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Tech Module: Using Comic Life in the Classroom

Module by: Amelia Courtis. E-mail the author

Summary: I am interested in trying to tap into the interests of students to engage their minds in my classroom. In this day and age when graphic novels are more popular than ever, Comic Life is a perfect tool for this purpose. It can serve all levels of creativity and artistic ability. Comic Life can also serve a variety of purposes such as short assignments, projects, and presenting information. I will explore the many ways Comic Life can be used to spice up boring material and engage students.

Introduction

Today graphic novels and comic books are more popular than ever before. Over the years, they have inspired countless films, cartoons, television series, and other artistic forms, such as pop art and pulp literature. Also, numerous classic literature texts have been adapted in the graphic novel medium: Beowulf, King Lear, The Merchant of Venice, Dracula, Treasure Island, Huckleberry Finn, and Tale of Two Cities, just to name a few.

It is clear that the medium is in high demand, which has led educators all over the globe to begin considering appropriate graphic novels as viable texts for teaching. So why not channel the popularity, power, and creativity of graphic novels and comic books into a learning opportunity? Why not allow students to create their own? The engaging format and popularity among youths suggest that the graphic novel is a valuable medium with which to reach students.

What is Comic Life?

Comic Life is a program created by plasq for Mac computers, first released in April of 2005, and last year a version for Windows was also released. Comic Life is a user-friendly program that allows users to create a comic using photographs or images. The program is easy to learn, and both the artistically challenged and the artistically inclined can enjoy using the program.

You can use any JPEG format images, which means you do not have to use only photographs. For those who are especially artistic, hand-drawn illustrations can be scanned in the JPEG format. Your creations can be exported in .Mac, html, QuickTime, and JPEG formats, allowing you to post them on web sites, blogs, or send them via email. If you would like professional printing, you can send finished comics to the iPhoto Kodak print service with a link provided in the program.

How Do I Use Comic Life?

Creating a comic with the Comic Life program is easy. Simply select a template, drag images from your library (embedded in the program menu), and have endless fun adding effects, dialogue bubbles, text boxes, and titles. The comic can be as many, or as few, pages as you wish. Templates, styles, and fonts can differ from page to page because you create each page separately. You can also add effects to images to make them look like comic book images. The following are two links to help you learn how to use Comic Life. The first is a quick help sheet, covering the basics. The second is the complete manual formatted in pdf.

Short tutorial: www.macinstruct.com/node/69

Download pdf manual: http://www.edtech.sandi.net/index.php?option=com_docman&task=cat_view&gid=233&Itemid=229

If you are interested in checking out Comic Life, you can download a 30-day free trial or purchase the program at http://plasq.com/comiclife/ (Mac users) or http://plasq.com/comiclife-win (Windows users).

How Can I Use Comic Life in My Classroom?

With Comic Life, students can create their own comics and engage is the creative power and learning benefits of the medium. Comics can be created by students of all ages and can be used in all subject areas. Creating comics requires students to focus on how and why information and ideas are presented, rather than simply what is presented. The tool also allows students to develop high cognitive skills, given that they must accurately and concisely represent words visually. In order to compose even a one-page comic, students must understand concepts on a deeper level, requiring them to organize, analyze, and synthesize information. Thus, Comic Life can engage students both cognitively and creatively.

Comic Life presents a plethora of learning possibilities! It can be utilized for myriad purposes: illustrate concepts, compare/contrast concepts, character analysis, plot analysis, present an argument, represent or express interpretations, show cause and effect, demonstrate processes, and so much more. Teachers can also join in the fun, using Comic Life to present information in a more visually appealing and interesting format.

The beauty of Comic Life is its flexibility. Projects can be done individually or in groups and used for long-term or short-term assignments. Activities can be as simple as summarizing main points or as involved as creative writing. While I was hard-pressed to find specific lessons utilizing Comic Life, I found many lessons involving other forms of comic creation, which can easily be applied to the Comic Life program. The following are a few of my favorite lessons:

Comic Makeovers: Examining Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Media

http://www.readwritethink.org/lessons/lesson_view.asp?id=207

The Comic Makeovers lesson is tailored for 9-12 graders and can be used in English, history, journalism, or other relevant social studies classes. This lesson involves students exploring existing comics that use stereotyped representations of race, gender, class, and ethnicity. Students then “re-envision” them by creating new comics with more realistic images.

Ride the Rock Cycle

http://sciencespot.net/Pages/classearth.html

This is a fun earth science activity for grades 6-8, which illustrates how Comic Life can be used in science classes. Students explore the rock cycle and then create a story about “Roger, a metamorphic rock,” depicting and explaining “transitions” he’s gone through in his life.

