Category Archives: Activities

Ideas for classroom use

Pictures Sounds Numbers Words

Pictures Sounds Numbers Words logo

Pictures Sounds Numbers Words

MLTI is offering an online conference for educators, May 4-7. This is an exciting new venture for us. For the first time we are running a conference that includes no face-to-face workshops; everything is online.

Former Maine Governor Angus King will be the keynote speaker, opening the conference on Monday, May4. There are 28 sessions scheduled for the four days of the conference – something for everyone. Registration is not required but is encouraged. To receive a certificate for contact hours you must pre-register.

My session Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels will be the last one on Thursday night. This will be my first webinar and I’m looking forward to the opportunity to reach a larger audience than I would with a traditional face-to-face workshop. The one-hour time frame may be a challenge for me, but I want to make the participants aware of the possibilities, with the hope that they will follow-up with some hands-on work on their own.

As we were discussing how to market this, I came across a tool that has some possibilities for story-telling with comic characters. (Thanks, David P.) Xtranormal is a tool for easily making movies from a your written script. While it can’t really be classified as a comic creator, it serves the same purpose. I like it because it allows those students who may not have strong drawing skills to create a visual piece using their writing. If you create an account, you can save your movies on the Xtranormal site, or you can export them to a YouTube site.

As I was trying it out I had the online conference on my mind so that became the content for my first movie:



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Reflecting on ACTEM MAINEducation Conference

It’s early Saturday morning and I’m finally finding a minute to reflect on the annual ACTEM Conference where I presented this week.  One of my sessions was Promoting Literacy with Comic Life and, I must admit, I was feeling uneasy about it.  It was a one-hour session and I’m finding it harder and harder to do a good session in that short time period.  I’m also fighting a cold and had two other sessions to prepare so I was afraid I was giving it short shrift.  In a one-hour session, with as many people as I had in the room (I’m guessing around 50 or 60) I couldn’t really give them a hands-on experience so I opted to talk more about the “why” than the “how.”

I distributed my Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics, and Graphic Novels notebook which now resides on the ACTEM server as a web notebook as well as a downloadable NoteShare notebook. We talked a lot about teaching with comics in general before we turned to a discussion of Comic Life.  The crowd was very receptive to the idea of using images and text, both as a medium for conveying content and another way for students to demonstrate their learning.  Once again, I found two subgroups among the participants who really get it: librarians and foreign language teachers.  I think librarians, for the most part, understand that comics and graphics novels are legitimate reading material and they belong in their collections.  Foreign Language teachers (and ESL teachers) have always used images for teaching vocabulary and they know how powerful dialog combined with pictures can be.

When it came time to talk about Comic Life, I wanted to do something different so we attempted to make a comic of Act I, Scene ii of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  It’s the scene where Quince has gathered all his players to begin working on the play they will perform for the duke.  I had my colleague Phil help me, and we got some volunteers to wear various hats and took a bunch of pictures of them in various poses.  We downloaded the pictures to iPhoto and then opened Comic Life and began making a comic of the scene, translating the Elizabethan language into modern English.  It would have been better if I had a longer period of time to do it but I think they got the idea.

The best part of the session was when I asked the participants for ideas they had for using Comic Life. We always learn from the collective wisdom of the group.


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Every Four Years

I’m gathering materials for a session I’m doing next week at the Studywiz Spark Users Conference and I’ve run into a bit of a problem. It’s a one-hour (not nearly enough time) workshop to show participants how they can use Studywiz to support literacy across the curriculum. The “supporting literacy” part is not the problem; Studywiz certainly is built to support reading, writing, listening, speaking, inquiry, and all the technology skills that fall under that huge umbrella we call “literacy.” It’s the content that’s causing me problems.

I decided to create a unit in Studywiz on the elections. Although elections happen every year (and local elections sometimes more than once a year) people really pay attention during a Presidential election year. It’s one of those “teachable moments,” or rather, a real-life event that is rich with teachable moments. I thought I would use this content to do a little proselytizing about gathering a lot of reading material for a topic rather than relying on just one reading for everyone (usually a text book). My experience has been that most 8th grade Social Studies classes have kids whose reading abilities span a wide range and we test these kids so much that it’s not hard for a teacher in any content area to get a pretty good picture of how diverse her or his class is. And online learning environments like Studywiz make it easy for teachers to gather all kinds of readings and other materials on a topic and either allow kids to choose which sources they use to learn the content, or match kids up with readings that are in their comfort zone.

