“If people failed to understand comics, it was because they defined what comics could be too narrowly! A proper definition, if we could find one, might give lie to the stereotypes-and show the potential of comics is limitless and exciting!” Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics.
To celebrate the launch of TEFL Express’s first “Teacher’s Pet” competition, this week’s post is dedicated to creating comics in the TEFL classroom, and also to some best practices when doing so. The first installment of the competition opens TODAY, and as you may have guessed this month’s competition is dedicated to rewarding the best comics that your students can create. For more information about the contest, visit the contest page. As you can see from the schedule below, every month there will be a new contest with a new theme.
Read on for more information about making comics a part of your classroom.
How Can Comics Help Me in My Classroom?
Comics are: “Juxtaposed pictorial and other images in deliberate sequence, intended to convey information and/or to produce an aesthetic response in the viewer.” – Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics
- As a freer practice activity
One great way to include comics in your classroom is as a production phase, or freer practice activity. Many children’s textbooks contain a conversation section somewhere in the unit where there are pictures of people having a simple conversation. After a few units, why not have your students make their own situation where this language can be used?
For example, I have one class that has only been studying for two months. Some of the things they have learned are how to introduce their family and friends, how to introduce themselves, a few simple conversations to get information (age, name, how the person is feeling), they can also use simple language to describe people. This is definitely enough for them to come up with their own comic. Maybe they are introducing Doraemon to their mom. Maybe they are lost and a policeman asks them to describe their parents. This isn’t going to work by magic, read my section on best practices for how to facilitate this.
- As for reading or listening comprehension
If you’ve read my blog on reading lessons, you’ll remember that I mentioned that there are a great variety of post-reading activities that can be done to help solidify concepts or be a gateway for conversation. One such activity is a comic book.
A few weeks ago, my students were doing a reading on France’s “Human Spider”, Alain Robert. You may remember Alain from newspaper articles talking about how he would climb tall buildings (illegally). I challenged my class to create a one page comic about the human spider that included at least two facts from the article they’d just read.
I had them work in pairs and the first phase of the project was to talk (obviously in English) about the story. Then they both created the finished project (one drawing, the other writing). Afterwards, they presented their story to the class and everyone had a chance to read it. It’s a particularly humorous class, so there were no issues keeping them entertained throughout this lesson.
- Concept checking and writing practice
Let’s say that you really don’t have the time to dedicate to this sort of project, or that you know your studentsÂ will have a hard time either drawing or writing. That doesn’t mean that your class can’t create comics.
Use your tablet or smartphone and take pictures of your students acting out a conversation. Afterwards, put the images in a comic template. There are a number of directions to go at this point: a) add text bubbles and the students have to write the text b) add the text yourself, cut it up and have your students reorder it in the correct sequence. Either way, this will be a fun communicative activity that will neither take too much prep time, nor too much of your precious in-class time.
If you want to make this even easier on yourself, there are a number of apps that you can download that will allow you to create and stylize a comic page in minutes. I use ComicBook!
- Long-term projects
If your class indicates that they are really into comics, why not assign them a long-term project with them. Beyond other homework, this could be a fun project that they have to complete in a month. As with any work of this nature, make sure that your students are at a level where they’ll be able to complete the task.
Also, make sure to break up the project into small achievable chunks. For example, week 1 an outline is due, week 2 the sketches are due, week 3 the writing is added, week 4 they color and finalize. It might make more sense to break it up in terms of content (e.g. one page finished by week 1, etc.). Use your own judgment, and make sure you keep checking in on them.
Another long-term project could be to read a comic. In my experience many kids in Japan, Korea, and Vietnam love Manga. Why not find one that is at their English level and use it in your classroom? Language points can definitely be adapted to the situations you’ll find in these books.
Comics in the classroom can be powerful tools, but there are a number of things that you should keep in mind.
- Set time limits– As you may have experienced, some students will take hours to draw the perfect circles, where others will finish an intricate pictorial story in a matter of minutes. With comics in the classroom, break it up into chunks and set time limits for each section with the students. A good rule of thumb for a six-frame comic is five minutes for planning, 8-10 minutes for drawing, 8-10 minutes for writing.
- Have an example and a plan– Don’t just go into the class, give them a piece of paper and tell them to make a comic. You’ll need to have an example, preferably blown up to A3 size or projected on a screen, to show them. Some of your less creative students will copy your format but try and encourage them to be more creative. Having an example will at least make it clear what you want them to do.
- Help them come up with ideas– A full class brainstorm works for this, even with low-level students. With my students for example, “It’s nice to meet you, Mother? Sister? Obama? Doraemon? Naruto?”
- Can you justify the use of class time– Don’t turn your class completely into an art room. Make sure that your comic has a clear aim and a place in the lesson. This is not meant to replace a lesson, but to be placed within the curriculum.
- Do your students like comics– Some classes might not like the idea of doing this. Why not ask or survey them at points during your time with them to find out. The worst thing that can happen in a classroom is for you to spend a lot of prep time and get excited about a project just for your students to sigh when you bring it up.
When used in the right way, comics can be a powerful and engaging tool in the TEFL classroom. If you’d like to learn more about comics in general, I highly recommend Scott McCloud’s book, Understanding Comics. Also, I’ve included a resource below with comic templates that you can download. Enjoy and get those kids drawing!
Download the Resource