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Creative Ways to Use Comic Strips in High School Literature
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Ways to Use Comic Strips in High School Literature
Comic strips sometimes have a reputation for being less-than-literature, but the reality is that they offer a very unique mode of storytelling that kids and teens are naturally drawn towards.
Today I’m sharing a secret weapon for teaching literature that – especially if you have middle- or high-school-aged students – is going to be a game-changer. And by now you’ve guessed what it is. (Gee, did the title give it away?) Comic strips!
Comic strips are a super-effective, cheap, and fun tool that you can use to make high school English/literature extra creative, fun, and engaging.
While you can definitely use published/written comic books in your English or literature class (there are even some classic works of literature that have been re-imagined in that format ), that’s not what this article is about.
Instead, I’m talking about getting older kids and teens to create their own comics. There are several ways to use comic strips in high school literature to make difficult material easier to understand and a lot more fun, too.
Why Comics Help
There are several reasons it can be a good idea to utilize comics with your homeschooled high schoolers. And (confession time) I think these strategies can be just as helpful with younger kids, too. And if you think that older kids or teens won’t like this kind of thing—it’s just not true! Even adults can use comic doodles to make sense of complicated material.
Here are a few reasons I think comic strips can be a powerful superweapon, particularly for older kids and teens.
1. They’re familiar and low-pressure.
Comic strips are a much more laid-back format for expression than some of the more standard forms of high school-level assessment. Why add extra intimidation, particularly if your student happens to get overwhelmed by a particular subject (like literature or English)?
For example, if you have a student who has trouble writing summaries, you may want to use comic strips to guide the summaries instead. Alternatively, you could add comic strips as an assignment in between reading and writing a more formal report. That way, students can use their completed comics as guidelines for more formally-written work. Comic strips can be a low-pressure way for students to organize their thoughts.
2. They’re so much fun, you don’t realize how much you have to think about them.
Comics, by nature, are super-condensed reflections of insight/understanding. You know what they say: “If you want to learn something, figure out how to teach it.” Creating comics is kind of the same deal. You have to understand something really well in order to be able to creatively summarize it in a small space. So even though teens will enjoy the creativity of using comics in their study of English or literature, they will still be effectively challenged, too!
3. Creativity inspires ownership of learning.
Personally, I’m a big believer in utilizing creativity as much as possible in homeschooling (and in life in general!) One reason is that we always learn from creating. We also typically feel pride, ownership, and connection with the things that we create.
When students get to create something as part of their learning experience, they gain a sense of ownership over the things they’ve learned, too! This may have even more impact on teens, who are in a constant process of gaining responsibility, independence, and ownership over their own opinions.
What better time to embrace assignments that nurture creative expression? As a homeschooling alum, I know that educational moments that I remember the most from my homeschooling years were tied to assignments in which I got to apply my learning in a creative way.
A Few Ways to Use Comics in English/Literature
Here are some specific ways you can get your high schooler using comic strips to help make English or literature more fun and accessible! There are endless possibilities, but here are a few of the methods I love.
1. Use comics to illustrate a grammatical concept.
The next time you introduce a new concept in grammar, get your homeschoolers to see if they can think of some real-life examples and turn those examples into comics! This requires your students to understand the concept well enough to “tell a story” with it. However, they will have so much fun being creative that it will seem more like an engaging challenge than an assignment.
In the picture below, the concept is that of the double negative. When the boy says, “I swear I didn’t not do it!” he accidentally says the opposite of what he means to say.
You could use this idea to explore almost any grammatical concept: from prepositions to pronouns to run-on sentences! (Don’t forget to give extra points if it’s funny!)
2. Comics can bring a literary device to life.
Similarly, use comic strips to bring literary devices to life (and make them more fun too)!
These concepts beg for solid examples in order to be properly understood! If you are studying literary devices with your student, you may even want to have him/her create a comic for each one and keep it in a book. Things like metaphors, similes, alliteration, and foreshadowing are much easier to understand when you have a story and image to go with them!
You can get some inspiration on these sites:
- Read this article on mikekerr.com for examples of funny similes and metaphors .
