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SEL & Storytelling: The Power of Comics! | LiteracyConnections

Rachel Roseberry

Rachel Roseberry is the Literacy Manager at ExpandED Schools.

This post is part of our LiteracyConnections blog series, where we explore the bridge between literacy and child development.



On a cloudy Thursday afternoon, I made my way to the Barnes and Noble on 86th street. My destination was The Comic Book Project’s end-of-year showcase. For several years, ExpandED Schools has partnered with The Comic Book Project, a literacy initiative dedicated to supporting the use of comic books as an educational tool in expanded learning programs. In this school year, we worked together to provide training and curriculum support to 41 expanded learning educators from organizations around the city who then led comic storytelling workshops with their students. Dozens of these multi-page comic books were on display at the Upper East Side bookstore.

I was struck by the attention to detail, complex plotting and colorful illustrations, all of which showcased serious artistic talent. I read many stories about superheroes, but I also read about friends sticking up for another, about siblings working together to solve a problem, and about characters learning how to be their true selves. Additionally, I noticed that many of the comic books were written as collaboration between student pairs. It became apparent that students were not only learning about the art of comics, they were learning about themselves and others while engaging in meaningful social and emotional learning (SEL).

The use of storytelling to support SEL skill-building has been recently taken up by several authors and publications. Just this month, The Atlantic published an article on “The Power of Digital Comic Therapy,” featuring The Comic Book Project! It described exactly what I had been able to see in person – students creating narrative comics to identify and process their emotions.  Author Paul Wisenthal also highlights how one high school in the Bronx uses free, online comic creators “to address disruptive behaviors and serious academic challenges.” 

In “The Writing Assignment That Changes Lives,” author Anya Kamenetz profiles a researcher and university professor using the concepts of “authoring” and “future authoring” to help undergraduate students confront and move past conflicts in their personal lives, “…students reflect on important moments in their past, identify key personal motivations and create plans for the future, including specific goals and strategies to overcome obstacles.”  

In “Sometimes the ‘Tough’ Teen Is Quietly Writing Stories,” children’s and young adult author Matt de la Peña shares his belief that writing and reading literature can help students not only identify their own emotions, but  become aware of others. As he says, “it’s in this space that young readers acquire experience with complex emotions like empathy and sensitivity, which makes them more likely to be in tune with emotional nuance out in the real world.”

It is clear that creative, narrative storytelling is a powerful social-emotional learning strategy for educators and students. It also seems clear that the expanded learning space can uniquely support this type of learning – blending literacy, artistic creativity and social-emotional support.  

Click here to learn more about our upcoming Spring 2017 literacy workshops <



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