So, I set off on my quest to find reading material with Lexile measurements ranging from around 400 to 1400 that would help kids learn more about the elections, particularly the race for President. I headed to MARVEL first because I can search the databases by Lexile and I did find some articles but the pieces written for lower reading level were obviously written for young children and I knew 8th graders would not find them very engaging and probably would be embarrassed to be caught reading them.

Then I heard (probably on NPR) about plans to release comic book biographies of John McCain and Barack Obama. They won’t be out until October but I hope they are engaging and thought-provoking and serious about this very serious topic. I hope they are well-written and intellectually rigorous and they appeal to everyone, not just our struggling readers.

So now I’m on a quest to find other sequential art products we can use to teach about the election process. There must be more out there. Maybe someone among the millions of readers of this blog will know of some and can make some suggestions.

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Political Cartoons

One of my first attempts to use comic art in my teaching was with political cartoons. I’ve always liked newspapers and I used to do big newspaper units when I taught in a 6th grade self-contained classroom and when I taught middle school Language Arts. Of course we spent time with the daily comic strips but the political cartoons on the op-ed page were a great way to form ties with Social Studies classes.

I did that before the advent of the internet. Now huge collections of political cartoons are just a mouse click away. The most complete collection is at Daryl Cagle’s Professional Cartoonists Index. This collection is extensive with RSS feeds for individual artists and some collections. I’m going to try adding an RSS activity to my current events folder on Studywiz and see useful that might be. The Cagle Index also has at Teachers’ Guide site with some lesson ideas. The daily lesson plans are linked to the Class Brain site.

If you need to read up on political cartoons, the article A Brief History of Political Cartoons Part I can be very helpful. It covers the history of political cartoons from Leonardo da Vinci’s caricatures through late 19th century American politics.

A good way to introduce kids to political cartoons is with It’s No Laughing Matter: Analyzing Political Cartoons, an interactive lesson from the Library of Congress. It uses a collection of cartoons about school desegregation to teach about how political cartoons attempt to persuade us. It’s a good way to teach kids the vocabulary they need to talk about political cartoons (symbolism, irony, exaggeration, etc.) Be sure to check out the resources page of this lesson for more ideas and resources both from the Library of Congress collections and others.

Of course, getting kids to create their own political cartoons is a way to let the artists in the class really shine. I think I would try having kids work in pairs or small groups so kids can have rich discussions about the event or concept they will depict and they can collaborate on the drawing. This would also provide an opportunity to bring in the art teacher for an integrated lesson.

Here’s one of Andrew’s early attempts at a political cartoon. He drew this for an MLTI newsletter a few years ago.



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MLTI and Comic Life

In the fall of 2006 the Maine Learning Technology Initiative distributed new iBooks to all 7th and 8th grade teachers and students, replacing the four-year-old devices of the first deployment. These new laptops had some new software. One new title was Comic Life. I had seen it and even played with it a little beforehand but I really started thinking about it when it became available to everyone.

If you haven’t seen it, go to the Plasq site and take a look. It’s a tool that allows you to create comics using images from your photo collection. I knew right away that kids were going to love this but I wanted to have some solid rationale for having kids create comics (other than it’s fun). It turned out that there are lots of good reasons for using Comic Life in school and I’ll talk more about this in future posts.

Because of the sequential nature of comic art it became clear that teachers and students could use comics when explaining processes. Teachers could use it to demonstrate step-by-step directions. Students could use it as an alternative to the written science lab report. I needed an example of this so I turned to my resident artist (my son) and asked him to create a comic in Comic Life that would demonstrate a process and I suggested it would be cool if he used his drawings rather than photos. He agreed and made this little comic about how to make a comic with your own drawings:

Comic Life Tutorial

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words.

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