Everybody loves a good laugh, and what better place to get that laugh than in the funny papers? But Sunday morning is not the only time to turn to these unique expressions of the written word.
Take a look at these activities that you can do with comics, and you will find that there is more to the three framed gems than you may have thought.
How to Use Comics in Your ESL Classroom
Even though classes do not meet on Sundays, that does not mean that your class cannot practice their reading skills by reading the comics from last week’s paper. Start collecting the Sunday comics section from your newspaper one to two months before you plan to share them with your class. Then divide up the papers you have and pass them around. Let your students read the pages, and then talk about the humor expressed in some of the more popular strips. You can point out to your students that most of the writing in comics is dialogue between characters. Allow your students some time to share their general thoughts on what they have read.
With that in mind, why not use comics as a jumping off point for writing dialogue of your own? You can point out to your students the correct way to punctuate dialogue when it is written in pros (using quotation marks) rather than in speech bubbles. You can even have your students compare and contrast the two types of written dialogue.
After your students have practiced writing traditional dialogue, challenge them to exercise their funny bones by writing new dialogue for short comic strips. Take a black and white, three-panel comic strip and use white out to remove the current dialogue. Then make copies of several strips for your students and ask them to write new dialogue. They should remember to make the dialogue consistent with the pictures in each panel. Post all the new dialogues and allow your class to vote for their favorites.
Comics are also a good resource to talk about character in fiction. The main characters of comics run the gamut between very realistic people (like Dick Tracy) to strange and humanized animals (like Garfield). Have a class discussion about what types of characters they see in comics. Why do they think each of these character types is included? What purpose or role does each character play in the comic as a whole?
Now that your class has practiced writing comic strip dialogue and talked about characterization, why not ask them to create their own comics? You can find printable comic panels at several web sites. Just print out a variety for your class to choose from and let them create their own comic book heroes or characters. They can make their comics funny or serious; just require that they have dialogue in each frame.
Are you looking for a creative activity that is not as involved as writing comic strips? If you can, get a hold of Ed Emberley’s Complete Funprint Drawing Book and copy some of the pages for your class. This book teaches how to turn fingerprints into cartoon characters or simple drawings. Let your student look at some of the examples, and then let them express their own creativity with a stamp pad and a pen. The results are sure to be refrigerator door worthy.
Just because a cartoonist appears in a national newspaper does not mean he or she does not want to be connected to fans. Encourage your students to make connections with their favorite cartoonists by writing a fan letter. Start by asking your students which of several comics they like most, then point out the creator’s names on the printed material. Then, after reviewing how to write personal letters, have your students write a letter of thanks saying how much they enjoy the comic strips. Mail the letters and see how many students get a response from the artists. You can even post the responses in your classroom so the entire class can enjoy them.
Comic strips are also a ready resource to work with sequencing. Cut apart the frames from a six-panel comic from the Sunday paper or from a collection of comic strips. (You can find these collections at your library and then photocopy pages for the activity.) Have your students read the dialogue and look at the pictures, and then ask them to put the frames in the correct sequence. They will have to use logic and context to make the correct decisions. Then have them explain how they came to their decision and check to see if they were right.
Now that your students have put the frames in the correct sequence, have them write a description of the comic strip’s events. They can tell the story of the comic strip in pros form. This is also a natural opportunity to review reported speech with your students, so make sure they are using this format when retelling the events of the comic strip.
Finally, let your students’ creativity come out in full force with a wild reinterpretation of a comic strip. Provide your class with a variety of single panels (you can use the ones from activity #8 or put together another set) of either one comic or a variety of comics. Then challenge your students to select between four and six panels, not necessarily featuring the same characters, and put them in an original order. They can then compose a piece of creative writing that tells a new story that follows the frames they have chosen. You can have your class read their stories if they feel comfortable doing that or compile them into a class book for everyone to enjoy during free reading periods.
Comics are not just for Sunday morning as these activities have shown. Bring these lively and creativity boosting props into your ESL classroom for some fun yet focused language activities.
You and your students are sure to have a laugh if you do.
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