What are Internet-based comic makers?
Internet-based comic makers are websites (or parts of websites) which allow pupils to create a comic using frames, characters and settings. Most feature drag-and-drop menus for all visual elements of the comic such as speech bubbles and text boxes. Some are based on familiar television programmes such as Dr.Who or comics, which already exist, such as The Beano. Others allow for the creation of wholly original comic based stories.
Why use Internet-based comic makers?
There has been a longstanding debate as to the efficacy of comics in the classroom but this has mainly related to their use as reading matter. As an aid to the development of writing they are unquestionably invaluable, particularly with reluctant writers for whom a blank sheet of paper may represent a considerable threat.
There is a direct correlation between pupil interest and on-task time and comics certainly interest pupils! For sustained writing they are, therefore, an incredibly useful resource. Commercially produced comic making software packages (such as Kar2ouche) have been available for several years but much of the material on the market has been prohibitive in terms of cost. The recent proliferation of free on-line comic making websites should ensure that comic production is a key tool in the drive to raise writing standards.
Comics also provide a context for writing and literacy targets such as the use of a broad ranges of sentences types, or varied punctuation. Whether targets are at word, sentence or text level they can easily be integrated into the medium, leading to purposeful, contextualised teaching of key aspects of the literacy curriculum.
In France the pedagogic use of comics (la bande dessinee) is an embedded part of the curriculum although in the United Kingdom there has been a slow acceptance of the form. Even the success of Art Spiegelman’s Maus (a Pulitzer prize-winner) has not led to widespread use of comics in the Primary literacy curriculum. There is no doubt, however, that memory is associative and, as comics blend two mediums simultaneously (pictures and words) they provide the pupil (and teacher) with a visual associative ‘hook’ for the teaching of key literacy objectives.
In a sense, comics are narratives told with the aid of an intrinsic visual element and yet they are still perceived as a sub-genre of lesser importance than, for example, play scripts, written stories or diaries. This should not be the case: they are certainly not an alternative to text-only writing but rather, a means of augmenting and varying the writing process.
I would particularly recommend http://myths.e2bn.org/story_creator a website for creating comics with a ‘Myths and Legends’ theme. Pupils can create complex comics with up to ninety pages (of nine frames per chapter)
A very useful ghost story comic creator can be found at www.beanotown.com .
Professional results can also be achieved using www.comiqs.com
A simple search for ‘Comic creators’ in Google will lead the teacher to many more sites which will motivate and engage reluctant writers!
USING THE WEBSITES: OBVIOUS LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES
The learning opportunities afforded by comic- making websites are manifold. The most obvious are detailed below:
Once comics have been produced by the pupils a broad range of genre-transformation opportunities exist. The following have proved particularly successful in the classroom:
Reading into writing / Writing into reading
Once produced, comics can be added to class and school libraries leading to greater pupil self-esteem. They can also be co-written as a companiable-writing task and books which are read in the class can be retold in comic format leading to a greater depth of understanding of the original text. For older KS2 (and KS3) pupils I recommend www.classicalcomics.com the website of a UK publisher creating graphic novel adaptations of classical literature such as Henry V, Macbeth, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations etc
If you are still unsure whether comics are a valid medium for class use then one book stands above all others; Scott McCloud’s groundbreaking Understanding Comics, a landmark text (told appropriately in comic strip format) which intelligently deconstructs the form. I cannot recommend the book highly enough.
The following websites will augment those included in this essay
www.comicsintheclassroom.net a wealth of news, reviews and lesson plans
www.teachingcomics.org the website of the National Association of Comics Art Educators
www.teachingdegree.org within the site check out Comics in the Classroom: 100 Tips, Tools, and Resources for Teachers