Wednesday, June 17, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Why do people read? What motivates us to seek out the experience of the written word? Loads of research has been done on the subject of reading motivation (see the literature review of my graduate seminar paper). Choice is one of the top reasons that students read, according to research. Adults have plenty of choice in reading. I’ve never heard one college student exclaim how much she enjoyed sitting down and reading her social studies, but I do know plenty of adults who make trips to the bookstore to purchase books on economics, biography, poetry or fiction.

Comics are a top contender among students, according to research. When it comes to reading, or the teaching of reading, it is my opinion that choice is the most significant factor to consider, even above reading levels.

Not long after accepting my position at Nixa Public Schools, I contacted my principal and requested permission to start a before-school literacy program using comic literature. I received two thumbs up almost immediately and I began work on THE HALL OF HEROES comic book club.

  • Open to all fourth graders in my school
  • Voluntary; students will apply for a seat in the club
  • Club split into two semesters (August-December & January-May)
  • 16 students per semester
  • There may or may not be different students each semester
  • Heterogeneous reading levels (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Advanced)
  • Students will be able to check out comics

Every aspect of the club is designed to build relationships, which is another significant factor in a student’s success, in my opinion. When students trust their teacher/facilitator/mentor then they are more willing to branch out and try new genres and harder reading levels. The club must remain small in order for me to develop those deep relationships and really give more individual attention. Splitting the club into semesters allows me to reach more students and also builds anticipation.

I have purchased a book cart to hold and display the comics. With the permission of the librarian, already obtained, we will meet in the library every Monday before school. On the first day, students will fill out a reading inventory so I can learn about their individual needs. I will talk about the different texts available and really introduce the wide range of genres encompassing comic literature. The comics are categorized by genre and not by Lexile, which is another important aspect and is related to students having choice.

Front of the book cart. Notice the books are categorized by genre, not reading level.

Overhead shot of the book cart.

Back of the cart. I purchased the deluxe edition for the wire rack.

This is the back corner of the cart. The wire rack is on both sides and the back.

Many of our greatest pieces of literature focus on the hero’s journey – the monomyth. Who are our heroes and why are they our heroes? In order to tap into the hero myth, I am cooperating with Superheroes Anonymous and encouraging the members of our club to take our literature outside the school.

The first element is for the students and the teacher to each develop our own comic book superhero persona, complete with a homemade costume. We will then become superheroes in our own community by participating in civic engagement. Perhaps we will clean a street, visit a nursing home, plant flowers at city hall, cook a meal for the firefighters, or serve a meal at a food pantry. The goal is to connect our literature with our real lives and discover how literature can influence, impact and change our lives.

As the club progresses, I will let you know how things go. If you decide to start up a HALL OF HEROES club of your own, please let me know. I will be happy to help get you started and even promote your efforts. Perhaps we could have HALLS all over the United States. I will post a link to my HALL OF HEROES site when I finish it.


Mark Holmes said...

Chris - this is such a great idea. Nixa Public Schools are lucky to have you - and it's encouraging to see that you have their support. Question: Will your club ever look at webcomics as part of their reading material? I'm curious to know how public schools will embrace the idea of online comics.

I enjoy this blog. Please keep up the great work!

Unknown said...


This looks fantastic! I particularly like that the cart is organized by genre. Students are pretty self-aware, even at that age, and will pick books with appropriate reading levels, as I'm sure you know.

How are you organizing check out of your books? I've brought a couple of longboxes into my classroom, but haven't figured out a good checkout procedure for comics yet.

Keep up the great work!

Mr. Wilson said...


We are looking at web comics. I am the K-4 Technology instructor so I am especially interested in the technological advances of reading online or by Kindle-style devices. I am looking at some online web comic sites, but I have to be VERY careful that the content of the comics (and any advertisements) are also appropriate for the classroom. The ads frequently cause problems. I'm discussing this with one site and I cannot say more, but I will tell you that I am planning an article with one particular site.

Big E,

This is subject to change, but I think I am going old school with it. I plan to add those old library cards to each graphic novel. When a kid needs to check out a graphic novel, the card will be put in that students section of a pocket chart.

The same for comics. I think I will add the library cards to the back of comic boards for loose comics. The kids can just put the library card in their pocket chart slot.

I'm thinking of having the kids sign a release at the beginning of the club stating that they will pay for any comics lost or not returned. BUT, I haven't discussed that with the principal yet. That may not fly.

Great questions, folks. Keep them coming.

Amber Mann said...

You club sounds so cool! I would love to be a kid at your school.

Unknown said...

I'd like to know more about this. I'm going to be scouring your website. Great idea.