Old Tool, New Uses: The Potential of Online Comic Strips

Last week I shared my opinion of Alice, online educational software that allows you to create animation and share it with your students. TESOL members like Nancy Schoenfeld have demonstrated that creative and purposeful use of technology can make a language lesson effective, fun, and memorable.

MakeBeliefsComix is another online instructional tool that is user-friendly and has different applications in the classroom. A decade ago, we were still limited to comics on paper. Today we have the ability to easily create our own digital comic stips.  Consider some possibilities. A teacher could use a 2-, 3-, or 4-panel comic strip to illustrate a language point. In a lab setting, students could use the software to create their own stories, demonstrating their grasp of a target grammar point, key vocabulary, or particular writing mechanic. Such activities could be done individually or in pairs. Since the site allows authors to print or e-mail their work, there are different options for sharing finished products with the entire class. If a room is set up with a projector, a whole group writing activity is also possible.

Bill Zimmerman is committed to helping teachers. There are different forms of support offered for the use of MakeBeliefsComix. Here is the link to the page for educators, which includes 21 classroom tips and one video demonstrating the use of the site in an ESL classroom in City College in New York.

Below are two strips I had fun creating to teach conversational etiquette. Having produced a few strips of my own, I’ll be frank and tell you that it does take some time to edit (place characters in position, scale them to the right size, insert talk balloons, etc.), but the finished product is one that leaves an impression. As with any creative medium, you’ll want to avoid overkill. I fear the “magic” would be lost with frequent use.  MakeBeliefComix (as well as Alice animation) will likely have more of an impact on language learners if the medium is kept fresh and used with care. The task should be well matched to the tool and logically placed within the lesson.


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