In 2012 I attended a very useful online EVO session on ‘Digital Storytelling for Young Learners’. Among other things, I became familiar with a variety of web tools used to create comic strips and explored the ways to incorporate them in my EFL lessons effectively. In this post, I’d like to share some of the things I learnt as well as reflect on the use of comics in language teaching from my personal experience.
To start with, I’ll suggest 6 great comic creation tools! The first four are simpler to use and there is no need to sign up in order to employ them. The rest two are a bit more sophisticated, thus more appropriate for older students or very competent computer users.
1. Dvolver is one of my favourite tools! Completely free and straightforward! Just select your characters, different backgrounds, add your lines and music to create a comic strip in the form of a digital movie!!! You can e-mail your movie as soon as you’ve completed it!
2. Professor Garfield: Who doesn’t love this lazy, fat cat who hates Mondays and diets :-)?! Your students will have loads of fun while making their short storylines with Garfield and his friends Jon and Odie! They can then print or save their strips as a jpg or png file to their PCs! The site offers some nice tips and videos about the secrets of writing comics that your students will find very handy before moving on to the creative process! Check out the strip two of my intermediate students created with my help after a session on how to stay safe online.
3. Phrase.it This is a lovely tool to add cartoon speech bubbles to your own pictures! It also lets you import FB images or use a random stock photo! It’s ideal both for very young learners and older ones! It allows you to post your creations to FB, tweet or pin them, download or e-mail them! Take a look at the three images below to see what you can do with it!
4. Makebeliefscomix.com: That’s a neat, free tool to create comics with! However, the site doesn’t store your comixs! Thus, you should e-mail, print the out or use Jing (or another screenshot tool) to capture and save them to your computer!
5. Toondoo Learners can create wonderful strips with Toondoo! There is a variety of characters, backgrounds and inbuilt clipart! Signing up is free and students’ work can be embedded, e-mailed or printed! The comment feature is also available in the free version! You can also create private Toon spaces for your class/ school at a low rate. Here is a lovely Toon my 12 –year- old students Achilles and Elizabeth made the other day:6. X-treme Comics is a powerful visual writing tool! Teachers set up an account, add students (with or without e-mail) and can easily moderate their actions! Students can create very elaborate strips that will then be printed, downloaded, embedded or shared on the web!
- Comics are a great way to inspire and motivate students of all ages! Even yourself ;-)!
- It helps learners get a clearer understanding of how to develop a story in a logical sequence (Beginning- Middle- End).
- Students learn how to convey an idea precisely in a few words! Trust me, it’s more difficult than it sounds!
- Learners get the chance to practise the dialogue aspect of comic stories.
- They practise creating& designing characters with different personalities (nice, mean, funny, heroic, goofy e.t.c), giving them emotions as well as picking the setting of their stories.
- Students can understand the differences between traditional narratives and comic strips more easily. (more dialogues, images, use of punch lines, funny words or ‘pantomime’ e.t.c)
Here are some ideas on how to use comics in class! Ask students to make comics:
- On Internet safety rules.
- On road safety rules.
- On Facebook manners or other useful social media habits.
- To describe ways to stay healthy or happy.
- To create an autobiographical comic strip at the beginning of the school year.
- To change or go beyond the ending of a book you have just read in class.
- To build their plot based on a given prompt. This is a cool website for story starters for kids: http://www.thestorystarter.com/jr.htm
- To comment on a current social or political issue.
- To describe or summarize their feelings about a personal experience (e.g a school trip, holidays, cheating or failing a test, been lied to by their best friend…).
- To present a recipe or make an instruction manual.
- To practise on a new grammar rule or new vocabulary words.
Tips to get the best out of comic strips:
- Make sure to familiarize yourself with the comic creation tool(s) before introducing it/them in class. Explore their capacities, how they function as well as their weaknesses/ limitations.
- Choose the tool or website that best suits your students’ age, level as well as their computer skills! Some of these tools can be quite complex and may discourage the less tech-savvy students. Collaborative work is preferable!
- Give students time to experiment and play with your chosen tool.
- Learners should always plan their comic strips before they start creating them.
- If you want to challenge your students a bit, why not give them 5 specific words they ‘must’ use in their strip?
- From my experience, this whole creative process can be pretty time-consuming. Nevertheless, it’s very worthwhile if anything, for the sheer fun of it :-).
Have you ever tried using comics in your ELT class? What were your students reactions? Did you face any problems?
I’d love to hear your experiences!
All the best,