- Learn all about alliteration (See what I did there?) and read some fun examples at Alliteration Examples for Kids . (They work for teens too!)
- And take a look at these great explanations and examples of foreshadowing .
3. Comics make great visual organizers for note-taking or creative writing planning.
Use the boxy format and doodling space of comic strips for a unique type of note-taking space that your student will actually want to use! (This is particularly great if you’ve got a visual learner.)
Are you trying to help your student consistently recognize elements of a story (plot, characters, setting, conflict, and resolution)? Comics can help.
Your students could keep up with each chapter of a book this way. Or they could even plan out their own short stories using this hybrid form of doodling/note-taking. (P.S. Especially if used to keep track of works of literature, this helps tremendously for stories with a lot of characters or confusing character names).
4. Comics can be used as an alternative for a book summary (or even a persuasive essay).
There are a lot of ways to use comic strips in high school literature as an alternative to a larger project, such as a traditional book report or persuasive literary essay.
For example, your homeschooler could:
- Use several pages to create an original, illustrated summary of the work of literature.
- Create different sections for characters and possible themes (as shown below for A Midsummer Night’s Dream ). Then, he or she could choose to expand on each theme, choosing sections from the work to illustrate in defense of that point (just like in a persuasive essay, but visual).
- Choose favorite quotes from a particular work to illustrate or re-create as a comic strip scene.
There are so many options, and -honestly- all of them are pretty fun!
I hope this gives you some simple ideas about how you can start using comic strips to teach English or literature with your older child or high schooler!
By the way, you can CLICK HERE to go to an article on our sister site, Only Passionate Curiosity, to download your own comic strip book report template to use with your kids and teens! You’ll also find ideas for how to use the templates.
What do you think about these ways to use comic strips in high school literature? Will you give comic strips a try with your older homeschooler? Let me know what you think or share your own ideas for creative ways to use comic strips!
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Katie Gustafson has been a member of the world of “weird, unsocialized homeschoolers” for a long time–first as an alumnus and now as a homeschooling mom to a fiercely fun little girl! She’s very into anything creative, especially writing, dancing, and painting. She’s also particularly passionate about literature and owns more books than she will probably ever be able to read. However, she reassures herself with the belief that, in the event of a digital apocalypse, she’s cultivating a much-needed physical library for future generations. Katie is happy to contribute articles to Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers, Hip Homeschool Moms and Sparketh . She also has a personal blog on writewhereuare.com .
- Kathryn https://www.weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers.com/author/kathryn-gustafson/ 7 Fun Ways to Use A Christmas Carol for Holiday Learning
- Kathryn https://www.weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers.com/author/kathryn-gustafson/ How to Choose the Best Homeschool Curriculum
- Kathryn https://www.weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers.com/author/kathryn-gustafson/ 10 Reasons You Should Use Audiobooks in Your Homeschool
- Kathryn https://www.weirdunsocializedhomeschoolers.com/author/kathryn-gustafson/ How to Spot a Homeschool Mom
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Creating Comic Strips How can you weave together words and pictures in a comic strip to create a nonfiction story?
In this 3-5 lesson, students will examine comic strips as a form of fiction and nonfiction communication. Students will create original comic strips to convey mathematical concepts.
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- Analyze the evolution of comic strips using the familiar Peanuts comic strips and other comic strips.
- Explore comic strips from the perspective of a story (setting, characters, plot).
- Evaluate comic strips by looking at words, pictures, and how they work together.
- Create an original comic strip to convey mathematical information.
- Share original comic strips with younger students as a reference tool.
National Core Arts Standards National Core Arts Standards
VA:Cr1.2.3a Apply knowledge of available resources, tools, and technologies to investigate personal ideas through the art-making process.
VA:Cr1.2.4a Collaboratively set goals and create artwork that is meaningful and has purpose to the makers.
VA:Cr1.2.5a Identify and demonstrate diverse methods of artistic investigation to choose an approach for beginning a work of art.
Common Core State Standards Common Core State Standards
ELA-LITERACY.W.3.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
ELA-LITERACY.W.4.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
ELA-LITERACY.W.5.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly.
