Easy to Implement, Creative Tool Makes Students Believe in Their Power as Beginning Writers
Gallego Basic Elementary School
Tucson, United States
Make Beliefs Comix provides a list of ways you can use site content in the classroom to teach writing, storytelling, literature analysis, and other principles. Ideas range from encouraging students to create an autobiographical comic strip to using comics to help them understand new vocabulary words.
Students will most likely need to work individually on the site, and it unfortunately doesn’t offer any functionality to save creations on the site so you could view them online later. However, students can save the comic locally, print it out, or email their comic. The site’s plentiful — one might even say overwhelming — activity suggestions, including hundreds of printables (which are incredibly useful), can be used to help students practice writing and gear up to write longer essays and stories. These printables are also a great way to reinforce and extend learning happening on the Make Beliefs Comix site.
Beyond the printables, the Lesson Plan and Writing Tools/Prompts sections are worth visiting. The former offers six example lessons and the latter collects a large amount of inspiring writing sparks for students. Another newer feature that teachers can take advantage of are the interactive ebooks.
If you are a teacher who has a healthy population of English language learners, there’s an ESL section that provides students with activities to help them continue to acquire either the English language or, if they are working on the acquisition of another language besides English, the site supports students learning French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Latin; the site accepts words written in those languages. Lesson ideas for students with special needs are also included.
HOW I USE IT
I started using this tool to revitalize students’ interest in studying their spelling words, a task that has never generated excitement., The option to use Make Beliefs Comix incentives students to write complete and interesting vocabulary sentences. Homework and word study became more meaningful and enjoyable. Students were able to use the reasonably sized (for a free program!) graphic library to create a surprisingly large variety of contexts! When I realized the unanticipated potential of this straightforward creative tool, I started using it in other areas as well. For example, reluctant writers and second language learners were excited to use this program to share facts about animal habitats, adaptations, appearance, and behaviors that they otherwise would have needed to write up in standard paragraph form. The content remained the same but the ability to parse it encouraged them and made the task seem novel and approachable. Additionally, the comics on the wall outside our classroom were read long before the reports due to the visual appeal, and this provided additional real-world encouragement to students that had previously thought that they weren’t writers. Another use of this tool that surprised me was the number of students that wanted to write word problems using comics. The criteria for clarity, accuracy, and the ability to explain their reasoning remained the same and I found that students were less likely to need revisions to their word stories and were quicker to retain basic facts and see number patterns. I wouldn’t have anticipated this use and am glad that I stumbled across it. The comics, though constrained, gave students a visual avenue to mathematical abstractions. A final, more traditional use for this product that I repeatedly engaged in with my class is to have them use comics to create an ongoing story or a shorter (5-10 groups of 3 panels) exploration of a fictional or informative topic. I’ve found that the prompts listed on this site provide some fun story starters!
Overall, I highly recommend this tool despite drawbacks outlined below because it’s easy to learn and use for even those who are not tech savvy. The directions on the site are quite clear. It’s a great teaching tool because it doesn’t take a lot of time to teach it. I spent about 20 minutes going over the tool with the class, and clarifying expectations for responsible use of technology before releasing them to work independently because I find that is time well-spent with the younger students. It reminds them that when we are at school, we refrain from rabbit-hole searches and endless playing around with all the options on a platform. Usually I give them about 10-15 minutes of exploration time when they are introduced to a new program. I gave them another 20 minute with this so my actual introduction to the product was 40 minutes, but then after that they were responsible and on-task. With older students, I expect one could hold them to educational constraints with far less prep time, and I could have introduced my class to this and had it up and running in 5 minutes, but felt the groundwork was time well spent. Students intuitively knew how to manipulate the frames, resize objects, characters and bubbles, and change backgrounds. If that had not been the case, the directions were clear and right in front of them. I have found that it is usually only the teachers that need to read the directions with this site! There are several features that would make this product more flexible and usable in the classroom. First, it would be great to have the ability to insert a background of choice. When my students are writing about what they see, think and wonder in relation to a piece of art, it would be valuable to be able to insert the image in the background. Another feature that would make this tool more practical in the classroom would be the ability for students to save their comics to individual portfolios. My students have their own gmail accounts, but there are still several steps to labeling the emails they send themselves with the comics and then later snipping out the images into a separate document for printing and display as part of a larger body of work. Finally, while a strength of comics is brevity, it would be nice to have the option to insert more text by either enlarging a bubble or shrinking the font. It confuses young writers to have to remove several words due to space constraints when they’ve worked hard to craft a masterful sentence.