Comics and graphic novels are still very popular with young readers. Year after year, they also prove to be excellent resources for teaching English acquisition classes, visually presenting complex steps, and an engaging resource for students to use to demonstrate understanding. Visual literacy, as a concept, has been around since 1969, and using comics in the classroom is an excellent way to develop those skills.
Comic Use in the Curriculum
A Best Practice for the instructional use of comics is to start small with very narrow criteria. A first comic criteria list could include: Use 5 frames to tell the story; Use at least 5 speech bubbles; Use only photos from the server directory provided by the teacher; Show good understanding of the concept of supply and demand. With a very defined time limit given, students can quickly create that comic. As you repeat that assignment product, add more elements of the comic-creation tool. Elements provide backgrounds (setting), creative text art (Wow! BAM!), the ability to change and edit fonts, and to make multiple-page comics as well.
Teachers have had success with using comics to quickly tell a story, but then used that as the pre-write or outline for a written story. The student has the dialog, but also has a visual setting, a plot, and character description to draw from.
Austin ISD licenses the installed application, Comic Life, for all student computers, Mac and Windows. If the application is not on your computer, teachers can easily install the application over the district network.
Comic Life uses the photo libraries on your computer (iPhoto or MyPhotos) but can navigate to any connected storage for photos or use the built-in cameras on your computer.
Pages are easy to create. One can drag one of the many page templates to the main window to start their comic.
Panels are the shapes on the page that Comic Life uses to house your images. Panels can be resized, deleted, reshaped, and edited. Dragging and dropping an image onto a panel will make the narrowest dimension of that image fit exactly into the panel.
Dialog bubbles can be dragged up to the page. Click and drag the point of the bubble to the source of the speech. That point will now be anchored to that place while the bubble can still be moved around independently.
Narrator text box is your non-speech text, such as ‘Back at the ranch..’ .
The Lettering text is your title or few word exclamations. There are many styles with each style with the ability to be further edited.
Click on the gray right next to the page to deselect all elements on the page.
Click on a panel to edit the panel.
Click twice inside the panel to edit the image in the panel.
The green squares at the corners are your handles for altering your panel or image.
The curved arrow in the center is your rotation tool.
The Libraries tab provides a collection of elements to add to your page.
The Details tab provides the ability to edit any of the elements on the page.
Click on the gray right next to the page and Details will edit the page.
Click on a panel and Details will edit that panel.
Click twice inside the panel and Details will edit the image.
Publishing Comic Life
The easiest publishing is of course just printing the comic. Printing them on the monochrome laser printers is not always bad. Shading main ideas in colored pencil is not only very artistic, but a great way to make ‘the red shoes’ stand out on a page.
Comic Life will also export the comic as a gif image or series of images, as an html file that can be placed on a webserver for internet viewing, or as a Quicktime file. If you have the ability to place a folder of files on a web server, the html version is great because it gives you navigation buttons for multi-page comics. Example of web version with navigation. Publish as PDF online example (Gail Laubenthal's work).
Charles Thacker published this ComicLife reference which contains a different tutorial on using it in the classroom.
Make Belive Comics allows you to make simple line art comics.
ToonDoo has said they are creating an education portal, but it hasn't been seen yet. ToonDoo is a nice tool, but not totally vetted for graphics and privacy.
GoAnimate is a great tool, but also is open to some non-classroom friendly graphics. They do, however, have a pay-for-use education site at GoAnimate4Schools.
Have you had a class publish their classroom comics? Do you have experience using comics with students? Leave a comment below to share your ideas!