MATH.CONTENT.3.MD.A.2 Measure and estimate liquid volumes and masses of objects using standard units of grams (g), kilograms (kg), and liters (l).1 Add, subtract, multiply, or divide to solve one-step word problems involving masses or volumes that are given in the same units, e.g., by using drawings (such as a beaker with a measurement scale) to represent the problem.
MATH.CONTENT.4.MD.A.1 Know relative sizes of measurement units within one system of units including km, m, cm; kg, g; lb, oz.; l, ml; hr, min, sec. Within a single system of measurement, express measurements in a larger unit in terms of a smaller unit. Record measurement equivalents in a two-column table.
MATH.CONTENT.5.MD.A.1 Convert among different-sized standard measurement units within a given measurement system (e.g., convert 5 cm to 0.05 m), and use these conversions in solving multi-step, real world problems.
Recommended Student Materials
Editable Documents : Before sharing these resources with students, you must first save them to your Google account by opening them, and selecting “Make a copy” from the File menu. Check out Sharing Tips or Instructional Benefits when implementing Google Docs and Google Slides with students.
- Comic Strip Template
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- Pencils, fine-tip markers or pens
Teachers should review the lesson and standards. Math standards are suggested but not limited to the ones listed. Visit CCSS Math Standards for more information. Review the book, Comic Strips: Create Your Own Comic Strips from Start to Finish by Art Roche. Select a video from the Peanuts Collection or Snoopy Collection (example: Peanuts Independence Day ). Exploring the following resources is also helpful prior to teaching the lesson: Early Peanuts Comics Strips (1950-1968), age-appropriate comic strips , an example Math Comic Strip , the history of comic strips, and parts of a story.
Students should be familiar with grade-level math and parts of a story (setting, characters, plot).
Adapt math materials as needed and allow extra time for task completion.
- Show a Peanuts comic strip video, such as Snoopy in Space or Peanuts Motion Comics: Independence Da y .
- Prompt a class discussion with the following questions: Is this fiction or nonfiction? (It is creative nonfiction, using fictional characters to share factual information.) Who is familiar with the Peanuts characters? What other Peanuts shows have you seen? What story elements do you recognize? What is the goal of the production? What art technique is used to produce this video?
- Explore the evolution of Early Peanuts Comics (1950-1968). Ask students: What similarities and differences do you notice about the comic strips? How many frames are used in each strip? What role does color play in creating these comic strips? Who created these comic strips? (Introduce the creator, Charles Schultz, to the class.)
- Discuss the history of comic strips. Share that comic strips have been used as a communications tool for over 100 years and the first successful daily comic strip was Mutt and Jeff , which started in 1907. Comic strips are used to tell a story. They have three main parts of a story: s etting, characters, and plot . Comic strips use words and pictures equally. Comic strips use a series of frames to show story movement.
- Explore age-appropriate comic strips . Have students work either independently, in groups, or as a class to explore other comic strips. Examine each comic strip for parts of a story, the use of words and pictures, and the number of frames used.
- Discuss the use of comic strips to convey factual information. Ask students: What factual information was shared in the comic strips or video we watched? What other factual information can be shared using a comic strip? Why would a comic strip creator want to share nonfiction information in this format?
- Create original comic strips using the Comic Strip Template or digital comic strips with sites like Make Beliefs Comix , Pixton , or Digital Storyboard Maker . Have each student create a 4-frame comic strip to convey a math concept. Model a math concept, then assign a math concept (learned or reinforced in the student’s previous grade) to each student. Using the three parts of a story, have each student create a comic strip to share the math concept. Have the student first work in pencil (drawing lightly). Review each comic strip draft for accuracy. Once approved, ask the student to “ink” the strip using a permanent fine tip marker. Erase any remaining pencil marks. Each student should title (top line) and sign (bottom line) the strip.
- Create a “Math by Comic Strip” book. Compile all comic strips into a single book. (You may want to create two books: one to share and one to keep as a classroom.)
- Share the “Math by Comic Strip” book with students in the previous grade. Have each student present their comic strip to another student or the class.
- Assess students’ knowledge with one of the following writing or discussion prompts: What were students able to learn about math from reading your comic strip? How did your words and pictures work together to create a math story? What story elements were present in your comic strip? Who would the audience for your book be?
