Learning English through Popular Culture Comic Strips Teacher’s Notes

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Learning English through Popular Culture

Comic Strips

Teacher’s Notes


By the end of the lessons, students will be better able to:

  • order a simple narrative

  • use language to describe types of speaking

  • describe the names and uses of comic strip conventions

Time Needed

  • 6-7 forty-minute periods

Learning / Teaching / Assessment Tasks / Activities

Comic Strip Storylines

  • Students play a speaking game about comic strips

  • Students are introduced to two characters in a strip and work with the structure of a comic strip narrative

  • Students learn / review expressions connected with speaking before role-playing the comic strip narrative

  • Students complete a written summary of the comic strip narrative

Features of Comic Strips

  • Students label key features of a comic strip and read definitions

  • Students listen to a description of the use of conventions and take notes

  • Students match dialogue to speech balloons

  • Students write dialogue for characters in a comic strip

  • Students complete a factual error correction activity on comic strip writing

Materials Required

  • Student’s handouts S15-S23

  • CD Track 4

Introducing Comic Strips

Teacher’s Notes


These activities introduce students to the comic strip text-type, and give them an opportunity to work with a basic storyline and character motivations. Students work with a simple narrative and consider a possible story ending. The language work focusses on volume and pace in speaking, both reflected through key comic strip orthographic conventions.

Learning Activity 1 Speaking

What do you know about comic strips? (10 minutes)

This activity provides students with an opportunity to practise speaking in small groups in order to share ideas and guess simple facts about the history of comics.
Bring in some comic magazines to class and ask students if they read them. Ask students how comics are different from novels, textbooks, manuals, and newspapers (e.g. use of image, no. of pages, covers, storylines, audience, pricing). This game is designed to cover (a) some student-centred opinions – questions 1 and 8, and (b) some basic facts about comics and characters, which touch on comic development in different periods in China, Japan and America / the UK. As with all games, demonstrate it with a group of four and deal with questions before students start to ensure maximum take-up and persistence.

Note for the game:
What if
a student’s counter lands on the same square? S/He answers the same question but from her / his point of view / or skips the question.

What if a person gets to question 8 really quickly? S/He can answer 2 or 3 more questions s/he hasn’t answered before.

What if there were some questions students couldn’t answer? The teacher can go through the questions students ask her / him to cover.


  1. Opinion question

  2. True – the first recorded instance of a comic character is in Britain in the early 1800’s.

  3. True – It was called Lianhuanhua. Images of this can be seen at http://kaladarshan.arts.ohio-state.edu/exhib/ccomic/comindx.html

  4. (b) a mouse - Mickey Mouse born on 18 November 1928.

  5. Manga is the name of the Japanese comic strip; Manhua is from Manga, and refers to the Chinese equivalent. Anime is the name of animated cartoons based on Manga characters. In summary: Manga: Japanese; Manhua: Chinese
    (and Manhwa: Korean); Anime: Asian animated cartoons

  6. McMug and McDull are well-known Hong Kong pig comic characters created in the late 1980’s. McDull is typically known as the sillier of the two pigs although McMug is fairly silly too.

  7. (c) Astro Boy is the superhero. He has special powers. Astro Boy was created in Japan in the 1950’s and is one of the earliest Asian superheroes. The others are (a) a child character; (b) a cat character and (d) a small boy (and his toy tiger). Calvin and Hobbes is introduced here as one of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strips is worked on at a later point.

  8. The four options in this story reflect the main content of comics available today. Option (d) is generally political and aimed at an older audience.

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more support
  • Give less confident / less able students the role of prompter with strips for questions 1, 5, and 7, so that they can read to ‘help’ the others (see below).


earning Activity 1
Speaking Prompt strips for students who need more support

1 What comics do you regularly read? Do you read them because of the story,

the action, the characters, or the look of the comic?

5 Manga could mean one of the following:

(a) a Japanese comic (b) a Taiwanese magazine (c) a Korean book

Manhua could mean one of the following:

(a) a Chinese magazine (b) a Chinese book (c) a Chinese comic


Clues: A boy who can fly and has special powers

  • Learning Activity 2 Reading and Speaking

Character and Story (15 minutes)

Through reading and vocabulary work, students are introduced to two characters, and their relationship and motivations, in preparation for working with the structure of a simple narrative. This strip can be found on S18 and T22.

Summary of the story:

Panel 1: Calvin (a very young boy) is supposed to be in bed. He doesn’t feel like going to bed, so he puts a broomstick in his bed instead and plays in a different part of the apartment.

Panels 1 & 2: His mother comes to say goodnight, and finds the broomstick.

Panel 3: She starts to shout for Calvin.

Panels 4-10: In a different part of the apartment, Calvin is moving in slow motion. He pretends he cannot move any quicker to avoid going to bed.

