Five Ways to Use Comics in the Classroom

A few years ago I heard New Yorker cartoonist Paul Noth speak at a conference in Texas. He was there to speak about his children’s book, How to Sell Your Family to the Aliens and the work he does to help bring comics into classrooms. Something he said that day has stuck with me ever since. He said he encourages kids to draw aliens because “nobody can tell them it’s wrong.”

That idea of “nobody can tell them it’s wrong” applies to creating comics about aliens because nobody knows what an alien looks like (despite what the producers of ALF and Mork & Mindy thought). The same idea can be applied when students create comics about other topics. Students can create comics with scenes and characters of their choosing to tell fiction stories, to teach a short lesson, or to make simple greeting cards. In all cases it’s hard to tell them “it’s wrong” when it comes to their character and scene choices (as long as they’re school-appropriate).

Topics for Student Comics in the Classroom

Over the years I’ve had my own students create comics and helped many others bring comic creation into their classrooms. Here’s a short list of some of the more popular comic creation activities I’ve been involved in over the years.

  • Lab safety: students create comics to illustrate safe science lab habits and what happens if lab safety protocols aren’t followed.
  • How to respond to bullying and similar issues.
  • Book summaries and alternate ends to favorite books.
  • Creating historical fiction. Here’s a prompt I’ve used: what conversations would happen at the dinner table of an 18th century New England farming family?
  • Developing your own superhero stories.

Tools for Making Comics in the Classroom

The simplest way to create comics might be to have students draw them on paper. It’s easy to use Google Slides or PowerPoint to create a template for a comic strip. This video has directions for how to do that with Google Slides. This video shows you how to do that in PowerPoint.

For those of us who aren’t adept at drawing, there are lots of good digital tools for creating comic strips. Make Beliefs ComixCanvaPixton, and Storyboard That are all good options. Canva and Make Beliefs Comix are free for students and teachers while the other two options are subscription-based. A video tutorial on making comics in Canva is available here.

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