Why You Have to Teach History with Pictures

December 21, 2017

Social Studies and Global History teachers are required to cover an unbelievable amount of content in any given school year. It can be nearly impossible for any student, let alone a student with a learning disability, to memorize two thousand years of Global History. Reviewing pages of text is pointless unless students can visualize and remember that text as vivid images in their mind.

Ineffective History Review Sessions

As a high school Special Education teacher, I taught a “Humanities Support” class to students with reading disabilities to help improve their History and English grades. I personally struggled to remember all of the Global History curriculum, and could not imagine how my students could learn hundreds of new historical details every single day. I almost completely gave up “wasting time” on Global History study sessions.

Then, one day, a student shut down in frustration, asking me why I could not be more like one of his middle school teachers. Ignoring my bruised ego, I asked how his middle school teacher had helped him. His reply was “pictures.”

Using Comics to Teach History

I asked my student to be my teaching assistant to help me prepare images for the next history review session. Using Comic Pixton Maker, we created a Mind Map for the causes of Word War II. We created a timeline of major events leading up to global and American involvement in the War. Character Maps detailed the significant dates and contributions of the lives of political and military leaders. In class, students created their own comic strips to illustrate important events, concepts and vocabulary. Unlike a forgettable note taking session, students could actually recall the images I had shown them and the images they had created in class.

From that moment forward, we gave up note taking completely. I created comic images to introduce every major historical figure, event and concept. Students would spend class time discussing teacher-created comics, and creating their own comic strips, timelines, mind maps and storyboards to remember key details for their exams.

Life-Long Results

Using comics to teach history improved my students’ grades, engagement and self-confidence. While using pictures to teach complex concepts may seem like a remedial intervention or elementary approach, it is the opposite. Strong readers form vivid images in their mind as they read plain text. They sort, categorize and form mental webs to keep track of connected concepts – just like Pixton Comic Maker’s mind maps. Comics teach all students, especially students with reading difficulties, life-long comprehension and study skills. Comics are the most effective way to explicitly teach students to visual, make a “movie” in their mind, and use mnemonic memory devices to memorize challenging concepts.

No Prep Lessons

Don’t waste time planning one more lesson of forgettable lectures and note taking. If you teach elementary, middle or high school Social Studies, American History or Global History, do what I did and start your next lesson with a character map, mind map, timeline or other illustrated comic image. It’s quick and easy to create your first comic image on Pixton Comic Maker. Your students’ drastically improved classroom engagement and comprehension will be more than worth the time spent joyfully creating your first comic image. No time to create a comic? Simply browse hundreds of complete Pixton lesson plans activities and comics for no prep History lessons. Simply no time to prepare for your next Social Studies review session? Simply instruct students to create their own comic strips to illustrate “traditional” history notes. With student-led lessons and Pixton Comic Maker’s library of history-based comics, you can effortlessly teach students history with pictures. Why wait?

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