Panels 11-12: When Calvin’s mum raises her voice, Calvin quickly changes pace and runs to bed, saying that he has had a ‘time snap’ (and therefore can move quicker).


A Reading – Characters
(5 minutes)

These boxes introduce the character’s role and main motivations. By the end of this short speaking activity, which could be set up in pairs or led by the teacher, students should establish that: (1) little children don’t like going to bed early and will invent a number of ways to avoid it; (2) Calvin’s mother will assert her authority to make him go to bed.

B Vocabulary – Prepar
ing for the story

Vocabulary check (10 minutes)

This is a short vocabulary check of key items in the story which are important to the narrative. Once students match the items, they are asked how they might shape the story. Give students a few minutes to brainstorm ideas.

Answers (italics and bolding show word stress):

(2) (c) a broomstick (a compound noun)

(3) (a) slow motion (a compound noun: we usually say ‘to move in slow motion’)

(4) (b) get ready for bed (a verb + noun collocation)

Learning Activity 3 Reading, Speaking and Grammar

Working with the story

A Reading – What happens in the story? (10 minutes)

This activity provides an opportunity for students to use visual cues to order a simple narrative.

Preparation – See T22 for comic strip. Cut up the narrative ‘story strips’ below, one set for each group of four to five students and give them out. Students order the sentences. Then using the classroom visualiser, reveal the comic strip row by row and have students check the order of their sentences.

The aim of this brief, fun activity is to get students ordering sentences to show simple narrative structure: (a) characters / time / location setting – Calvin’s bedroom / their apartment; (b) complication / problem – Calvin should be in bed and isn’t, he’s elsewhere; complication / problem – Calvin uses a technique to avoid going to bed (slow motion walking); and (c) solution – Calvin’s mum raises her voice to assert her authority: Calvin speeds up and runs to bed.
For vocabulary, teachers may want to highlight the phrase ‘to move in slow motion’. Help students to think about why Calvin changes speed – because of the nature of the parent and child roles the characters have. This is why the mother uses the structure ‘you’d better get in normal speed’: a strong language device to indicate there may be bad consequences if the action isn’t followed.
Learning Activity 3A Reading Story strips to cut up for students to order

(a) Calvin’s mum finds him walking in slow motion.

(d) Calvin changes to high-speed and runs to bed.

(b) She calls for Calvin.

(e) It’s night time, and Calvin’s mum comes to say goodnight, but he isn’t in bed.

(c) She tells him to speed up / change speed.

(f) In another part of the house, Calvin is moving in slow motion.

Answers: e, b, f, a, c, d

B Reading – Preparation for role-play (5 minutes)

This activity provides an opportunity for students to think about (a) the way the mother’s volume increases and (b) the way Calvin’s pacing slows down and the means we have of describing this in English. Both volume and pacing are key to the progression of the story.
If students need the support, have them read out the short phrases (mostly a present participle + adverb of manner). Ask students how the mother’s voice changes from the first to the last panel (it progressively gets louder and possibly more clipped). Ask how Calvin’s voice changes (he slows and probably lowers his voice for the slow motion panels, and raises and speeds up his voice for the final panel).

(1) Mother – probably whispering softly ‘Good night, Calvin’

(2) Mother – probably starting to get louder ‘All right, where are you?!

(3) Calvin – probably speaking slowly ‘I’ (Note: one word per panel)

(4) Mother – probably raising her voice / shouting

(5) Calvin – probably speeding up (Note: movement and speed lines)

C Speaking – Role-play (pair work) (15 minutes)

This activity provides speaking practice in using volume, pacing and stress to bring the comic strip to life.

If you have a lively class, agree classroom behaviour at this point. Run through a group reading of the strip again. Ask them how the characters are speaking in each panel. As this is an accuracy stage, elicit, correct and provide models (using good contributions) of appropriate ways to deliver the lines. Once you think enough support has been given, set up pair work, monitor and support and have students perform for one another. You may want them to stand up while doing this and act out the lines.

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more support

  • Either have students work in mixed ability groups (one more able + less able) so modelling can take place,

  • Or, ask students to focus on one part of the dialogue, for example, just Calvin’s slow-motion scenes. This will reduce processing load.

For students who need more challenge

  • Give the students the panels without the phrases to describe the way the characters are speaking and have them write their own phrases. To do this, you would need to white out a copy of the page with the phrases.

D Grammar and Vocabulary – Summarising the story (10 minutes)

This activity provides a written consolidation activity for the narrative while providing accuracy practice in (a) cohesive devices (b) present simple third person for storytelling and (c) adverbial expressions. This activity can also be used as a settler after the role-play.
Note: This is a two-option multiple-choice activity.


