There has been a lot of buzz of late about teaching with graphic novels. Having been a comic fan from way back (and I have my old Superman comics to prove it), I jumped on that bandwagon long ago. This fall, for example, I did a whole unit with Shaun Tan’s The Arrival. (Posts on my teaching this book to my 4th graders are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, this last being when Shaun Tan came to my classroom).
But this post is about kids making their own comics. For many years I’ve been been doing a unit called The Many Faces of Alice. It involves my reading aloud Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland while my students read along from my large collection of illustrated editions, a lot of discussion about the book, and then a project. Last summer I was introduced to Comic Life and so that is what we used this year for the project. The results are wonderful and I urge teachers with adequate technology and support to consider using it for projects of their own.
First of all, Comic Life is an easy-to-use program to make comics. I experimented with it last summer and decided that I was definitely going to use it for my Alice project this year. It was amazing. I’d been preparing the kids-technologywise all year for this. In particular, they were highly adapt at scanning and saving images. (A quick and easy way to use Comic Life is with photos, but I recommend using it with kid art — train them to scan the work in. As you will see when you look at their comics, they results are fantastic and well worth it.)
Since I think this would work well for other books, here is what I did:
1. After finishing our book study, I gave each child a copy of the book’s Table of Contents and asked them to number in order of preference their favorite chapters. I then paired the children up according to this. As always happens, kids somehow always get their first or second choices. I think this may be because Alice is so quirky that the different chapters all appeal to different kids.
2. We asked the children to come up with a list of ten scenes, a script, and a storyboard. Once those were okay they began their illustrations. These they scanned in and used to create their comics. What was very cool is that they were able to reuse these images in a variety of ways. They would draw an Alice, for example, and then print her out in various sizes, stick her on another background, and scan that image in. Along the way, my wonderful partner in crime, Ellen Nickles, did several lessons on Comic Life.
3. During the unit we asked the children to do a series of blog posts describing their process.
What I find really wonderful is how perfect Carroll’s work was for this medium. The kids absolutely know comics and used the panels, speech bubbles, and more to great effect in their work. And of course, they played off Carroll is clever ways — parodying his parodies (see the tea party for a new take on “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star”), adding in little bits (an earthquake, for example, in the trial scene), a wheelchair for poor Bill (created by a child who was in one earlier in the year), and so forth.
And so, in addition to using comics in the classroom, I urge teachers to consider having kids make them as well. It is great for sequencing, deepening understanding of a book, collaborating, creativity, and tons more. Below are the links that take you directly to each team’s comic. Enjoy!
1. Down the Rabbit-Hole
2/3. The Pool of Tears & A Caucus-Race and a Long Tale
4. The Rabbit Sends in a Little Bill
5. Advice from a Caterpillar
6. Pig and Pepper
7. A Mad Tea-Party
8. The Queen’s Croquet-Ground
9/10. The Mock Turtle’s Story & The Lobster Quadrille
11/12. Who Stole the Tarts? & Alice’s Evidence