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Make Beliefs Comix Creator Bill Zimmerman

Make Beliefs Comix Creator Bill Zimmerman






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    Make Beliefs Comix Creator Bill Zimmerman Make Beliefs Comix Creator Bill Zimmerman Document Transcript

    • From early childhood I have always believed that learning should be fun since that has been my own experience. When I was a kid, I began learning how to read while looking at the beautifully drawn cartoon characters in the Sunday funny pages. I was challenged to decipher the white balloons coming from the characters mouths or above their heads. I knew instinctively that if I could begin to understand what the black printed letters in the balloons meant, I could better understand what the amazing stories were about. And with help from my parents, I began sounding out the letters which made words. In a short time I became a good reader. I never forgot the pleasure of reading comic strips and joke books and when I grew up I began working with cartoonists and illustrators to create art for the newspaper I edited and for the books I began to write. I knew that comic illustrations would provide a way to draw in people to read and understand complicated material. I became interested in using the computer as a tool to generate comics. And a year ago, I launched a web site – http://www.makebeliefscomix.com -- to empower teachers, trainers and students to create their own comic strips. As a teacher in ESOL and literacy programs, I understood that enabling struggling students to write and tell stories by building comic strips online would be a way of strengthening their emerging English-language skills and make the difficult job of learning English a much more enjoyable experience. If students are having fun they can accomplish anything they want in learning. The MakeBeliefsComix.com site works this way: Users can select from 15 fun characters with different moods -- happy, sad, angry, worried. The characters are a combination of human and animal characters with human characteristics. The characters are meant to be inclusive and are of various skin colors and types, including one who is in a wheelchair. All are friendly and engaging so that users will want to play with them and create words for them in the blank talk and thought balloons to make their characters talk and think. There also are story ideas and prompts provided to help users create graphic stories. This site can be used by educators to teach language, reading and writing skills, and also for students in English-as-a-Second-Language programs to facilitate self-expression and storytelling. A teacher or corporate trainer, for example, could use the strip to practice dialogue spoken by characters. And with computer literacy so emphasized today in ESOL and literacy programs, the very act of encouraging a student to create a simple comic strip online also provides a way for students to become more comfortable in using the
    • computer. As they learn to negotiate the site and move characters and thought balloons around, they are also improving their computer skills. Some educational therapists also use the site with deaf and autistic people and trauma victims to help them understand concepts and communicate. Teachers can create scripts to help people practice certain situations, such as greeting someone, or interviewing for a job, or talking with a teacher about their children’s problems. Some teachers use the strips as storyboards to help students more easily understand books that their students may be reading in class. One teacher in Australia told me, for instance, that she created story boards with the site to help her students better understand Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Students reading a book might use MakeBeliefsComix to extend the story by writing about a character whose life and adventures continue after the book is closed, or even to write a different ending. Better yet, they can use the online comix-maker to write their own story. Educators who are teaching new vocabulary might have students create a comic strip in which the characters use the new words that have been learned that day in class. Having to write sentences for characters to speak also provides a way to practice sentence structure and learn grammar. Students who have been assigned a book to read might create a comic strip or strip series summarizing the book’s ideas. Parents and children in family literacy programs can also create stories together, print them to create comic books or email them to friends and family. Generating strips also becomes a tool to help parents and children work jointly and communicate effectively in creating something new. Others will find the site a resource to be creative, calm down and have fun – something that is needed as students struggle so mightly in class to master a new language. I have been conducting workshops both for students who are learning English as a second language and with those who as struggling to be literate. Generally, in showing students how to use the site, I will create with them a group comic strip incorporating their ideas. This becomes a great class collaboration. We’ll choose a subject for example, such as going for a job interview, or making conversation with a friend, or going on a date, or deciding what we want to do this coming weekend or where we want to go on a vacation. Then we’ll create a story together, using one or two characters in each panel. The characters become surrogates for ourselves and can be used, too, to help students work out problems or situations that are troubling them in their lives. I might then start a dialogue in one of the talk balloons, asking the students to choose a character and for suggestions for dialogue, and then I’ll ask for
    • more dialogue for another character to speak. Then we’ll try to move the story along by moving to a second panel. Later, when students start their own comic strips, I encourage them to work with a partner to help each other along. Such collaboration gives students more confidence and ideas in creating a story, and in working together the students improve their language skills as they come up with words and ideas for the characters to say and execute. I remember working with a group of Chinese and Hispanic students who were first learning English. Working together, they worked collaboratively at the computer site for almost three hours at one session until they had fully shaped and completed their comic story. Just the experience of having to talk together and create make-believe dialogue for the characters enhances communication skills. There also are story prompts included on the site to give students ideas for themes, such as Travel to a Mysterious Place, A Day at School, Write a Love Story, Finding Your Courage, Making Wishes Come True, and A New Fairy Tale. In making comic strips, we also have an easy, fun way to practice sentence structure, to use new vocabulary, to engage in make-believe conversations that allow students to practice speaking, to work individually or collaboratively, as well as to practice creative writing and After a student completes her comic strip, she is encouraged to publish or print out copies to keep of her work. This validates her creative writing effort. The site also allows her to email a copy to a friend or relative. The students love seeing the finished comic strips and can keep in their portfolios to look at and enjoy their hard-earned effort to create something new. Students like showing their families and friends what they have created. The creation of the comics, thus, becomes an empowering experience for many students and reinforces the learning they have accomplished. And I have yet to see a frown or a tear shed in the language learning process of creating and working with comics. (Bill Zimmerman is the author of 18 books used in many educational programs to encourage people of all ages to discover their writers’ voices. A journalist all his life, he created and edited a nationally syndicate Student Briefing Page for Newsday newspaper in New York which was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. He is also the creator of two web sites: http://makebeliefscomix.com and http://www.billztreasurechest.com, where excerpts from his books can be found. He welcomes your comments and feedback at wmz@aol.com.) (Note to editor: You are welcome to use characters or cartoons that you might create with MakeBeliefsComix.com)