Develop imagination, a fondness for reading and telling stories.
Comic strips are a perfect vehicle for learning and practicing language. Each strip’s three or four panels provide a finite, accessible world in which funny, interesting looking characters live and go about their lives. And readers with limited reading skills are not as overwhelmed in dealing with the size of a comic strip as they can be with a book of many pages.
Only few words are required for the characters to go about their lives and reveal their stories. Comic strips also don’t require long sentences or paragraphs to tell a good story. And, anyone who sees a blank talk or thought balloon floating over the head of a character wants immediately to fill it in with words and thoughts; doing so is the beginning step to tell a story.
My own love of comics began when I was a Child.
Back then, the very best day of the week was Sunday mornings when my dad left home early to bring back an armload of newspapers, all with their glorious color comics sections. The funnies were my paradise – I’d spend the morning going over each strip, following the adventures of my favorite characters. I’d look at the dazzling illustrations, be drawn into their colorful worlds and be challenged to decipher the letters in the white balloons coming from the characters’ mouths or floating above their heads. And with help from my father, I’d try my best to sound out the words in the talk balloons and make sense of the stories they told.
This, then, is how I first began learning how to read and to think imaginatively. The comic characters I saw and later copied became my friends and family, and I began to realize that reading could be fun and open up new worlds to me. I also began creating my own comic stories.
I grew up to become a journalist and newspaper editor, and author of many books that help young people find their writer’s voice. Not long ago I launched a new web site – http://www.makebeliefscomix.com -- where people of all ages can create their own comic strips – and in doing so, practice their language skills and have fun as well.
Tap into creativity with free online tools.
By giving youngsters a choice of fun animal and human characters with different emotions – happy, sad, angry, worried – as well blank thought and talk balloons to fill in with their written words, and some story prompts to spark ideas, youngsters will be able to tap into their creativity to tell stories and create their own graphic stories. (By the way you don’t have to use a web comic strip creator, you can just encourage your children to draw their own characters if they wish.)
Our best educators understand that playing is learning. Parents and teachers can use the process of creating comic strips to encourage youngsters to practice language, reading, writing, and communication skills. For those who teach young and old how to read and write or to learn English as a second language, an online comics generating site can be an invaluable tool in achieving these objectives. A parent or teacher, for example, could put together a comic strip with characters and blank thought or talk balloons, print it out, and ask children to fill in the balloons with words and narration. Better yet, a student can choose his or her own characters and develop stories alone or with a partner. One teacher I know who was teaching prepositional phrases had her students use online comics to include sentences with such phrases. Having to write sentences for characters to speak provides an engaging way to practice sentence structure and learn grammar.
Develop communication and vocabulary skills.
Educational therapists or parents who teach deaf, learning disabled, and kids with special needs, as well as trauma victims, also use comic strips to help their youngsters understand concepts and develop communication skills.
Comic strips are a great way for children to practice new vocabulary words and to practice dialogue in different situations. A child, for example, who may be having trouble with another child at school can use the comic to come up with words and actions to help him deal with this problem or practice dialogue for the child to use when a real-life situation arises. In effect, the comic characters can serve as surrogates for youngsters to work out different problems.
A student reading a novel or short story, could also storyboard the stories in comic strip form, or use the strip to keep developing the story after the book ends. A comic created can also be the beginning of a much longer written story, too. Creating comic strips with your children also encourages parents and children to work jointly and communicate effectively in creating something new.
Ideas to get your budding comic-writer started.
Some ideas for comic strips: Make believe that your animal characters can talk to each other or read each other’s thoughts. They can joke and have great adventures together. Or, imagine they could tell a beautiful love story. How would it go? How about a comic strip retelling a favorite fairy tale?
What about a comic strip in which a character writes a poem or sings a song to another? Or make believe a character could say the words to heal all people. What are the words your character would use? How about a comic strip in which characters throw the most fun party in the world. Where would it be? Whom would you invite? Or, maybe your party turns into a disaster. What happens?
Or, what if your characters could be bold and brave for a day. Just what great deeds would they do? Make believe your character could pass on a message to another, and that character passes the message on to another, and so on. How would the original message keep changing?
Here are a few other make-believe subjects:
You could write these on 3 X 5 cards, or on individual sheets of paper and give them to students to write or draw about:
...Make believe you planted your dreams. What would you hope to grow?
...Make believe that with the snap of your fingers you could change yourself. How or what would you become?
...Make believe someone gave you a golden treasure box. What would you place in it?
...Make believe that you could talk with a character from a favorite book. Who would that be? What would you both talk about?
...Make believe you were given a characteristic of some animal you loved. Would animal would you choose and which animal trait would you like to have?
...Make believe that your meal consisted only of flowers. What would you have for dinner this summer?
...Make believe that you could develop a new flower or herb that has special powers to bring peace to our world. What would it look like? What would you name it? Where would you plant it? How would its powers be released?
...Make believe that you could create a new season so very different from those we know. What would your season be like, and what would you call it?
...Make believe you had a net to catch a favorite moment in your life. Which would it be?
Please, share your work!
After completing each comic strip on the computer, a child can print it out and color and create her own comix library, or email the strip to a friend or relative. She can also use the comic strip to create personalized greeting card stories for family and friends and to celebrate special times in their lives. Wouldn’t you like to receive one on your own birthday or when you're in need of cheering up?
I hope you will try out makebeliefscomix.com with your children and send me feedback on the experiencing of creating comic strips. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author:
A journalist and prize-winning newspaper editor, Bill Zimmerman is the creator of MakeBeliefsComix.com (http://www.makebeliefcomix.com), a free web site which offers fun characters with different emotions, blank thought and talk balloons to fill in with words, and story prompts to help children along in creating comic strips. For many years he created an interactive, syndicated Student Briefing Page for Newsday newspaper to teach young people about current events that was nominated twice for a Pulitzer Prize. At Newsday, Bill also created a series of comic books to teach history and current events to young readers. Bill also has written 19 books which are aimed at helping people find their writers’ voices. They are featured on his other web site: www.billztreasurechest.com. His latest is ‘’Your Life in Comics: 100 Things for Guys to Write and Draw,’’ an interactive comic book for reluctant boy writers/readers. His work has been featured on the Today Show, PBS's acclaimed Ancestors Series, in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and such magazines as Family Circle, Parents, Esquire, Business Week, and Essence.)