Teaching Literary Devices

http://www.teachingcomics.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=73%3ATeaching+Literary+Devices+with+Comics&catid=36%3ALesson+Plans&Itemid=57

This lesson is for English classes, grades 6-12. Students use Comic Life to create comics using literary devices taught in class. Teaching Literary Devices is a good example of a short-term activity utilizing Comic Life.

All the News That’s Fit to Print

http://artsedge.kennedy-center.org/content/2337/

This lesson is geared toward ESL students in grades 9-12. The lesson involves students reading several variations of Cinderella and then creating a newspaper, including a comic section, on the story. This lesson illustrates how creating comics can help English Language Learners and could be easily adapted to use Comic Life.

These lessons do not provide finished products. Here are a few links that show you what educators and students have done with Comic Life:

Government in the Colonies

http://www.edtech.sandi.net/old305/handouts/iphoto/deneve%20AR/Comic.html

Gold Rush

http://www.edtech.sandi.net/old305/handouts/iphoto/gold/Comic.html

Examples on plasq.com (Not all of these are education-related. There is a really good one toward the bottom of the site that presents a very interesting idea: an interview of a poet, by Liz and Jem.)

http://plasq.com/comiclife/gallery/

What are the benefits of Comic Life?

1. Engaging. Comic Life activities can replace some of the less interesting but common tasks, such as timelines, plot summaries or story mapping, and listing information.

2. Utilizing multiple skill levels. Composing a comic can involve a range of skills and cognitive processes. Depending on the assignment, students may have to organize, analyze, and synthesize information. For example, having to compose a comic exploring the setting of a text requires students to visually compose their interpretation of the setting, rather than simply compiling descriptive words.

3. Appeals to multiple intelligences. Creating a comic with Comic Life may involve composing and taking photographs, drawing illustrations, writing, creating a logical sequence of events or frames, and provides a hands-on experience. Students may have the option to work individually or in groups, and visual learners would gain a great deal from the activity.

4. Meaningful learning. Comic Life can be used in a way that allows students to relate material to their lives and take an active part in their learning. For example, students may choose to act out a text, photograph events or actions, and create a comic from the photographs.

5. Appeals to all students. Using Comic Life is not only fun, but is also allows students to design according to their own personalities and aesthetic value. For instance, there are plenty of pink styles for the girls who may not initially like the ideas of a “boys” comic.

What are the possible constraints of Comic Life?

1. Expense. Comic Life Education is available for educators. The cost of one program and license is $20, and for 25 to 50, the cost is between $200 and $300. This is a fair price in the realm of software, but considering the constant problem in school divisions, it may be hard to get funding for the purchase. School divisions that have little funding, few computers, and little technology will not be able to afford Comic Life. Although there are free sites with alternatives, these greatly limit creativity and imagination. Additionally, if you choose to print, color printing can be very expensive.

2. Format restrictions. Comic Life uses only JPEG images, which means you must have access to a digital camera, scanner, and/or an image converter program, which may add to the financial constraints, unless the equipment is already available.

3. Time-consuming. Creating comics can require a lot of time. Students will need tutorials before creating their comic. Also, taking photographs, finding existing photographs, or composing drawings can take quite a bit of time to do. The students will also need to take time carefully planning their comics before heading to the computer to realize them.

4. Simple format. While Comic Life provides quite a bit of variety in designing comics, the program is still limiting in its capabilities and uses. It is certainly not an all-purpose tool.

5 Multiple computer access. In order to make any Comic Life activity most efficient regarding time, multiple computers need to be available simultaneously. This would require reserving the computer lab for both the tutorial and the actual day of creation, which may present a problem with schools that have limited resources. Also, it is possible that it may take more than one class period to create the comic on the computer.

Tips for Teachers

1. Review the tutorials and explore the program extensively before your students use the program so you can be most helpful in helping them realize their final product. You need to understand what the program involves and what it can and cannot do to cut down on the time it takes to complete the activity.

2. Provide a tutorial and print out steps or instructions for the students so they know the program before they create their comics.

3. Be very clear about the purpose and goal of the assignment. You must understand what you want students to do with Comic Life before unleashing them to do it.

4. Plan the process very carefully. Students will need time to brainstorm ideas, learn the program, gather or take photographs, and design the final product.

5. Have students sketch out their ideas and designs before the computer session(s). Much like typing a final draft of a paper, they should go through drafts of their designs, including captions and titles, so they know exactly what they are putting together when they use Comic Life.

6. Be careful! Comic Life can be endless fun! You need to be particularly attentive to keep the students on task and focused to make sure they are creating their comic and not just playing around.

Additional information and resources:

Wiki page on Comic Life

http://celia.wikispaces.com/Comic+Life

OS X Applications – Comic Life

http://www.eusd4kids.org/edtech/xapps/xapps_comic.html

Comics and graphic novels

http://mlc2006.wikispaces.com/Comics+and+Graphic+Novels

Practical Ideas

http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/literacy/findresources/graphicnovels/section/practical.asp

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