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See You In The Funny Pages! Engaging Ways To Use Comic Strips In Your ELA Classroom

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With the decline of print media, the classic comic strips we grew up with are not as much a part of our students’ lives, with Internet graphics and memes taking up that space, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for comic strips as educational tools in our classrooms. Comic strips require many higher order thinking skills and can provide a shorter text to practice these skills with before transferring them to a larger piece of literature. Here are five ways to use comic strips in your ELA classroom.

1. Lesson Hook

Search the Internet for “Comic Strips about _____” to find your next lesson hook. You can place the comic on your class slides as students enter class and ask them specific discussion questions related to your topic or have them write in a journal. Great questioning would connect the comic strip to the lesson topic. One way to make connections is to ask students to make text connections with the comic – text to self, text to text, and text to world connections.

Here are two comic strips I’ve used as lesson hooks before writing instruction:

2. Plot Sequence

When teaching plot sequence, cut up the panels in a comic strip and ask your students to piece it together in the correct order. Emphasize the importance of having a clear beginning, middle and ending to the plot.

Here are some options for instruction:

  • Tactile: Cut out paper copies of the comic strips from the newspaper or print from the Internet
  • Virtual: copy and paste a comic strip onto a Google Slide and then crop it repeatedly until each panel is separate. 
  • Gamification: Students can complete the plot sequence as a whole class, or you can gamify the activity by either providing each student with the comic strip, or assigning groups. Play some fun music like the Jeopardy theme song, or other game show music, and tell students that it is a race to see who can complete their plot sequence correctly first!

3. Making Inferences

When teaching inferencing, comic strips make a great “practice text” before applying the skill to a larger piece of writing. Find comic strips that seem to leave some information up to the reader’s interpretation and ask students specific questions about the character or plot that require inferencing. 

Here are two examples I’ve used:

Inferencing Questions: 

  1. What is Calvin’s attitude toward school? How do you know?
  2. What kind of grade did Calvin get on his work? How do you know?

Inferencing Questions: 

  1. What is Garfield’s attitude toward his owner, John?
  2. What does Garfield care most about?

4. Characterization Stations

To teach characterization, I always show my students the STEAL method, which analyzes a character’s indirect characterization through their speech, thoughts, effect on others, actions, and looks. To practice this method of analyzing character, set up stations around your classroom with a piece of paper and markers at each one. Each station will be assigned one of the letters from the STEAL acronym. Choose a comic strip that has a mix of dialogue and thought bubbles, as well as interaction between two or more characters. Place the comic strip on the board and/or place a copy of the comic strip at each station, and have your students rotate through, making notes about the indirect characterization they notice. Once all students have rotated through each station, review the papers as a class and discuss.

This For Better or Worse comic would work well for analyzing the characterization of the mother, Ellie. The comic contains speech and thought bubbles, as well as interaction with her children. We can also assess what her actions and looks reveal about her feelings on motherhood.

5. Found Poetry

A fun take on an old classic. Found poetry involves cutting out words or phrases from “found sources” – usually newspapers and magazines, and gluing them on a piece of paper in an order that creates a poem. To switch things up, have your students cut out dialogue or thought bubbles from comic strips and place them together like a poetic conversation. You can save enough “Funny Papers” for your students to cut out from, but an easier option is to find a variety of comic strips online, place as many as you can on a page and make photocopies for your students.

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