HOW TO USE COMICS IN THE CLASSROOM

By C.A. Seaman

(This essay reflects a practical academic application for some of the techniques and work I have developed in recent years. Feel free to read and use it. However, if you are to use it, be sure to give me credit.)

APPLICATION TO ESL

How can ESL benefit from the use of sequential art in the classroom? Historically, sequential art has already been used to help people learn the language better. Dry comics showing characters learning numbers, key words, concepts and other communication skills are present in many ESL guides. Indeed, those of us who have taken French as a Second Language at a young age will not soon forget the adventures of Jacques, Suzette and Pitou, the dog (the Francophone equivalent to Dick and Jane). However, beyond the basic function they possess in helping familiarize new learners with the language, there is little in the current material which exists that can capture the imagination of an immigrant audience in this language, and encourage it to read on in English as much for the enjoyment of reading a good story as for the obvious learning benefits it has. If immigrants are continuing to read, it is often in media printed in their own language.

What follows are some ideas on how to use existing comics, or photos to help improve literacy in the ESL learners we teach. You need not be an artist to understand these concepts.

INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGY

Existing comics can provide a useful basis for teaching beginning language for the ESL learner. The sources are readily available in the daily newspaper. The instructor needs only to clip out strips with appropriate material and clearly defined images that are neutral in terms of controversial content, and photocopy them, (giving credit to the creative source, of course!), for the class. The use of a good photocopier is key to this process, as blurred, smudged images with poorly copied text will not work for the students. If size matters for the instructor, enlarge the strip to fill a larger piece of paper. If colour copies are available, the teacher could use them. However, many of the best comics or manga in the world is printed in black and white. Stylistically, as well in the sense of reproduction, this is a lot easier to work with, providing clearer images and less visual clutter for the reader.

What the teacher does with the strips as tools is up to that person, and what they are trying to accomplish in the class. Three possible uses for the completed comic strip are identified below:

1) Simple reader’s comprehension. Students read the strip and develop better language skills from the experience.The instructor may opt to replace text that is hard to understand or conceptually abstract with language of their own in the speech bubbles. However, remember that the material is someone else’s and copyright concerns may exist. Students can be evaluated on pronunciation, clarity of voice, inflection and knowledge of body language, expressions and basic content. Being visual, comics can teach a lot of communication skills to students simply through the way characters on the page are drawn. Many books on how to draw comics contain reference sheets on how faces that are happy, sad, frightened, or exhibit other emotions look on paper. Some of this material could be used to help educate students on the visual language of sequential art.

2) There is also the possibility that the teacher may want the students to interact more with the text of the comics. In that case, the speech bubble content may be erased and the students could be encouraged to place their own text inside. Whether the students complete this task alone or in groups is the choice of the instructor, considering the abilities of the pupils. Students could be evaluated according to appropriateness of dialogue, based on visual cues such as the action taking place, the body language or facial expressions of the characters portrayed.

3)The third strategy employing existing comics could be to take frames from strips which are familiar to students and chop them up, leaving the students to re-arrange them and develop a narrative of their own. This can also be done using magazine photos and other visual media, creating a kind of storyboard project, where images are described in short sentences or paragraphs by the students in the order in which they are arranged. This can be the most interesting of the assignments as the skills applied in this project are varied from art based to literacy based. The students could finish the project with an oral presentation, honing their skills as orators in front of their peers.

4) Students could also take existing strips, if the skill levels are not up to creating an entirely new narrative, and simply continue the story, or, if the last frame is removed, create an ending of their own.

5) Finally, take images from magazines, and lay them out for students. Using the images of their choice, they can arrange them in some order of their own and write a sentence of descriptive text to go with each. They could be encouraged to figure out some kind of narrative to go with the images and tell a story with them using three or four select pictures.

All text and images are copyrighted C.A. Seaman 2007, and may not be reproduced without written permission from the author/artist.
Last revised: December 02, 2007.
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