- Compare and contrast a classic novel and a classic graphic, such as Tales from the Brothers Grimm and Treasure Island , or a nonfiction graphic novels, such as Greek and Roman Mythology .
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Book Report Alternative: Comic Strips and Cartoon Squares
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Students examine graphic novels and comic books and discuss the important components of the genre, such as captions, dialogue, and images. They then use an online tool to create a six-panel comic highlighting six key scenes in a book they have read. By creating comic strips or cartoon squares featuring characters in books, students are encouraged to think analytically about the characters, events, and themes they've explored in ways that expand their critical thinking by focusing on crystallizing the significant points of the book in a few short scenes.
Comic Creator : This online tool allows students to easily create and print comic strips.
Comic Strip Planning Sheet : Use this worksheet for students to plan their comic strips before using the online tool.
From Theory to Practice
This activity invites the student to think symbolically. The students choose key scenes for their characters and books, find landscapes and props that fit the scenes, and compose related dialogue. These student representations of the books, with their multifaceted texts using symbols, images, texts, and metaphor, succeed in the classroom because they provide a snapshot of the students' comprehension of the ideas in the texts. As Vokoun describes, the alternative to a traditional book report "allows students to create something unique and show their understanding of what they read."
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
Graphic novels and comic book versions of well-known books for inspiration and comparison (optional)
- Comic Strip Planning Sheet
- Comic Strip Rubric
- Before this lesson, students will read a book independently, in literature circles, or as a whole class.
- Ask students to bring copies of the book that will be the focus of their comic strips to class for reference.
- Make copies or overheads of the planning sheet and the rubric.
- Practice the steps for using the Comic Creator with your computers.
- Visit the Website of Scott McCloud , author of Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics , for background on the genre, inspirations, and sample comics. Additional information can also be found at Integrative Art: American Comic Strips from Pennsylvania State University.
- identify appropriate landscapes, characters, and props that relate to the events and characters in the books they've read.
- interact with classmates to give and receive feedback.
- explore how audience, purpose, and medium shape their writing.
- Share the example graphic novels and comic books with students and explain the assignment, pointing out each of the parts that are included.
- What are the important characteristics of a caption? What do the words in the captions tell you about the scene depicted?
- What kind of landscape makes sense for the scene?
- What props can you associate with the scene?
- How kind of dialogue bubble makes sense for the interaction?
- What connects one scene to the next in the comic strip?
- Once you're satisfied that students understand the assignment, demonstrate the Comic Creator student interactive and discuss its relationship to the Comic Strip Planning Sheet . Be sure to cycle through the options for characters and dialogue bubbles to show students the range of options available.
- Have students begin work with the Comic Strip Planning Sheet to plan their book reports. Students can work individually or in groups on this project.
- Encourage students to interact with one another, to share and receive feedback on their plans for comic strips. Since these comics will be shared in the class as well as in the library, hearing the feedback and comments of other students helps writers refine their work for their audience.
- Students can continue working on the project for homework if desired.
- Remind students of the goals and elements included in this project. Answer any questions students have.
- For the comic title, name the scene (or scenes) that will be depicted.
- For the comic subtitle, name the book where the scene is found.
- Include your name or the names of the members of your group as the authors of this comic strip.
- Choose the six-frame comic strip. (Alternately, have students choose the one-frame cartoon square and focus their work on an important scene in the book).
- In each of the six frames of the comic strip show a significant event from the book.
- Under each picture or cartoon, write a caption that provides additional detail on the scene.
- Print at least three copies of your finished comic strip.
- While students work, again encourage them to interact with one another, to share and receive feedback on their plans for comic strips.
- After the comic strips are printed out, students can decorate them with markers or other classroom supplies.
- As students finish, ask them to turn in two copies of the comic strip (one for you and one for the librarian-the third copy is for the students to keep).
Student Assessment / Reflections
For more formal assessment, use the Comic Strip Rubric which is tied to the elements included in the planning sheet. On the other hand, nothing is as useful as the feedback that they'll receive by sharing their comic strips with their peers. Informal feedback from students who read the comics and search out the related book are excellent feedback for students.
