Tim Bowen gives practical tips and suggestions on how to use comic strips in class.

I am an English teacher from Buenos Aires, Argentina, and would like some help as to how to use comic strips from newspapers in class. I know they may be interesting for students, especially teenagers which is the age group I teach, but am at a complete loss as to what kind of activities to do with the. All I can think of is gap-filling, but I myself am quite bored with it.
Gabriela Rosso

Comic strips can be very motivating for learners as the story-line is reinforced by the visual element, which can make them easier to understand. There are a number of different ways to use comic strips. The following have proved quite successful with various classes:

Activity one

The most basic activity is cutting up the strip into individual boxes and getting the students to rearrange them into an appropriate order. This is not quite as simple as it seems because, apart from the visual element, it also involves recognizing discourse markers and ordering the pictures appropriately. This activity works well both a for a single strip comprising 4 to 10 boxes or for a longer series of strips when you can cut up and mix lines of 4 pictures, for example. The first activity is more like rearranging the sentences within a paragraph, while the second can be compared to rearranging the paragraphs within a whole story.

Activity two

Instead of gap-filling why not try blanking out some or all of the speech bubbles? If you blank out those spoken by one character, the responses given by the other character or characters will guide the students. Blanking out all the speech bubbles gives them more or less total freedom, depending on what is going on in the pictures. This provides the students with an opportunity for some creative writing.

Activity three

Another activity is to blank out alternate boxes, so that the story-line is given continuity and the students have to fill in the speech bubbles in the blank boxes in accordance with what precedes them and what follows them.

Activity four

You can also remove the final line in a comic strip story so that the students have to invent and write an appropriate ending. Depending on the wishes, needs and abilities of the class, you could also ask them to draw the final line of the story as well as providing the dialogue.

Activity five

For a lesson that is more focused on structure, you could ask them to rewrite a comic strip dialogue in reported form. This might involve the use of verbs such as exclaim, protest, realize, wonder and so on.

Activity six

You could also get the students to bring in examples of their favourite comic strips in their native language and ask them to translate a brief section into English. This could be done in pairs or small groups and the translations could then be compared.

Activity seven

An excellent source of comic strips for use in class are the Doonesbury cartoons published each day in the International Herald Tribune. Each Doonesbury cartoon lasts for 5 to 10 days with one line of 4 boxes being published each day. They are usually very topical, amusing and satirical and can be used successfully for most of the above activities.

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