Creating Comics in the Virtual Classroom

Creating Comics in the Virtual Classroom

If you have read my post 3 Ways to Use Comic Strips as Writing Scaffolds then you know I am a huge fan of using Comic Strips with ELs as a way to incorporate both STEAM and language instruction. There are no limits to the myriad ways you can use them for instruction- story mapping, retelling, pre-writing, practice and application, tickets out the door, etc. Typically, creating comic strip templates for printing can be easily done in Power Point on an 8½ x 11 slide with a few rectangular shapes and speech bubbles thrown in. With the arrival of COVID-19 and our frantic switch to virtual instruction, printing may not be an option for you or your students. But…comic strips still are! Here are five digital tools that can be used to make comic strips in a virtual classroom!

  1. StoryBoardThat

Storyboardthat is a digital planning and storytelling platform. It offers the software to create comics, posters, worksheets, infographics, or graphic novels, as well as lesson plans and activities. Best of all, it integrates with Learning Management Systems like Clever, Classlink, Google Classroom, and Canvas.  It is browser-based (so no download) and easy to use with a drag and drop interface. The workspace color selector allows you to personalize avatars’ skin, hair, and clothing and you can change the characters’ poses.  

There are over 500 background scenes to choose from along with millions of images or you can upload your own. Completed storyboards can be downloaded as images, PDFs, or as a presentation compatible with PowerPoint, Google Slides, or Apple Keynote. Storyboardthat has limited free access which gives users 2 storyboards per week using 3 and 6 cell templates and basic print options. Or you can try the 14 day free trial to see the more extensive paid options. The site offers access in 26 different languages. Here’s a sample of a simple three cell board.  

Also worth noting, Storyboardthat runs https://www.photosforclass.com/ a filtered image search site that automatically creates a citation for images under the Creative Commons license.

  1. Canva

Canva is well known as a design platform for making social media and marketing materials, but did you know it also can be used to make comics?  The best part is it’s 100% free for teachers and students to use when you create an educator account (requires verification).  That said, it’s not as easy to find templates, and the workspace is not as user friendly as other platforms. I’ve personally always found working in Canva to be a little bit tedious. While you can still drag and drop elements form the menu, it does take some getting used to (think Microsoft Publisher). Since the comic templates also come as a set with characters and settings already generated, it may also be somewhat limiting to students’ creativity. Here’s a sample of the comic packs available.

  1. MakeBeliefsComix

MakeBeliefsComix has an entire section on using comics with ELs, including a free-book download, Something to Write About: Writing Prompts for English Language Learners and Literacy Students (definitely for older or more advanced students). The site contains 100’s of comic prompts (where students fill in the dialog bubbles or complete the image) on dozens of different topics, but they are only printable. The site, run by Bill Zimmerman, it free but there are lots of adds throughout.  The adds make the site very busy (but free to use) and could be overwhelming for some students to navigate.

This comic strip was generated at http://www.MakeBeliefsComix.com. Used by permission of author and site creator Bill Zimmerman.

The actual workspace however, is a scaled down version of some of the other sites and fairly simple to use once you get the hang of it. The site does offer versions in Arabic, Chinese, Croation, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.  

This comic strip was generated at http://www.MakeBeliefsComix.com. Used by permission of author and site creator Bill Zimmermam.
  1. BookCreator

BookCreator is an online platform for creating interactive stories, journals, reports, and comics. BookCreator is the most extensive of the five sites, offering real time collaboration over multiple devices, annotation and drawing capabilities, multiple language options, tons of templates, the option to embed lots of different types of digital content (including voice recordings and music), and will even read your story back to you. It also gives each book its own link or can be uploaded to various cloud apps in lieu of printing. There are tons of examples on the website where you can see student work. BookCreater also appears to have the most extensive supports, providing downloadable how to ebooks and free weekly webinars in addition to live chat support. They even have a facebook page users can join. The workspace is fairly easy to use but lacks characters or avatars to choose from. All the additional features may also make it more complex than other platforms but given the diversity of content you can create, may be worth taking the time to learn.  The free plan gets you 1 library where you can create and store up to 40 books/comics. The paid account gets you 1000 books and 200 libraries and is around the same cost per month as StoryBoardThat and Pixton. Here’s a sample of a template.

You’ll notice the pages are square, but there are multiple templates with different numbers of cells to choose from. You can insert actual photographs or even draw your own characters within BookCreator, but there aren’t any illustrated characters already provided.

  1. Pixton  

Pixton is probably the most intuitive of any of the sites I explored. The workspace has a simple frame by frame design that adds content with one click. One unique feature is that the workspace has speech to text technology built in, which is a great scaffold for students who struggle to write. Pixton is free to register and for limited use, however, you won’t get far with a free account without running into locked content you’ll wish you had. Users can purchase content packs which contain themed materials for students to use. You can search content packs by subject or grade level and purchase only those that align with your instruction. Users can generate a unique link for their comics or Pixton will let you share straight to Pinterest, twitter, and facebook (something I didn’t see on any of the others and may be good for schools who use those platforms).  The most basic paid account gets you access to 1 new content pack per month which continue to accrue. The site is available in French and Spanish. Here’s a sample board using free content.

Got a favorite site you use that wasn’t listed here?  Let me know in the comments!

Please note this is not a paid or sponsored post. I do not personally benefit from your use of these websites. All of these sites above offer at least some free access at the time of this writing (February 2021). Most paid plans run about $10 a month for individual educators/classrooms with additional school and district-wide plans.

One thing I was not able to determine was how well each of these sites translated to phone and tablet access. Depending on your classroom’s devices, you may want to consider digging deeper into that question.

If you haven’t checked out 3 Ways to Use Comic Strips as Writing Scaffolds, do so now! Let me know what you think!

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