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In this article, Versaci details the many merits of using comics and graphic novels in the classroom, suggests how they can be integrated into historical and social issues units, and recommends several titles.
The Comic Creator invites students to compose their own comic strips for a variety of contexts (prewriting, pre- and postreading activities, response to literature, and so on).
Students create a short, humorous story with at least one action character, and then use online tools to make a flipbook.
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The Center for Cartoon Studies
This page both archives teaching content from National Association of Comics Art Educators, along with dozens of additional teaching comics resources for all ages developed by The Center for Cartoon Studies community. In recent years the comics medium has flourished, generating much interest from the literary, art, and educational communities. This site will continue to expand with more content as it is developed. Recommended grades, along with Common Core subjects are noted on several resources.
For more information or suggestions, contact [email protected]
• Individual Exercises • Complete Lesson Plans • Study Guides and Handouts • Complete Syllabi • Books and Magazines
- Individual Exercises
This section contains a list of short exercises. This material has been contributed by various cartoonists and educators. All items are available in printer-friendly adobe .PDF format.
• The Wrong Planet: Timing, Closure and Editing contributed by Paul Hluchan • Design Vs. Drawing contributed by James Sturm • It’s Easy as Changing the Film contributed by Patrick Welch • Editing contributed by James Sturm • Show Time Passing contributed anonymously • Basic Storytelling… Lights, Camera, Action! contributed by Patrick Welch • Intro to Lettering contributed anonymously • Intro to Inking contributed anonymously • Describing the Complex World contributed by Patrick Welch • Silent Gag Cartoon Exercise contributed anonymously • Poetry and Comics contributed by James Sturm • Comic Strip: Character/Place/Situation contributed anonymously • The Irony of Humor contributed anonymously • Autobiography Do’s and Don’ts contributed anonymously • Think Before You Ink contributed by James Sturm • Scenes as Building Blocks contributed by Tom Hart • 20 Questions for Characters contributed anonymously • Intro to Caricature contributed anonymously • Character Exploration Initial Writing Exercises contributed by Tom Hart • Form and Chaos contributed anonymously • A Definition of Comics contributed by James Sturm • Closure Exercise contributed anonymously [ closure_handout ] • Expressive Lettering and Balloons contributed anonymously [ lettering_template ] • Iconographic Language in Comics contributed anonymously • Cartoon Characters Doodled from Memory contributed by Ivan Brunetti • Practicing Text-Image Relationships contributed by Christian Hill
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Complete Lesson Plans
This section contains a list of lesson plans. This material has been contributed by various cartoonists and educators. All items are available in printer-friendly adobe .PDF format. Each lesson plan has, listed after its title, a grade range for which the exercise is most appropriate. Many lesson plans, though, can be modified to suit older or younger classes as needed.
- Little Orphane Annie: Leapin’ Through the Depression contributed by Joanna Boyd Richards [ sample Annie strips .pdf 2.4MB]
- Teaching Literary Devices with Comics contributed by Nancy Frey and Doug Fisher [ sample narrative .pdf 2MB]
- The Serious Business of Graphic Novels contributed by A. David Lewis [ slideshow .ppt 8.5MB]
- Creating and Self-Publishing Your Minicomics contributed by Mac McCool
- Study Guides and Handouts
This section contains study guides which are geared toward English/literature classes as well as a studio environment. Also available here are handouts useful for class discussion. Several of the study guides contain reading questions designed to facilitate the teaching of prominent comics works. All items are available in printer-friendly adobe .PDF format.
