Archive for Tips

A Newbie’s Guide to Teaching Comics

Guest Post by John C. Weaver, Williamsport Area High School

So, you’ve decided to bring graphic novels in the classroom, have you? Excellent! You’ll find it immensely gratifying, and your students will love it. Comics and graphic novels immediately engage both high and low end readers. But, now that you’re committed to teaching with this medium, how do you start? 

Picking Your First Books

Perhaps you have already chosen a comic to bring into the classroom, but if you haven’t quite reached that point, your first step is to select a book.

Would you prefer fiction or non-fiction? Perhaps you’d like to start with a graphic adaptation of classic books (there are many of them).

An excellent resource for teachers new to the medium is diamondbookshelf.com. There you will find plenty of book reviews; lesson plans sorted by elementary, middle school, and high school; and upcoming titles.

Although I’ve taught quite a few graphic novels (my classroom bookshelves are crammed with them), some of my (and my students’) recent favorites include Derf Backderf’s memoire My Friend Dahmer, which recounts Backderf’s high school acquaintance with future serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer; and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, which details her experiences as a child during the Iranian revolutions.

Before You Dive In

Once you’ve picked a text, the next thing I recommend you do is read Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics for your own benefit.

McCloud’s text is a comic book about the medium of comics, which will teach you both the theory and the practice of the form.

Order a class set of these for your classroom as well.

Ready, Set, Go

Your books have been chosen and ordered, so now you need to figure out how to introduce and begin to teach students the graphic novel.

What follows will not be a full unit plan (that’s a different, and vitally important, subject). Instead, this is a step-by-step guide to begin a unit on your comic.

Understand, this is what I do; feel free to adopt or ignore any of these steps, which also goes for the examples I include: use them as is or adapt them as you choose.

Step One (Duration: One or Two Days)

Take the temperature of the room.  Find out, whether through a bell ringer or a show of hands, what their experience with comics is—and newspaper funnies count.

Some students will have no experience at all, and others go to their local comic book shop every Wednesday. (For newbies out there, Wednesday is new comic book day.)

When you identify your comics fanboys and fangirls, RELY on them. They are your experts and will help the other students figure out how to read comics.

Once you have done this, you’ll need to show them how comics work. I suggest introducing the distinction between illustration and comics that Jimmy Gownley (writer and artist of the Amelia Rules series) has discussed in a teacher training that I attended.

Look at Figure 1 below.  (While the idea and the words are Gownley’s, the “art” is my own. Gownley is an actual artist!)

The EGL Blog | Where to Start | Illustration 1In the above examples, Gownley would call the one on the left an illustration, because the text and the art are very closely related, much as you would see in a children’s book.

The one on the right is a comic, according to Gownley, because the reader needs to connect text and art into a single idea that isn’t immediately apparent.

You can ask students to talk about the differences between the two examples. Having them discuss why the man is running for milk helps drive the differences home.

The last thing to do is to show a variety of short comic strips is among many websites that have free online strips, and ask students to discuss the connection between art and text. With the online comics, you can point out that they will read comics the way they read books: left to right.

Step Two (Duration: One Day)

Once students have become familiar with the form, you could consider the create-a-comic activity.

When I do it, I create three panels, each with a different piece of clip art.

In groups, students turn random pictures into a coherent story with some combination of additional art, captions, and speech/thought bubbles. They then share them with the class, which works really well.

My students make me proud with their imaginative responses. I’m sure yours will, also. Figure 2 shows the actual exercise I use.

The EGL Blog | Getting Started | Illustration 2

Step 3 (Duration: Two or Three Days)

Now that students are familiar with how text and art interact in comics, and they have done it themselves with the create-a-comic exercise, it is time to expose them to some comic book theory.

Bring out your class set of Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, and assign them to read Chapter Three. 

While you may wish to assign them the whole book—which would be lovely—for practical purposes, chapter three of Understanding Comics is very useful.

McCloud looks at the same phenomenon that Jimmy Gownley does, that reading comics requires understanding the juxtaposition of text and art, or art and art. McCloud refers to the concept of closure, which means we can look at a series comic book panels and understand what point the comic artist is making.

Using the idea of closure, McCloud examines the different types of transition of one panel to the next. The taxonomy he creates in chapter three will be useful for you and your students as you discuss the writer and artist’s purpose for setting up the panels as they do.

It would be a good idea to create a graphic organizer such as the one in Figure 3 to help focus your students during the reading.

The EGL Blog | Getting Started | Illustration 3

Step 4 (Duration: As Long as It Takes)

Once your students have both a practical and a theoretical understanding of comics, and all of you have a common vocabulary to discuss them, it is time to distribute the graphic novels and start assigning readings.

