups
Armed with the teacher’s guide and the Captain Underpants: Grownups Guide, I checked out the first Captain Underpants book and dove into reading it with my class. They were mesmerized and looked forward to reading a few chapters every afternoon. After each reading session, we would make lists of character traits and predict what would happen next. When we finished the book, we compared the elements of a graphic novel to a regular chapter book.
Graphic Novel Biographies
While studying writing, we learned about biographies. The students enjoyed reading Pilkey’s four-part biography and discovering how he was a sometimes-trouble-maker turned author. After reading his biography, students identified five events in their lives that were important to them and put them in order. Then, using Pilkey’s model as a guide, students created their own mini-biographies in graphic novel form.
Students eagerly shared their writing with each other. Even the most reluctant writers and artists were able to create finished biographies that they were proud of.
Mash It Up
The culminating event of our Underpants reading was watching the Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney webcast. The two graphic novelists came together to start a new story with the help of some imaginative students. The challenge to students was to complete the story on their own, with free teaching resources provided. Though the contest is now closed, my students enjoyed making their own endings at home and are still bringing them to class to share.
Introducing students to new characters, graphic novels, and a fun new way to express themselves was rewarding for the kids and me. I’ve learned not to discount the silly looking titles my students pore over and that even Captain Underpants has a message for young writers and readers.
Free Reading Posters With Purpose
Scholastic partnered with 13 children’s authors and illustrators to create imaginative Read Every Day posters. The posters are available free along with discussion guides and Common Core State Standards-aligned supplements. Our Dav Pilkey Read Every Day poster hangs proudly in our class library, where students are clamoring for more graphic novels all the time.