Today's Lesson

C is for Comics: Using Comics in the Classroom

By Yoshika Wason

Popular media is a gold mine for language learners. Many people who have successfully learned a new language immerse themselves in their target language’s music, movies, social media, etc. In particular, many Japanese learners credit manga and anime for igniting their interest in Japanese language and culture.

Parallel to this practice, in the past 10-20 years comics, manga, and graphic novels have become increasingly embraced by teachers, librarians, and publishers in the U.S. Titles like Maus, Persepolis, and Batman have won prestigious literary awards and have been adopted into many school curriculums. As ALTs, how can we also incorporate comics into the classroom? In this month’s article, I will lay out why and how teachers use comics in the context of EFL and ESL education.

Why use comics in the classroom?

Comics are a form of media that is already popular with many students. The novelty of using popular comics can help to increase student engagement. Similarly, many educators say that their students who are reluctant readers find that they genuinely enjoy comics.

Some ESL and EFL teachers encourage students to read English comics because it exposes them to native reading materials. This can include exposure to colloquial language, slang, and subject specific vocabulary. Comics can also be used as a scaffold for English learners. When students encounter words they don’t know, they can look for context clues embedded in the illustrations.

At first glance, comics are less intimidating to read than tackling a dense block of text like in a novel or academic essay. For this reason, comics also make a great choice of reading material if you are looking for student text that is both age appropriate and not overly complex.

Depending on your purpose, you can use a variety of comics and manga including English translations, bilingual translations, and new adaptations of canonical literature.

How do you use comics in the classroom?

There are countless activities that use comics to teach English, including warm-ups, standalone lessons, and long term projects.

Cloze activities are a common activity in ESL and EFL classrooms. This involves erasing keywords or all the text from a comic strip and asking students to fill in the blank. Another activity is a comic jigsaw where the teacher cuts out each panel of the comic and students have to work together to find the correct order of the panels. You can easily find examples of these activities with a quick online search.

Another option is to have students create their own comics. Some educators take an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates both art and creative writing to facilitate a long term project. John Baird, who started the Create a Comic Project when he taught English in Taiwan, is a pioneer of promoting literacy through comics. Also of note is the Comic Book Project, an after-school program created by Michael Bitz which gained national attention in the U.S.

Peter Howell of Hiroshima University documented how he structured an entire semester of his EFL class using manga. In Dr. Howell’s words, the structure of his course “combines ‘communicative’ activities (pair and group work, free imaginative writing) with traditional, ‘old-fashioned’ activities (translation, dictation, chanting).” Students in his class translate sections of popular manga like Neon Genesis Evangelion into English, do dramatic readings of their translations, and perform for their peers. Following this, students check their translations against the official English translation of the same manga. The professor would also lead students in chanting selected lines from the English dialogue. Many students reported that they enjoyed learning English in this manner.

I am also in the first stages of my own project titled “Multicultural and Multilingual Manga Library” which received support from USJETAA’s Microgrant Initiative, funded by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.  The purpose of this project is to promote English literacy and expose students to American culture in an enjoyable and low stakes manner. About half the books I will purchase are English translations of popular Japanese manga, including bilingual versions of books. The other half of the collection will showcase American culture, including pop culture, everyday life, and traditionally underrepresented groups. I’m currently curating the book collection with help from my English Club. After the books are purchased and incorporated into the school library, every class will have a chance to visit the library and read books from the new collection. I’m really looking forward to developing this project and finding other ways to bring comics into the classroom.

Further Reading

One thought on “C is for Comics: Using Comics in the Classroom

  1. Pingback: December Volume II | Good Morning Aomori

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