Study Guides: • The Complete Peanuts Volume I by Charles M. Schulz contributed by Art Baxter • Buddy in Seattle by Peter Bagge contributed by Ben Towle • Above and Below by James Sturm contributed anonymously • Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories by Jaime Hernandez contributed by Art Baxter • Jimbo in Purgatory by Gary Panter contributed by Joel Priddy • You Can’t Get There From Here by Jason contributed by Christian Hill • Flies on the Ceiling by Los Bros Hernandez contributed by Rocco Versaci • My Troubles with Women by Robert Crumb contributed by Rocco Versaci • Ghost World by Dan Clowes contributed by Rocco Versaci • Daddy’s Girl by Debbie Drechsler contributed by Rocco Versaci • Sandman: Fables and Reflections by Neil Gaiman contributed by Rocco Versaci • Palestine by Joe Sacco contributed by Rocco Versaci • Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon contributed by Rocco Versaci • Maus by Art Spiegleman contributed anonymously
Handouts: • The Creation of a Page contributed by Tom Hart • Three-Act Story Structure contributed anonymously • Women in Comics: An Introductory Guide contributed by Trina Robbins • Critique Talking Points contributed anonymously • Usagi Yojimbo: Step by Step contributed by Stan Sakai • Mix and Match Rows: Comics Handouts for Younger Students contributed by Ben Towle • Comics Terminology contributed anonymously • How To Read Nancy contributed by Mark Newgarden and Paul Karasik
- Complete Syllabi
In this section you will find a number of complete course syllabi, most if which are intended for teaching at the undergraduate level. The syllabi are divided into sections for studio classes and non-studio classes and have been contributed by instructors from institutions such as Yale, The Savannah College of Art and Design, The University of Florida, and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as others.
- Comics As Literature contributed by Rocco Versaci
- Comics and Animation contributed anonymously
- Comics in American Culture contributed by Professor Touponce
- Media in Cultural Context: Comics, Cartoons and Graphic Storytelling contributed anonymously
- Survey of Sequential Art contributed anonymously
- Writing About Comics contributed anonymously
- Writing Scripts for Comics contributed by Mark Kneece
- Introduction to Comics Art: Gateway to Visual Storytelling contributed anonymously
- Reading Comics as Literature contributed by Isaac Cates
- Studies in Literature and Culture: The Graphic Novel contributed anonymously
- Comics Studio Class contributed anonymously
- Explore Chicago: The Art of Chris Ware contributed anonymously
- An Aesthetic History of Comics contributed by Dan Nadel
- History of Comic-Book Art contributed by Andrei Molotiu
- Image, Text, and Story: An Exploration of Graphic Novels contributed by Rachel Williams
- Books and Magazines
The reference material here consists of books and magazines which may be useful to educators teaching classes in comics or cartooning. Most of the items listed are instructional in nature, but a few are critical or analytical texts relating to the cartooing artform; Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics is probably the most well known of these. Several items listed are currently out of print, but reasonably priced copies can usually be located via bookfinder.com .
The Arbor House Book of Cartooning by Mort Greenberg ISBN 0-87795-399-6 New Yorker cartoonist Greenberg shares his knowledge in this comprehensive volume. There seem to be thousands of these “how-to cartoon” books. This (along with Polly Keener’s book) is one of the better ones.
The Art of Comic Book Inkin g by Gary Martin ASIN: 1569712581 Pretty good introduction to inking tools and concepts. Especially good at identifying methods of implying shade and weight on a human figure. A number of variations on the same pencils by differing comic book inking pros offer a good look at many ways a page can be successfully inked.
The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri ISBN: 0-671-21332-6 A seminal 20th century book on playwriting, and the introduction to the “dramatic statement” inherent in any play. The book is very instructive in looking at the elements of your story and examining which are contributing to the greater theme, and which are not. Like David Mamet’s book, it has little room for other opinions of how drama is constructed but certainly presents its own thesis clearly and completely.
Cartooning by Polly Keener ISBN: 0131179128 Although geared towards gag cartooning and comic strips, this book offers a great deal of information from generating ideas to tools and techniques. Covers a lot of the same ground as The Arbor House Book .
Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner ISBN: 0961472812 Taken from Amazon.com reader reviews: “Written years before Scott McCloud’s “Understanding Comics,” Will Eisner expounds upon how comics are a visual, reading experience using both words and pictures. He instructs the reader in how words and pictures can be used together to tell a story. The author must lead the reader with visual clues to each sequential image. Mood, emotion, even time can be expressed visually in a comic. Camera angles, panel borders, typefaces, all play a part in the effectiveness of a story.”
Comix 2000 by L’ Association Editors Essential cross section (2000 pages) of silent comics from across the globe. Countless examples of innovative silent storytelling.