While teaching the text for the first time, you will need to rely on the students who read comics or manga regularly. They will be your greatest allies. However, keep in mind, English teachers can always discuss plot, character, setting, theme, and metaphor, just as with any book.

Comics simply add one more element—the interaction of art and text.  All of your students, both the high performing and the struggling students, will respond well to comics.

Have fun with it, and allow yourself to learn from your kids. I did, and I have never been more grateful for taking a risk with a group of teenagers. 

Resources

There are a number of teacher-generated resources for teaching with graphic novels, including Pop Culture Classroom.

Another great resource is Dr. Katie Monnin from the University of North Florida at Jacksonville. Her books, which can be purchased at http://www.capstonepub.com/classroom/authors/monnin-katie/ are very useful, and filled with practical teaching strategies and reproducible handouts for classes.

Another useful source is Maureen Bakis, whose books can be purchased on Amazon at this link: https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias=aps&field-keywords=maureen+bakis

How to Get Free (or Almost Free) Comics for Your Classroom

Last Updated: 12/20/17

Eager to get started using comics and graphic novels to help your students improve reading skills, increase exposure to STEM topics, or just generally spark a love of learning across a wider range of learners?

If you’re like many of the educators we often talk with, the biggest challenge may be how to afford those comics in the first place.

There’s good news. There are a growing number of free sources of comics online and, with a little creativity, you may be able to get free (or very low cost) printed books as well.

Here’s a few of our favorite ways of getting comics for your classroom at no (or very little) cost. We’ll be updating and adding to this list moving forward, so be sure to check back often to see what’s changed.

IMPORTANT ATTRIBUTION: We’d like to give a huge thank you to the School Library Journal (SLJ) for providing the descriptions for some of these comics via their recent blog HERE. Any descriptions that originated on the SLJ blog/website are marked with “SLJ:”

 

Free Comics Online (Updated Regularly)

Pop Culture Classroom’s Colorful History
Free 2-page comic celebrating major events in Colorado history, plus a free Teachers Guide, Script and Rough Sketches.
http://popcultureclassroom.org/education/colorful-history/

Camp Weedonwantcha
Super-funny and irreverent webcomic a-la Lord of The Flies meets Weird Supernatural summer camp stuff. 
http://campcomic.com/

Hiveworks
A creator owned and free-to-read publisher of a variety of web comics.
https://hiveworkscomics.com/

Xkcd
A webcomic of romance, with sarcasm, math, and language. NOTE: Lots of these are not appropriate for kids.
https://xkcd.com/

The Creepy Casefiles
SLJ: Charles Thompson’s parents have uprooted him from his comfy home and moved to a dilapidated hotel in a strange city, where there’s a troll in his closet.
http://www.drewweing.com/

Princess, Princess
SLJ: A 46-page story about a princess in a tower who is rescued by…another princess. There’s a low-key romance and a strong message about self-confidence in this charming fairy tale.
http://strangelykatie.com/

Sheldon
SLJ: The humor is goofy, topical, and perceptive in this gag-a-day comic with a loose cast of characters: Sheldon, a 10-year-old billionaire, his friends Emily and Dante, his grandfather, a talking duck, a dog, and a lizard.
http://www.sheldoncomics.com/

Breaking Cat News
SLJ: A trio of cats report breathlessly, CNN-style, on the doings of the people in their house in this hilarious gag-a-day comic. Andrews McMeel will publish a version this year.
http://www.breakingcatnews.com/

Gunnerkrigg Court
SLJ: This long-running comic follows the supernatural adventures of Antimony Carver and her friend Kat Donlan at a most peculiar boarding school.
http://gunnerkrigg.com/archives/

As the Crow Flies
SLJ: Charlie is sure she won’t fit in at Three Peaks Camp, a Christian backpacking camp for teen girls. She’s black, she’s queer—and she’s in for a few surprises.
http://www.melaniegillman.com/

M.F.K.
SLJ: A fantasy about a girl traveling through the desert to scatter her mother’s ashes who encounters a cast of characters with their own agendas. Winner of the 2015 Dwayne McDuffie Award for Diversity.
http://www.mfkcomic.com/

Wonderlust
SLJ: Launched in January, this is a slice-of-life story about a schoolgirl who “learns the true meaning of Halloween.”
http://www.wonderlustcomic.com/

Hark! A Vagrant
SLJ: Kate Beaton’s wry gags riff on history, literature, and pop culture, taking on everything from Wuthering Heights to Joan of Arc. The print collection Step Aside Pops! made the 2016 YALSA list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens.
http://www.harkavagrant.com/

