Published in e-newsletter hyphen in May 2005.
We’re reaching the end of another school year. Some of your classes have ended after the recent B2 level exams, some of your students do not attend any longer due to state school exams, but you need to work as hard as ever, till the first couple of weeks in June nonetheless.
The days are getting bigger, sunnier and warmer, and it’s only natural for your students (or those of them who are courageous enough to go on with their lessons) to get livelier and more restless. So what is there for you to do?
Well, have you tried using comics?
First of all explain to your director of studies that comics (or graphic novels) are a literature genre of the 20th & 21st century, and therefore, argue for their use in the language class.
Then, choose your material carefully. Here’s a rough guide on what you should have in mind when selecting cartoon material for your classes:
First of all, the main characters should be younger, either children or animals, or be similar to animated characters such as those in Disney or Warner Bros. Cartoons. Similarly, the story intensity and violence should be at the level of a children’s movie (G-rated movie), for example “Finding Nemo” – it must not be too scary.
The writing should be aimed at the primary audience (some humor may be somewhat more sophisticated), and the artwork must be clear with and the panel placement (i.e the order of the story frames) should be easy to follow.
Main characters in these cartoons can be older, such as preteens and teenagers. Some superhero titles, are okay for this age level; but you need to ensure that violence is at a minimal level. At this age level, stories such as the Star Wars comics are fine; there’s some violence, but no blood and gore, and it must be necessary to the plot. The same goes for the intensity of the story; it should be at the level of the Star Wars comics, which are fairly similar to the intensity (and the scare factor) of the Harry Potter books.
Once you have picked your material you need to decide how you can put it into good use.
Distribute your cartoon story (some frames of it) to groups, or project it to the whole class and discuss how visual language is used to represent ideas. The students produce the story in their own words while you can ask questions about the story and then ask ‘How do you know?’ eliciting, thus, visual clues. This way you are guiding your students to using inference; a skill that they are bound to need later on their journey towards language exams (and of course effective use of the language).
Use cartoon excerpts and erase the text boxes. The wordless pictures provide a basis for the story. This can help you teach and practise the mechanics of a dialogue while using a motivating means.
As a writing activity, the students in small groups can create a plan of a story that they can then illustrate themselves in the form of a cartoon strip.
Last but not least, a big advantage to graphic novels is that they give the teacher an opportunity to bring youth culture into the classroom. By bringing in comics you acknowledge to your students that you care about their interests and recognise the value of their contributions to the classroom community. When you use graphic novels, do so respectfully, and make sure your students see them as useful learning tools, too.
For more information on how to use comics in your class, visit: