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Claude Andre Drolet 123

Usi
ngComi
csi
nt
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opmentof
EFLReadi
ngandWr
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t
i
ng
Cl
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SungKyul University

Abst
r
act
Reading comprehension research tells us that second language students
should be working with authentic materials as much as possible.
Moreover, it has been recommended that teachers include extensive
reading of authentic material in their writing classes. It follows that
ESL teachers have to find ways to connect the English classroom literacy
practices to the real world. This is particularly important in EFL settings
where realistic samples of everyday language are sorely needed. A
strong method to encourage reading is the use of popular texts such
as comic strips. Comic books and strips have been suggested as classroom
material due to their broad appeal to almost any age group or learner
level because they depict real dialogue and culture. Students enjoy
the simple style and amusing characters, while at the same time get
proven practice in their reading skills. Comic books and strips can
act as an intervening step to more difficult ideas: their use can scaffold
to more difficult disciplines outside of language arts. This paper presents
four methods of using comic strips in the teaching of reading and
writing. These sorts of lessons are adaptable to students of various
levels, but within this paper specific levels are targeted.
Keywords: Comic books, Reading, Writing, Authentic materials

I
.I
nt
r
oduct
i
on
Most reading authorities agree that students should be working with
authentic materials as much as possible. For learning to be effective
and permanent, the students must have material that is meaningful

124 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

(Hadley, 2000, p. 144). In second language instruction, the use of authentic


material has been strongly recommended (Hadley, 2000, p. 179 & p.
188) for both reading and writing instruction (Zamel, 1987).
Indeed, for students to become proficient in writing, it has been
recommended that teachers include extensive reading of authentic material in their writing classes (Kroll, 2001). Research into reading instruction
has found that extensive reading is beneficial to developing both reading
fluency and other skills (Grabe, 2004), including writing (Elley, Cutting,
Mangbhai & Hugo, 1996). Equally as important is a motivation for
reading (Grabe, 2004). Research has also shown that an intrinsic motivation for reading has a strong effect on students reading ability.
Davis (1997) has suggested that materials other than traditional texts
have to be used in the class to expose students to language used in
the outside world. This is particularly important in EFL settings where
realistic samples of everyday language are needed. Language acquisition
research has shown that the use of popular culture materials in the
classroom is strongly motivating for students (Morrison, et al., 2002).
Specifically, the use of comics in second language classrooms is greatly
beneficial to the students (Nigay, n.d.). In fact, one of the strongest
benefits of using comics to teach is the ability of comics to motivate
students (Yang, 2003).
The comic book format is a powerful combination of discoursive
skills, artistic creativity and expression (Bitz, 2004). Comics seem to
employ a form of visual language that is almost universally understood
(Sones, 1944). Because of their interplay of visuals and words, comics
are easily accessible to non-native speakers of English. Moreover, comics
have been recognized for their broad appeal to almost any age group
or learner level because they depict real dialogue and culture (Davis,
1997). The use of comics compliments the acquisition of effective comprehension strategies (Bryan, et al., 2002). Comic books and comic strips,
with their colloquial dialogue and contemporary settings, can demonstrate
for students authentic language at all stages of acquisition (Cary, 2004,
p. 15). Daily comic strips and comic books are produced for native
English speakers, not for ESL students, and so are true examples of
authentic language (Williams, 1995). By using comics in the classroom,
students can investigate the use of dialogue, concise and dramatic vocabu-

Claude Andre Drolet 125

lary, and non-verbal communication (Morrison, et al., 2002).


The comic, with its static form, is potentially very strong in language
instruction because students can read the text at their own pace. When
compared to other forms of mass media, a comic can be seen as superior.
If a student is watching TV or a movie, the dialogue is quick, and
once it has passed, it is difficult for a student to review. In this age
of video and DVD, the viewer could easily stop the movie or show
and watch the scene over and over, but that halts the flow of the
dialogue and is unnatural. Visual permanence is unique to comics
(Yang, 2003, para. 8): with a comic, the student can easily go at his
own pace and not lose the flow of the context.
The concept of other forms of literacy, both audio and visual, now
has to be included in any pedagogical setting (Schmitt, 1992). EFL
teachers need to be aware of this problem and address the idea that
if students are to be able to make sense and gather meaning from
various forms of text, the teacher has to be able to help the students
develop multimodal communicative competence (Royce, 2002).
The design of comic books, with their interplay of visuals and text, allows
students to explore and expand their visual-spatial intelligence (Morrison,
et al, 2002). Comics are a significant deconstructive medium in the current
cultural shift from the printed book being in the dominant position and the
ability to read a book being the exclusive definition of literacy.

I
I
.Pr
i
orResear
ch
A review of the pertinent literature supports the use of comics in
the Language Arts classroom. Current research has shown that in the
reading of comic books more advanced cognitive abilities are needed
to understand the interplay of text and image than in the case of traditional
text on its own (Schwarz, 2002). Versaci (2001) found that comics are
more likely to encourage students to participate in discussions on comic
books than with more accepted forms of traditional literature. Indeed,
in a survey of teachers using comics in their Language Arts classrooms,
Annett (2008) showed that students, being familiar with the form and
style of comics, are more engaged with the material and were more able

126 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

to discuss the texts than with traditional text books. Furthermore, comics
can act as an intervening step to more difficult ideas (Yang, 2003) and
so comics have been suggested as a model to be used to help students
develop their writing skills, especially of story writing (Cary, 2004).
Unfortunately, there has not been a great deal of research into the
use of comics in ESL or EFL settings. Williams (1995) described his
usage of comic strips in an intensive ESL course and found that the
strips were a good medium to demonstrate common aspects of spoken
English. Norton and Vanderheyden (2003) looked at ESL students in
Vancouver, and the appeal of Archie Comics. They found that students
would form peer groups that would trade the comics amongst themselves,
and in so doing would discuss the comics in English. Furthermore, they
contend that using comics in ESL classes is beneficial in all four aspects
of language learning. This is supported by research done by Mangubhai
(2001) with Fijian Elementary school students. In a study on the impact
of non-traditional literature, including comic books, Mangubhai found
that students who read for a short time every day over an eight month
period had marked improvement in reading and listening comprehension.
More interestingly, after twenty months they found that daily reading
of comic books also had positive effects on writing and speaking.
More recently Liu (2004) found that comics were an effective material
for improving reading comprehension for second language learners.
He looked at high and low level ESL learners at a university in the
United States and showed that the use of comic strips greatly helped
low-level students. Ranker (2007) also looked at the use of comics
as reading material for ESL students and found that they help English
language learners with both reading and writing.

I
I
I
.Lesson Pl
ansf
orUsi
ng Comi
cSt
r
i
psi
n
EFL Set
t
i
ngs
This paper presents four methods of using comic strips in the teaching
of reading and writing. These sorts of lessons are adaptable to students
of various levels, but within this paper specific levels, child, adolescent,
teen and young adult, are targeted.

Claude Andre Drolet 127

3.1 Using Comic Strips to Teach Reported Speech


Overview
Beginning writers tend to write as they would talk unless encouraged
to write different types of text (Turbill, 2002). Writing students can
gain a great deal from seeing how different grammatical forms are
used in authentic texts (Frodesen, 2001). Comic strips can be useful
tools in improving literacy and teaching even beginning writers some
of the different grammatical forms typically used in other forms of
written text (Marsh, 1978).
In this lesson aimed at elementary school students in grade 6 who
have been studying English for two to three years in an EFL context,
students will be introduced to reported speech. Reported speech is used
to recount what another person says or thinks. Students will read a
number of comic strips and locate examples of reported speech, then
develop an explanation of how the speech is different from regular
dialogue. Students will explore the different purposes of using reported
speech in texts and everyday life through a class discussion. Finally,
students choose their own comic strips and re-write the dialogue using
reported speech.

Process
Students should each be given a copy of some comic strips, Peanuts
(available at http://comics.com/) for example, that have examples of
reported speech. Then the teacher tells the students that they will be
reading these comics, but before reading they will talk about a few
things. The teacher then asks the students a few leading questions to
activate prior knowledge about:
Daily newspaper strips in general and Peanuts characters in particular
Children and their daily lives (school, sports and other activities)
Cleaning supplies
The students then do a quick reading of the strips to get a basic
idea of the contents. When they are finished, the teacher explains or
gives definitions of the difficult vocabulary words.
The teacher will then ask the students to tell what he/she had said.

128 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

Then the teacher explains that what they are doing is reported speech:
they are reporting what another person said. Explain that in reported
speech generally, we change the pronouns and that the tense jumps
back. Demonstrate an example on the board:
Anxious means a feeling of discomfort or
You said that anxious meant
Then have the students go back to the strips and underline all of
the incidences of reported speech and write down who originally said
the reported speech (Ophthalmologist, Teacher, etc). Some class discussion should then focus on why writers of comic strips would use
reported speech and what functions this type of discourse serves in
writing or every day speech. For example:
To report what someone said in the past.
To report what someone thinks.
To report a piece of advice.
Continue the lesson by asking the students to practice some reported
speech with each other in groups of three. One student says something
and the second repeats it to the third.
Following the practice drill, give each student a copy of some other
strips, potentially Calvin and Hobbes or Garfield. Explain that they
are to use this handout to help them practice using reported speech.
For each panel they should write down who spoke and what the character
said. Allow students to work individually or in pairs. Encourage discussion
and sharing of what is being said in the strips. The teacher should
circulate among the students to monitor progress, provide support in
writing, and to assess their understanding of reported speech.

Extensions
Take some of the sample strips and blank out the speech balloons,
then using an overhead projector, have students tell the class the
dialogue.
This lesson can easily be adapted for adult learners by using
more complex adult oriented strips, for example Doonsebury,
Shoe, and For Better or For Worse (all available at http://www.
gocomics. com/features)

Claude Andre Drolet 129

3.2 Using Comic Strips for Character Descriptions


Overview
In a second language program it is important to work on a variety
of different skills that are interdependent. Some overlap between reading
and writing is natural in authentic materials (Hadley, 200, p. 283).
Students need to be introduced to a number of different genres to foster
an awareness of the different purposes of prose (Kroll, 2001). When
students begin writing, they tend to do so from the perspective of
their personal sphere and so students need to be given the opportunity
to practice with more abstract forms. The introduction of descriptive
writing gives students the impetus to move beyond their personal world
(Parkhill, 1987). Richardson (1987) and Davis (1997) suggest bringing
authentic visual material to class to help students plan what they have
to write. Comic strips are strong visual medium that can help students
develop their vocabulary (Parsons & Smith, 1993) and practice using
adjectives to describe characters (Nigay, n.d.).
In this lesson, made for students in their second or third year
of middle school who have had four or five years of EFL instruction,
students will increase their repertoire of descriptive adjectives by
reading some character descriptions in a few comic strips and then
explore different ways of describing people. Students will practice
choosing the correct word to describe a character and then be given
the opportunity to practice writing their own descriptions of some
other comic characters.

Process
The teacher will give each student a copy of the some strips, ideally
with well defined characters like Garfield or Calvin and Hobbs, and
tell the students that they will be reading these comics. However, before
reading you will want to talk about a few things. Ask the students
leading questions to activate prior knowledge about character traits
and physical descriptions.
The students then do a quick reading of the strips to get a basic
idea of the contents. When they are finished, explain or give definitions

130 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

of the difficult vocabulary words. Then ask the students to tell you
what they think of each character. Asking questions such as:
Who do you like?
How would you describe character X?
Students then write down a list of the characters in the strips and
then a list of the descriptive adjectives they can see in the strips. Once
they have a complete list, the students make small groups and discuss
the strips. They can ask and answer these or similar questions:
Who is your favourite character? Why?
Who do you dislike? Why?
Who is the funniest?
Which character are you similar to?
Which character is similar to someone you know?
Once they have completed the discussion, the students can practice
using the adjectives to write descriptions of themselves and their family
members.
The teacher then gives each student a copy of some other strips,
perhaps Peanuts, and explains that they will use this handout to help
them practice writing character descriptions. For each character they
should:
Write a short list of descriptive adjectives.
Then write a short descriptive paragraph for each character.
Give students time for their descriptions. Allow students to work
individually or in pairs. Encourage discussion and sharing of what is
being written. Circulate among the students to monitor progress and
provide support in writing.

