They are powerful teaching tools and can:
- Tell a complex story in a few images
- Provide comment and provoke thought on events and issues in the news
- Give an example of vocabulary related to current trends and fads
- Provide easily identifiable characters to form the basis for sketches
- Show culture in action with the ways that men or women are behaving and are expected to behave
Tell the story
- Cut up the pictures and get students to reorder the story. Make this more difficult and challenging linguistically by giving separate frames to each student in a group and ask them to not show the pictures until they have arrived at an order through describing the pictures.
- Remove the last picture of a cartoon and ask students to think of an ending. Artistic students may like to draw the last frame. Vote for the best ending.
- Remove the sentences under each frame and either ask students to match them to each frame or ask them to write the sentences that tell the story. Lower levels might need vocabulary prompts on the board.
Make the comic strip
- Give students a comic strip with a short paragraph for each frame. Ask students to reduce each paragraph to one sentence for each frame. Compare their efforts to the original. With higher levels you can discuss techniques of summarising your message.
- Give students a story. Groups confer to guess what might be missing. Give them the comic strip version. They must fill in the blanks in their written story by using the comic strip pictures. Then ask them to think of speech bubbles for the comic strip. This might also include thought bubbles for characters.
- Remove the speech bubbles from a comic strip. Cut them up and give out. Ask them to order them and to imagine what the story or situation is. Groups can act out their version for the class. Then give them the comic strip and ask them to see if their speech bubbles fit the story there.
- When you use a short story with younger learners ask them to make the story into a series of four pictures. This can be a group effort or a whole class task with each group drawing one part. If you use a black and white comic strip allow time for younger learners to colour their versions.
- Make an information gap using a photocopied comic strip. Blank out details or change what characters are saying. Make sets which are coloured differently. Set up spot the difference activities using the comic strip and then lead in to storytelling and acting out the comic strip.
- Look at different comic strip heroes. Get suggestions from the class of names: Superman, Bart Simpson, Asterix, Tin Tin or others. Encourage the students to tell you about their favourite comic book characters. Ask them to describe one character in pairs.
- What makes this character special?
- What can they do? Have they got special powers?
- What are their weaknesses?
- What do they look like?
- What are their special interests or ambitions?
- Then ask each group or pair to choose a favourite character and make a simple situational dialogue which is typical for them.
- Ask students to work in pairs or groups to invent their own character. If appropriate students can draw the character. Give the character special powers, a name and a special mission, then tell a story involving the character.
Exploit short sequences for sketches and improvisations
- Choose a key situation which would involve language students might need to practise, such as agreeing with opinions, asking permission or saying you are sorry.
- Use a sequence from a cartoon with the sound off so students describe what is happening, imagine what is being said and can then use the sequence to improvise a sketch. Listen to the real sketch at the end.
Thank you so much to Clare Lavery and to the British Council for providing us some tips to enhance our teaching. These ideas are so helpful to incorporate in my class and to make it more lively. These activities are so interesting!
Hi Claire. There's some really useful ideas here so thank you. I just wondered if you could recommend a few good online sources of comic strips to be used in a language classroom. I often want to incorporate them into lessons but spend so long searching for good examples that I give up! Many thanks, Laura
Canva offers a tool for creating your comic strips here: https://www.canva.com/create/comic-strips/
I hope that's useful,
Paul (TeachingEnglish team)