Contributed by: Jason Nisavic
When students walk in the door to start your class period, what do they expect to find? Hopefully, they look forward to your class as a chance to engage with something unusual and interesting. For teachers who would like to jumpstart their lesson with a conversation piece, it’s hard to beat a good web comic.
Take for example one of my favorites, XKCD, a fantastic online, science-focused comic that occasionally shows a great deal of heart:
I have a copy of “Grownups” on my wall because of its profound impact on my approach to adulthood. This is more than a three-panel punchline – it’s a short story with humor, a moral, and a happy ending.
WEBCOMICS IN THE CLASSROOM
Now, as an experiment, let’s see what we could do with this XKCD comic in the classroom. I gave myself 60 seconds to brainstorm, and here’s what I came up with:
- English: Turn the story into a first-person narrative. What thoughts does the man have as he navigates this situation?
- Sociology/Psychology: Reflect upon the expectations of adolescence and adulthood in society.
- Math: Calculate how many 3” diameter playpen balls could fit in your classroom.
That’s just one strip from a comic that has nearly 2000 entries. Here’s another one from XKCD that’s just as intriguing a comic as it is a classroom resource:
“Upgoer Five” is a powerful example of the phrase “restrictions breed creativity.” In it, a diagram of a rocket is explained using only the 1000 most commonly used English words (a full list can be found here.) How fun would it then be to have your students use the same list to explain a recently-learned topic as a formative assessment? The possibilities are endless!
OTHER WEBCOMICS OF NOTE
And that’s just to start! Below is a list of other promising webcomics to engage your students.
A now-defunct comic featuring mainly pictures with quirky captions, A Softer World can provide hundreds of creative writing prompts. (Occasionally NSFW)
The Oatmeal can give funny, sincere reflections upon life and culture (often NSFW, so be selective!)
Camp Weedonwantcha follows the ongoing struggles of a group of abandoned children who try to live together in an isolated camp. Funny, touching, and great character development. Organized into story arcs, but good luck pulling yourself away once you start.
Colorful History is a biweekly webcomic created by Pop Culture Classroom that provides short historical comics that focus on important figures in Colorado state history, complete with teacher guides!
Web comics are an excellent, zero-budget way to start thinking visually. If things go well, then maybe it’s time to start exploring the ways that comics and graphic novels can bring new life to your teaching. And while these are a great start, keep in mind they don’t even scratch the surface of all the great webcomics out there. Keep an eye out for Part 2 to get more examples and suggestions!