Matt Miller is a high school Spanish/Etymology teacher at Turkey Run Jr./Sr. High School in Marshall, Ind. His once-abandoned, soon-to-be-resurrected blog is http://ditchthattextbook.wordpress.com. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking to put a new twist on the same old writing assignments? Consider using Make Beliefs Comix to generate some interest and unlock the creative spirit in your students!
Make Beliefs Comix is a Flash-based website that gives students tons of flexibility as they create their own comic strips and input the text themselves. After entering the site, students name their comic and add their name as the author. Then the magic begins.
There are 32 characters that students can incorporate into their comics. What makes using Make Belief Comix’s characters great is that each one has four different poses. For example, the character with the hoodie, beanie hat and baggy pants does four things – gives a peace sign, crosses his arms, grabs a skateboard and listens to an iPod.
It provides much better variety than using the same clipart image for a character over and over again. Other characters include a werewolf, a child dressed as a pirate, Abe Lincoln, a lion pumping iron and an alien.
The basics of comic strips – speech bubbles, thought bubbles, panel prompts and background colors – are all customizable as well. Plus, there are props and scenery that can be added to each panel. Students can scale, flip, and bring to front their various characters and objects.
Once a comic strip is complete, it can be printed or a link to it can be e-mailed. Comic strips can’t be saved, so students probably shouldn’t embark on comic strips they can’t complete in the given amount of time.
Here's a tutorial video on how to use Make Beliefs Comix:
The educational applications of Make Beliefs Comix are far-ranging and can potentially hit almost any age or content area. They can be used for short in-class activities or homework assignments, or can be scaled up to full-sized, multi-week projects.
I’m a high school Spanish teacher, so I will use Make Beliefs Comix in class to practice new vocabulary terms or grammar concepts. After practicing new content in class, I will have students create a simple three-panel comic strip (my preferred number of panels). They are required to use new words or grammar concepts a certain number of times. I usually have them create their own stories and characters instead of placing guidelines on that, but some direction probably wouldn’t hurt in certain situations.
Here's some work some of my students recently created. These comics were in-class activities on a shortened, two-hour-delay class period (about 25 minutes of work). The grammar isn't great, but they did use the site well!
Make Beliefs Comix offers plenty of teacher resources to incorporate comic strips into their curricula. One of the site’s creators made a list of 21 ways to use Make Beliefs Comix. Some of his ideas:
• a comic strip autobiography
• commentary on local/national/world news or historical events/issues
• daily diaries
• life skills practice
• strengthening conflict-resolution skills
I could see it also being used to show understanding of historical events or literary plots (create dialogue between characters), explaining a new concept or mathematical operation, or playing out a hypothetical situation. The options are endless.
Here's a video about how students have learned English as a second language using Make Beliefs Comix:
Is a three-panel comic strip not enough to fit your needs? Make it a multi-strip project! Students can plan out a four-strip/12-panel comic page with an ongoing plot and create the four strips individually. After all four are done and printed, they can be cut out and put together on one page. Or go the digital route – e-mail the comic strip to yourself and do a screen capture of it (ctrl+shift+print screen on a Windows computer). Then paste the screen capture into Paint or another drawing program and save the image. Those images can be gathered in an individual document for a more professional-looking comic.
How can you incorporate Make Beliefs Comix into your curriculum? How could it be used in various different content areas or with different ages? Leave your ideas in the comments for this blog post.
But more importantly, try Make Beliefs Comix in your classroom and give your students a new outlet for their creativity!