Extension
Have some students read aloud their character descriptions and
have other students guess who is being spoken about.
For adult learners, political cartoons featuring well known politicians
and public figures could be used. Either western cartoons with
world famous figures (available at http://www.gocomics.com/explore/editorials0), or regionally focused political cartoons featuring
prominent local figures (for example http://joongangdaily. joins.com/article/list.asp?cat_code=010401).

Claude Andre Drolet 131

3.3 Using Comic Strips to Teach Narrative


Overview
Students with intermediate range writing skills need extended practice
in writing narrative texts (Hadley, 2000, p. 290). Kroll (2001) suggests
that writing teachers include reading of narrative texts in their classes
to help develop writing skills. Research supports direct instruction of
narrative structure and organizational devices such as story mapping
to enhance reading comprehension (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). Students
need to have experience with new forms of text (Anstey, 2002), especially
since text now goes beyond simply the written word to include visual
representations on TV, the internet and more (Semali, 2001). Visual
literacy is becoming more important (Dardess, 1995) and comics by
their very nature are interdisciplinary, bringing together a number of
literate skills (Sturm, 2002). Students can analyse the story structure
of a comic strip just as they would any narrative text (Tompkins, 1987).
Teachers can use a picture narrative like a comic strip to teach about
story structure and narrative elements like beginning, middle and end
(Combs, 2003).
In this lesson, aimed at students in high school who have had at
least six years of EFL instruction, students will be introduced to sequence
in a story. They will read a number of narrative picture texts and
then map out the story using story mapping techniques. Through this
process, they will increase their knowledge of narrative conventions
and how they are used to convey sequence in writing. Students will
also explore the different elements of using story maps to improve
understanding of texts. They can apply their understanding of the story
structure by mapping out a number of pictorial narratives.

Process
Students should first be given a copy of some sample strips. A
number of Calvin and Hobbs Sunday strips are very good for this
sort of activity as they are without dialogue. Tell the students that
they will be reading these comics but that they will have to use visual
clues to help them understand the story.

132 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

After the students have done a quick reading of the strips to get
a basic idea of the contents, as a class, discuss one of the strips, asking
students to describe the scene and then explain what is happening in
each panel. Students should be encouraged to suggest what each character
is saying in the comic. Once the class has gone through one strip
as a group, the students should then form pairs and take turns to tell
each other the stories in the other strips.
As the students speak, the teacher can write down on the board
some transitional words and phrases: Then, next, after that, as soon
as, first, second, etc. Point out to the students how they can use the
words to put the story in sequence.
After the students have had chance to go through a few strips,
the teacher will hand out the Story Map sheets (See Appendix). The
teacher can choose one of the strips and work together with the class
to fill in the information.
Ask students to choose one of the other strips to story map for
themselves. As the students fill in the information, circulate through
the class and help as needed. Finally, give each student a copy of
the Comic Strip Mapping Sheet (Appendix) and explain that they are
to use this handout to help them write out the story they had just
mapped. For each panel, they should write down the scene, who is
involved, what happened, and anything the characters might have said.
Give students enough time to work on their mapping sheets. Allow
students to work individually or in pairs. Encourage discussion and
sharing of what is being written about the strips. Circulate among the
students to monitor progress, provide support in writing, and to assess
their use of transitional words.

Extensions
Have some students tell the class their story.
For more advanced students or adults a series of daily strips could
be used. For example the Calvin and Hobbes sequence titled Attack
of the Killer Snow Goons published daily from December 31st
1990 to January 19th 1991. Elements of fiction, such as plot, pacing
and irony can then be brought into the classroom discussion.