Homestuck
SLJ: Homestuck, with a lot of game-ish elements, starts with one character and builds into a complicated plot about kids playing a video game to save the world. More than 7,000 pages, it’s epic, with a huge fan base.
http://mspaintadventures.com/

You Say Latino (One-Pager)
SLJ: The author, who is half Mexican, explains the difference between “Latino” and “Hispanic.”
https://www.vox.com/2015/8/19/9173457/hispanic-latino-comic

Threads. The Calais Cartoon (One-Pager)
SLJ: Evans recounts her experiences as a volunteer at the refugee camp in Calais, France.
http://www.cartoonkate.co.uk/threads-the-calais-cartoon/

 

(Almost) Free Ways to Get Printed Books

Scholastic Book Clubs Points

Scholastic has been offering a fantastic program for many years that awards points to teachers when their students purchase books from the club.

The more books (including comics and graphic novels) your students buy from the program, the more points you earn and can spend on purchasing more comics.

Plus, Scholastic Book Club is one of the least expensive places you can buy comics that are appropriate for kids. They will often be priced at wholesale or below, and other comic publishers sell through the program.

Some titles are even sold below cost, acting as primarily an advertisement (aka “loss leader) to promote he publishers’ most recent and/or most popular titles.

Partner with Your Local Comic Book Shop

Take a trip to the comic book shop nearest your school and bring your teacher ID. Let the shop owner or manager know you’re a teacher with a very limited budget (but are eager to get comics into your classroom) and see if they can help you out with some free of very low-cost books.

To sweeten the deal for the shop owner, ask them if they have any stickers for their shop that you could place on each of the comics, encouraging your students — and anyone they share the comics with — to go in and buy comics at the shop when they can.

This is just one example of creating a “win-win” for you and the shop, and most owners are always looking for new and creative ways to get new customers.

Here’s a few other things to ask or discuss while you’re there:

  • Ask to look at their discount bins. It may take time to flip through all of them, but it’s often worth it since you can find great comics heavily discounted — sometimes for as low as a dollar each.
  • Ask if they are willing to sell educational copies of comics at cost or a specially discounted rate.
  • Consistently remind them that you’re open promoting their store via popups, posters, or whatever promotional materials they can provide at your school, in return for them donating comics on a monthly, quarterly or annual basis.
  • And, last but certainly not least…

Free Comic Book Day

Each year, on the first Saturday in May, comic book shops host Free Comic Book Day (FCBD). On that day, publishers provide comic shops with a wide range of free comics as a way to attract new readers.

The next one happens on May 5, 2018. Before then, go into your local shop and ask if they would be willing to set aside any remaining grade-level appropriate books after FCBD is over, for you to use in your classroom collections. Let them know you’ll share any extras/duplicates with your colleagues.

 

For Next Time

We hope this post has been helpful! Please leave feedback or suggestions for future posts in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or by sending email to education@popcultureclassroom.org.

In our next post, we’ll be focusing on ways parents can use comics to increase their child’s reading skills.

See you there.

DCC’17 PSA: 5 Reasons to Buy Your Tickets Online Instead of at the Door

Yes, you can buy tickets at the door, but why go through all the extra time, hassle and cost? Even if you buy your tickets the same day you plan to arrive, it will still be easier, faster and cheaper than buying at the door.

1. It’s Cheaper

No matter when you buy them, even if it’s the same day as you plan to attend, tickets cost $10 less online than at the door.  Why not save a few dollars?

2. Save Time When You Arrive

Typically the lines to buy tickets onsite are much longer than the lines to exchange your pre-purchased e-ticket for a badge. Get in faster by purchasing online and printing your e-ticket before you arrive. You can even exchange your e-ticket starting on Thursday before the con so you can arrive on your day, ready to go!

3. Avoid a Sellout

We do NOT hold/reserve tickets for onsite purchase. Meaning, if tickets sell out online before the day you arrive, you will NOT be able to purchase tickets at the door for that day. Speed Passes and 3-days are already gone. Saturday tickets are moving fast.

4. Added Convenience

It might go without saying, but buying tickets online is usually more convenient since you can purchase when you choose, plan your arrival time more carefully, and have confidence there will be fewer surprises when you get onsite.

5. If You Have an Issue, You’re Already in the System

If for some reason you need to make adjustments to the number in your party of have any other issues with your ticket, ordering online allows you to get the help you need faster because you’ll already be in the system and have an order number.

DCC’17 PSA: 6 Ways to Have a Great time at DCC with Your Kids

Wondering if you should bring the kids to DCC? The answer is definitely yes! What sets DCC apart from almost every other con is that we are produced by an educational non-profit Pop Culture Classroom.