The DC Comics Guide to Pencilling Comics by Klaus Janson ISBN: 0-8230-1028-7 Klaus Janson’s book is a distillation of all his techniques and theories. A great book divided into 3 parts: drawing, storytelling and pencilling. Drawing focuses mostly on human anatomy. In Storytelling, he discusses the art of panel juxtaposition, including a nuanced look at juxtaposing unrelated images. He also offers an extensive and detailed look at panel arrangement, including composition both on the page and within the panel. The pencilling section offers a look at Janson’s process on an entire short story, from script to finishes. Overall intelligent, humble, and masterful.
Drawing Comics Lab: 52 Exercises on Characters, Panels, Storytelling, Publishing & Professional Practices (Lab Series) ISBN: 9781592538126 This easy-to-follow book is designed for the beginning or aspiring cartoonist; both children and adults will find the techniques to be engaging and highly accessible.Featured artists include:- James Stu
DRAW! Magazine Quarterly , published by: TwoMorrows Publishing PO Box 2129 Upper Darby, PA 19082 This weighty magazine features numerous useful columns each issue. Past columns have included an extensive look at inking by Klaus Janson, a look at character design by Genndy Tartakovsky (creator of Cartoon Network’s Samauri Jack ), an article on observation and set design by Batman set designer Paul Rivoche, and figure drawing by Brett Blevins.
Graphic Storytelling by Will Eisner ISBN: 0961472820 From the publisher: “A companion to Comics & Sequential Art , this book takes the principles examined in that title and applies them to the process of graphic storytelling. Eisner shows comic artists, filmmakers and graphic designers how to craft stories in a visual medium. They’ll also learn why mastering the basics of storytelling is far more important than the hollow flash and dazzle seen in lesser work. Readers will learn everything from the fine points of graphic storytelling to the big picture of the comics medium, including how to: * Use art that enhances your story, rather than obscuring it * Wield images like narrative tools * Write and illustrate effective dialogue * Develop ideas that can be turned into dynamic stories. These lessons and more are illustrated with storytelling samples from Eisner himself along with other comic book favorites, including Art Spiegelman, Robert Crumb, Milton Caniff and Al Capp. “
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell ISBN: 0691017840 Seminal and definitive look at world mythology and the “shared stories” therein. From African mythology, to Norse, to American Indian, the elements of myths are often similar. Campbell outlines these and as such, furthers Jung’s mapping of humanity’s unconscious hopes, desires and fears.
On Directing Film by David Mamet ISBN: 0140127224 There is no better description (told in essay form and also transcribed dialogues with his students) of how to proceed from an idea to a no-nonsense visual, dramatic rendition of that idea. The book is a perfect expression of its goal to outline the thinking steps involved in planning out a scene or series of scenes. For Mamet, all the expression lies in the script and in the SHOT LIST. Even his use of actors (as people who just get up, hit their marks and say their lines and shut up) is extreme. Nonetheless, he is completely self-assured of his points of view, and in learning his method of outlining a scene before beginning the filming or drawing, I can’t imagine a better explanation.
Perspective for Comic Book Artists by David Chelsea ISBN 0-8230-0567-4 Both an introduction and comprehensive course in perspective tailored specifically for Comic Book artists (and told in comics form.) People who don’t know perspective will finally learn what they’ve been doing right. Even those that think they know perspective will probably walk away with their heads spinning and full of new insights. Exhaustive and somewhat confusing if you don’t want to do the math.
Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics by Bill Blackbeard ISBN 0-87474-172-6 Essential introduction to the comic strips of the early 20th century.
Story by Robert McKee ISBN 0-06-039168-5 One of the world’s premiere screenwriting teachers dissects and defines the elements of a story. Sort of the Understanding Comics for screenwriters.
Syllabus by Lynda Barry ISBN 1-77046-161-2 Barry teaches a method of writing that focuses on the relationship between the hand, the brain, and spontaneous images, both written and visual. It has been embraced by people across North America—prison inmates, postal workers, university students, high-school teachers, and hairdressers—for opening pathways to creativity.