Claude Andre Drolet 133

3.4 Using Comic Strips as a Topic for Writing


Overview
The aim of a university writing program should be to have students
write academic texts that are at the same level as native speakers.
More specifically, advanced writers should have practice in creating
complete texts on their own. Furthermore, writing assignments should
be aimed giving the students a medium for self expression so that
they feel invested in the work (Kroll, 2001). Students need to practice
with different forms of text, in this lesson, a letter to express opinion.
Comic strips can be a good prompt for writing (Norton & Vanderheyden,
2003; Ranker, 2007). Since comic strips show authentic examples of
language and culture (Davis, 1997), they can serve as a source for
real life issues worth looking at in class (Schwarz, 2002).
In this lesson designed for university students who have had nine
years of EFL instruction, students will increase their knowledge of
discoursive forms and how they are used in everyday writing by writing
a letter to the editor of a local paper to express their opinion. In the
course of the lesson, students will look at the purposes of writing a
letter to the local paper. Students will read an authentic comic strip
that represents a real life issue and then explore the different points
of view regarding the issues. Finally, they will apply their understanding
of the structure of an opinion letter by writing their own letter to express
their views on the issue.

Process
Each student needs a copy of appropriate strips. A good example
could be Peanuts comic strips that ran between January 5th and 20th,
1972 (available online at http://comics.com/peanuts#). In this strip, one
character, Peppermint Patty, becomes subject to a new school dress
code. She attempts to fight the dress code and engages a lawyer to
help her.
The students should be told that they will be reading these comics,
but before reading, they should talk about a few things. Ask the students
leading questions to activate prior knowledge about:

134 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

Daily newspaper strips in general and Peanuts characters in particular


Dress codes in school
Lawyers
Have the students do a quick reading of the strips to get a basic
idea of the contents. When they are finished, explain or give
definitions of the difficult vocabulary words.

The students read through the strips and then discuss as a class
what happened in the story. The students then write down some pros
and cons of having a school dress code. Once they have completed
the task, have the students form groups to discuss the issues in the
strips, answering questions like:
Did your elementary, middle or high school have a dress code?
What sort of dress code?
What do you think of having a dress code?
Do you think there would be a problem with letting students
dress as they like?
Does a dress code cause any problems?
Should we have a dress code at the university?
Is there such a thing as inappropriate dress in university?
The second part of the lesson involves talking about how a person
could express their opinion on social issues like a school dress code:
To address the Student Counsel
To address the Parent Teacher Association
To write a letter to the editor of a local paper
After some discussion, explain that the students will be writing
a letter to express their opinion on school dress codes. The teacher
should review the form of a letter on the board. Then give students
enough time in class to write a first draft of their letter to the editor.
Circulate among the students to monitor progress and provide support
in writing.

Claude Andre Drolet 135

Extension
Take some of the sample letters, remove any identifying information,
and make copies to distribute to the class for peer editing.

I
V.Concl
usi
on
Reading is more important than ever. For a person to be successful
in the future, he or she will have to be familiar with many types of
input, from TV to textbooks. Students need to read in order to improve
as readers, and further, to enable them to become better writers. Providing
students with authentic engaging texts will not only promote extensive
reading, it will also provide real-life language that is often missing
from the classroom. A strong method to encourage reading is the use
of popular texts such as comic strips. The use of comics has been
shown to compliment the acquisition of effective comprehension
strategies.
Almost all definitions of literacy include the key components of
communication and expression. As research has shown, the comic strip
format provides a powerful combination of discursive skills, artistic
creativity and expression; its use can scaffold to more difficult disciplines
outside of the language classroom. This paper has outlined a variety
of methods using comic strips in EFL settings. The use of comics
has been suggested as a model to be used to help students develop
their writing skills. Moreover, students enjoy the simple style and amusing
characters, while at the same time get proven practice in their reading
and writing skills.

Ref
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ences
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Claude Andre Drolet


SungKyul University
claudeteacher@yahoo.com

Received: 2010-9-14
Peer reviewed: 2010-11-24
Accepted: 2010-12-14

Claude Andre Drolet 139

Appendix
Story Map
Name:

Date:

Write notes in each section:


Setting:
Where:
When:

Major Characters:
Minor Characters:

Plot/Problem:

Event 1:

Outcome:

Event 2:

Event 3:

140 Using Comics in the Development of EFL Reading and Writing

Comic Strip Mapping Sheet


Scene
Panel 1
Panel 2
Panel 3
Panel 4
Panel 5
Panel 6
Panel 7
Panel 8
Panel 9
Panel 10
Panel 11
Panel 12
Panel 13
Panel 14
Panel 15
Panel 16
Panel 17
Panel 18
Panel 19
Panel 20

Characters
Present

Caption/Narration

Dialogue