Teaching English With Comics

Are you looking forward to teaching English with comics? Why would it be beneficial to teach English with comics or comic strips? This page provides some basic fundamental ideas that are both common sense and also found in the research literature on the use of comics in the EFL/ESL classroom. (This list of ideas is not exhaustive. Feel free to add on to this)

Why using comics to teach and learn English?

1. To Use Authentic Material

One of the greatest advantages is that comics and comic strips constitute authentic material. Although there are now several comic strips that have been written by and for EFL/ESL learners, most of them are written for other purposes than language learning. Using authentic material in the classroom has been strongly encouraged in the field of language learning  (Drolet, 2012, p. 124; Hadley,  2000,  p.  179-188). By using authentic materials, we provide our students with examples of how the language is actually used in the real word, as opposed to artificial and/or awkward structures found in EFL textbooks. When working with authentic materials, EFL learners can also realize that they may need that particular language in the situations presented in the comics; this will also work towards increasing students’ motivation.

2. To Have Fun and Motivate

Not all comics are funny, but they generally tend to be. Even more so, single comic strips are usually structured to lead towards a punch line at the end. Simply read some of the comics presented here on ComicsEnglish and you will most probably find yourself amused, smiling, or even laughing at some of these comic strips. Furthermore, if the students find them funny, they would be much more likely to keep reading. It is not always easy to develop somebody else’s intrinsic motivation, but choosing the right materials can really make a different. Intrinsic motivation also helps develop students reading skills (Grabe, 2004)

3. To Learn About Different Cultures

Most comics and comic strips are situated in time and place (even though it is sometimes not stated explicitly, by default, the action takes place in the country where the author resides at the present time), this provides an opportunity for EFL learners to learn and discover other cultures. Especially with the development of Webcomics that specialize on certain niches, students can identify with people with a similar interest. Learners interested in sciences, mathematics, etc, can most certainly identify well with xkcd comic strips; similarly, learners who like to take pictures or work as a freelancer will easily relate to What The Duck for example.

4. To Facilitate Vocabulary Acquisition

There are several reasons why it tends to be easier to understand vocabulary with comics:

  1. Most importantly, the visual aspect of the comics generally provides the context and the visual context of the words that are used. Very often, the words that are used in the bubbles are illustrated on the canvas. For example, in this comic strip, the word shovel is mentioned and illustrated at the same time.
  2. Since the input is presented in writing, the learners can take the time they need to pause, go back, analyze the text again, etc. This is less practical with audio and video materials.

5. To Develop Reading Skills

It goes without saying that more reading helps to develop reading skills, but what is particularly useful with comic strips is that they rich provide visual contexts that will definitely help the readers understand the text more easily. The constant visual support also helps the reader follow the sequence of the story. Several studies have been done to test the fact that reading comics helps students’ understanding of texts, I will refer you to the annotated bibliography here (under construction).

6. To Develop Analytical Skills

Reading cartoons is more than just reading text and images. To fully grasp a comic strip, one has to put the two together and see how they interact to construct the meaning. This encourages students to closely pay attention to the graphics in relation to the text that is given. By doing so, students will be better able to understand the use satire, symbolism and humor that is common in comic strips.

7. To Develop Writing Skills

Reading to develop writing skills? By becoming familiar to the structure of comics, students develop a better understand of logic and continuity in a narrative. Drolet (2010) also argues that this using comics can become good prompts for writing topics.

8. And more …

I’m sure that by now you have already come up with another reason why using comics can be useful for you and your students. Feel free to suggest your idea here as well 🙂

Doing Research?

See the annotated bibliography here.

Looking for Potential Activities?

See pages here (under construction).

Reference List

For a more detailed bibliography on this topic, see: annotated bibliography here.

  • Drolet, C. A. (2010). Using  Comics  in  the  Development  of  EFL  Reading  and  Writing. SungKyul University, 123-140.
  • Grabe, W.  (2004). Research on teaching reading. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics,  24,  44-69.
  • Hadley,  A.  O.  (2000).  Teaching  language  in  context(3rd ed.).  Boston: Thomson.

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