That means we make a huge effort every year to keep your costs down and offer an enormous amount of programming geared specifically for kids and students. If you do bring the kids, here’s 6 things you don’t want to miss, and a few tips to make your con experience the best is can be.

UPDATE: We now have an entry map to help you find where to go when you arrive! Click the button below to view and download:

1. The HUGE Kids’ Learning Lab

Our 10,000 square foot Kids’ Learning Lab features dozens of cool hands on activities and exhibitors, all focused on promoting the S.T.E.A.M learning curriculum.  We’ll also have two stages with presentations and performances for kids by voice actors and comic pros, demonstrations by pop culture experts, and discussions for teens about the topics and issues they care about.  All programming is always included in the price of admission.

2. Kid/Teen Focused Educational Panels

We’ve planned over a hundred hours of educational panels designed exclusively for kids and teens.  Watch our website and social channels for an announcement of the full programming schedule soon.  Friday (June 30, 2017) is particularly eventful to the under-19 crowd, because that is “Educators Day” at DCC. More on that HERE

3. Bring the Smallest Stroller You Can

Need to bring a stroller? Strollers are allowed on the show floor, but we recommend you bring the smallest one you can. Keep in mind that the con floor can get super crowded, so pushing a stroller through the sea of people can be very challenging at times. Best to be prepared that you may have to collapse your stroller and carry it occasionally.

(Note, in an earlier version of this post we said that there would be designated areas for stroller parking, and this was incorrect.  We will NOT have stroller parking available. Apologies for any confusion this might have caused!)

4. Bring Snacks and Water Bottles

There is a LOT to do and see at the con, and your kiddos may have a hard time pausing amidst all the action, so plan on keeping them hydrated and fed on the go! Bring water bottles or sippy cups and refill them at any one of the many water fill stations and fountains throughout the convention center. Bring light snacks, too, because you’ll be burning some calories will all the walking — and remember that summer in Colorado is hot and dry.

5. Have a Plan for Breaks

Just like going to a large theme park, it’s important to plan for breaks appropriate to the age(s) of your children. The con can be overwhelming at its peak moments.

6. Remember: Child Badges Cost Less

Planning to buy tickets for the kids but wondering about prices? Con attendees 12 and under tickets are only $8.25 (includes fees, but not sales taxes) – and that covers all three days of the con!

 

DCC’17 PSA: 5 Tips to Get In Without Channeling Your Inner Hulk

As you may have read in our recent blog post, we will be doing bag and prop checks this year to ensure the safety of all attendees. Yes, inevitably this means things will go slower at entry time, so here are 5 tips that may reduce your stress (and avoid bringing out the Big Green Guy) when you get to the entrance lines.

And, we now have an entry map to help you find where to go when you arrive! Click the button below to view and download:

1. Arrive About An Hour After the Official Opening Time

If you don’t really have to be on the con floor right at the start of the day, come about an hour after the official opening time. There will likely be thousands of people lining up first thing in the morning, and the reality is — even with multiple bag and prop check stations — security can only go so fast. So, unless you have your heart set on being among the first into the con, just wait a little while before arriving, and you’ll likely get in a lot faster.

2. Pick Up Your Badge on Thursday (Con Starts Friday)

If you need to exchange your ticket for your badge, do it on Thursday, the day before the con starts. The lines will be much shorter, if there are lines at all. Have a friend swing you by the B Lobby on the Welton side so you don’t have to park, then have them pick you up after you’ve got your badge. No friend available?  Try using Lyft – New Lyft users click HERE for $5 off 3 rides and existing Lyft users enter the promo code DCC20OFF  for 20% off one ride to/from the Con. And remember to bring a printout of your ticket and your I.D. Hours: Thursday, 9am-6pm and each day of the con starting at 8 am in the same Bat-Location of B Lobby.  

3. Read the Cosplay and Prop Guidelines BEFORE You Come

Cosplaying or bringing in props?  Be sure to read and adhere to the 2017 guidelines HERE before you arrive.  Knowing what can and cannot be brought into the con can save you time and headaches onsite.

4. Buy Tickets in Advance (Less Risk, Less Cost)

If you don’t have tickets yet, now is the time! Saturday badges are nearly gone and you don’t want to miss out. If tickets are still available by the time the show opens, we will sell them “at the door” but know that this is more expensive! Tickets are $10 higher at the door, so plan to get yours online ahead of time and save that extra cash.

5. Drink Water … Seriously, Drink a Lot of Water

Lines are inevitable (see item #1) with this many people in one place, so plan to hydrate! Bring a water bottle and refill it at any one of the many fill stations at water fountains throughout the convention center. Bring a light snack with you, too, and remember that summer in Colorado is hot and dry.