Wishes, Lies, and Dreams: Teaching Children to Write Poetry by Kenneth Koch ISBN 0-05-080530-7 A classic in its field, this book is a vivid account of a poet’s experience teaching Manhattan schoolchildren to write verse. The book provides great ideas for creating assignments that excite students and get the creative juices flowing.
The Writer’s Journey: Dramatic Structure for Storytellers by Christopher Volger ISBN: 0941188701 Overview of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” ideas and their use in Hollywood storytelling. Though simplistic, it is surprisingly useful if used correctly, meaning not as formulae, but as dramatic tools. Outlines a series of 12 steps in many stories — exemplified by Wizard of Oz but also evident in Titanic and surprisingly, even Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. All in all a good job of cracking open the traditional story structure and peeking inside.
Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg ISBN 0-87773-375-9 Lots of exercises to get writers going. Exercises, like the Kenneth Koch book, can be easily translated for a comic artist.
The Writing Life by Annie Dillard ISBN 0-06-016156-6 A great writer writing about the creative process. Dillard offers bits of technical information but more importantly she lays out a realistic perspective on the trials and challenges of making art and the dedication needed to persevere.
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud ISBN: 006097625X Comprehensive examination of the mechanics of the art form; from mapping of iconographic imagery to an new nomenclature for transitions between comic panels (and a mapping of those as well.) Great overview and introduction to the intellectual tools involved in creating comics.
Your Career in Comics by Lee Nordling ISBN 0-8362-0748-3 If you want to make it as a comic strip artist, then this is the book for you. Nording looks at cartooning from three perspectives: the cartoonist’s, the newspaper editor’s, and the syndicate editor’s. He interviews dozens of professionals providing both a broad-based view of the art form and the nitty gritty of fashioning a solid comic strip.
- Promoting a Comics Curriculum
One of the primary the goals of NACAE was to assist educational institutions and individual educators interested in establishing a comics art curriculum. The materials below are collected from various sources and outline some of the advantages of implementing sequential art/comics art classes and curricula.
- A Case For Comics contributed by James Sturm
- Seika University’s Department of Comic Art contributed by Matt Thorn
- How Comic Books Can Change the Way Our Students See Literature: One Teacher’s Perspective contributed by Rocco Versaci
- Comics in the Classroom contributed by James Sturm
- Interview with Michael Bitz of The Comic Book Project contributed by Christian Hill
Using These Materials
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A: Unless otherwise noted, materials on this page are free to use, reproduce, and distribute as long as they are being used for non-commercial educational purposes. Please follow these guidelines when using these materials:
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- To properly attribute content copied, distributed or displayed from this site, include the following information: Copyright © [name of originating author] via NACAE
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BIPOC Cartoonist Fund Accepting Donations
CCS wants your old comics! These comics and many more were donated to support CCS's BIPOC Cartoonist Fund. If you're interested in making a comic book or cash donation drop us a line .
Cartooning in an anxious age.
Cartooning In An Anxious Age (pdf) is a free comic by Cara Bean on the act of drawing, which focuses your attention and intimately connects you with the generative act of creation. It’s an inspiring read.
Let's Talk About It: A Graphic Guide to Mental Health
Created for middle and high school students, Let’s Talk About It: A Graphic Guide To Mental Health is a lively and educational comic book that destigmatizes the conversation around mental health.
A 32-page comic on how our government works
Using the power of comics to teach teens about the way our government works This Is What Democracy Looks Like, A Graphic Guide To Governance is a 32-page comic book created by The Center for Cartoon Studies (CCS). This short comic guide helps to bring democracy back to the hands of the people by explaining what democracy actually means and how the whole thing works. This guide will be a great jumping-off point to learn about our government.
- Lesson Plans
The Applied Cartooning Manifesto
Download a free copy of The World is Made of Cheese, The Applied Cartooning Manifesto.
© The Center for Cartoon Studies PO BOX 125, White River Junction, Vermont 05001 [email protected] 802.295.3319
- Teaching secondary
- Pre-intermediate A2
Activities for using comic strips
Comic strips can be used from beginner level to advanced level for a variety of language and discussion activities.
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.
- 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.
Online sources of comic strips
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
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Creating comic strips
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)
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!
Research and insight
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