3 Ways to Use Comic Strips as Writing Scaffolds
If your students are like most, the complex task of writing is often overwhelming. For native English speakers writing represents the convergence of multiple language skills. For second language learners, translating their thoughts as they go, the process is even more complex and wrought with anxiety. Students who excitedly tell story after story orally, clam up as soon as a piece of paper is placed in front of them. Maybe it’s writers block, but more likely, it’s writer’s intimidation. Oral language is temporal and less likely to be judged. Students don’t have to worry about spelling, punctuation, grammar, or even structure when they talk. A story that lacks adequate detail can be told with facial expressions and gestures. A story that bores its audience can be altered on the fly. Students can use their enthusiasm to compensate for story flaws and convey their ideas. If they get stuck on a word, the listener is there to help them out. The written word however, is much more formal and comes with higher expectations on both the part of the writer and reader.
Consider this comparison from Multisensory Teaching of Basic Language Skills by Judith Birsh
|Oral Language||Written Language|
|Oral language is acquired naturally through authentic day-to-day interaction.||Reading and writing require deliberate instruction and practice, often over many years.|
|Oral language is temporal and does not need to be precise to be comprehensible.||Written language is more permanent and must be precise to communicate meaning effectively.|
|Oral language is contextualized by the situation, shared experience/location, the speaker’s tone, gestures, intonation, body language, etc.||Written language is often more decontextualized and makes assumptions about common background knowledge, language, and understanding.|
|Oral language is interactional- participants can ask for clarity, repetition, or examples if they do not understand. Oral communication is 2-sided.||In written language comprehension is not a give-and-take but depends on the reader’s interpretation of the text, which may or may not be what the author intended.|
|Oral language tends to be informal. For example, fillers like “um,” “well,” and “like,” are generally acceptable in casual conversation.||Written language is more formal and linguistically complex. For example, transition words such as “moreover” and “whereas” are commonly used in writing, but not as commonly in speech.|
|Both oral and written language can change in style and register depending on the intended audience. Written language has many different forms which each have their own acceptable structure, such as written instructions, advertisements, an email, a diary entry, fiction, fantasy, a grocery list, biography, a scientific report, etc.|
Clearly the implied stakes increase exponentially for students when they put pencil to paper, increasing both stress and expectation. One solution is comic strips. Consider the impact of comic strips:
- To organize thinking
Students who can “see” their story will have a chance to visualize each event when they commit it to paper in the form of sketches. Sketching is much less intimidating than writing, yet can lead students through the same cognitive processes in planning and executing a story. Drawing a story in frames can help students to identify important events and sequence them. As in a written paragraph, in a comic strip space is limited, and students must choose what details are important to include and what can be left out.
Consider letting students practice sharing their comic strip orally to their peers a few times before they commit their ideas to paper in sentence or paragraph form. In this way, students have a chance to articulate their thinking and make revisions based on their peer’s feedback (something they hate to do after the fact) before committing their ideas to writing paper.
- To practice vocabulary usage
We all know students need multiple exposures and the chance to use new vocabulary in a variety of ways, if it is to be incorporated into their permanent lexicon. Comic strips give students a way to apply new words in context. While students a may not have opportunities to use content words in their daily lives, they can create appropriate scenarios in their comic strips. Give students word box to guide them in the selection and use of words or provide sentence frames to scaffold their work. Students can take turns reading their comic strips to their peers or reading each other’s to practice their new words.
- To demonstrate learning
Students can demonstrate their thinking in a multitude of ways with comic strips. They can illustrate prewritten text, complete a cloze activity,
retell a story,
show steps in a process,
brainstorm ideas, generate a ticket out the door, practice dialogue, or write a non-fiction report. The possibilities are endless. For younger learners, you can start with one frame (or even a sticky note) and build up to a multi-panel comic strip.
You can use dialog bubbles or sentence boxes under each strip, depending on the amount of detail you want students to include.
Try using lines on the back for students to give further details, explain the illustrations they drew, or practice writing in complete sentences.
In short comic strips can be used a scaffold to make writing more accessible to learners, reduce intimidation and motivate students to share their thinking!
Click for a PDF of the Why Comic Strips Poster above.