(1) (example: in bed)

(2) so (Note: ‘so’ here means ‘because of this’)

(3) instead (Note: ‘instead’ is a short form for ‘instead of being in bed himself’)

(4) to say (Note: collocation: ‘say’ + ‘goodnight’)

(5) starts (Note: verb + infinitive: starts + to shout)

(6) moving in (Note: collocation: ‘to move in slow motion’)

(7) pretends

(8) going (Note: verb + gerund: avoid + -ing verb)

(9) raises (Note: collocation: ‘to raise your voice’)

(10) and

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more challenge

  • Give students a gap-fill which they supply the words for (see T21). Have them compare their answers with the students who do the two-option MC version.

D Grammar and Vocabulary – Summarising the story
Option for students who need more challenge

Calvin is supposed to be (1) ­­­­­­_________________.

He doesn’t feel like going to bed, (2) _________________ he puts a broomstick in his bed (3) _________________. His mother comes

(4) _________________ goodnight, and finds the broomstick.

She (5) _________________ to shout for Calvin. In a different part of the apartment, Calvin is (6) _________________ slow motion. He

(7) _________________ he cannot move any quicker to avoid

(8) _________________ to bed.

When Calvin’s mum (9) _________________ her voice, Calvin quickly changes pace (10) _________________ runs to bed saying that he has had a ‘time snap’.

Learning Activity 3 Reading Working with the story

A Reading – What happens in the story?

Please refer to the print version for the comic strip used in this activity.

Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

Features of Comic Strips

Teacher’s Notes


These activities expose students to the conventions of panels (the boxes that organise the story), gutters (the spaces between the panels), speech and thought bubbles and speed lines (for movement). Students listen to a description of the use of these features in a comic strip. Further activities allow students to work with reporting verbs and dialogue writing, descriptive language about superheroes, and finally a factual error correction on guidelines for comic strip writing.

Learning Activity 1 Speaking and Vocabulary

How do comic strips work?
A Vocabulary – Parts of a comic strip (5 minutes)

This activity exposes students to four key comic conventions with definitions.
This is a matching activity where students read the words and definitions and match them to the parts of the comic strip. It may help for the teacher to read out the words and mark the word stress. Note that we can also use ‘panelling’ and ‘guttering’ as nouns.
Answers and Additional Notes:

Panels – the boxes which divide and organise the story. There are 12 panels in this strip. Note the alternation and absence of panelled boxes in the second line.

Gutters – mark off boundaries between scenes and show changes in time and place between panels. Depending on the story, the time can be long or short. This feature can be picked up upon when comparing the Calvin and Hobbes strip with the Peanuts strip, where the space used between gutters is slightly larger to indicate a longer time lapse.

Speech bubbles ­– speech bubbles are used to good effect in this strip, with the mother being given a different colour background in her speech bubbles and with one bubble in panel 12 showing a larger, bolder ‘NOW!’ to indicate that she’s shouting. Calvin’s speech bubbles are also used purposefully. He is in slow motion for the most part of the story and this is shown by giving him one word speech bubbles per panel up until the last panel, when he speeds up and so does his speech. NB: There are no thought bubbles in this strip. They will be introduced later in the Peanuts strip.

Speed lines – speed lines are used in panels 2 & 12: once to show Calvin’s mother shaking the bedclothes, and again to show Calvin running at high speed to bed. Both sets of lines create two features: motion and speed.
B Speaking – One-minute challenge (10 minutes)

This activity provides students with reading and speaking opportunities to review the meaning of the four conventions and consider their use in the Calvin and Hobbes strip.
Set students up in groups of four. Students write their names down the left-hand column and then have one minute to try to answer the questions about panels, gutters, bubbles and speed lines in the row next to their name.

Some questions are more general and some are specific to the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.





Speed lines

No. In the second line in the strip, panels 4, 6 & 8 have no borders. They are still panels as they have images.

A gutter is the space between the panels.

The mother has the most speech and she speaks in whole phrases. Calvin doesn’t.

The lines in panel 2 show that the mother is shaking the bedspread. They show rapid movement.

Setting is shown in panels 1 & 2 only and then disappears.

Gutters show changes in time and place.

Calvin is given one word per speech bubble. It slows everything down.

Panels 4-10 have no lines as Calvin isn’t moving quickly.

Panels 1-3 just show mother; panels 4-9 just show Calvin and panels 10-12 show both.

Guttering is used to slow down time. Calvin only has one movement and word in each panel.

The mother has the coloured bubbles. This may be to differentiate her speech from Calvin’s.

They show Calvin running to bed – rapid movement.

Slow motion is shown in panels


The panel shows the action & speech, the gutter breaks indicate changes in time and place.

‘NOW’ is in capitals to show volume and force in the mother’s voice – she’s shouting.

No. The speed lines in the last panel are round and straight.

Catering for Learner Diversity

For students who need more support

  • Divide speaking load: Ask less confident students to answer only two out of four of the questions going across their name. Or, have students work in pairs with two names down the left-hand column, each person answers two questions.

Learning Activity 2 Listening and Note-taking

Use of comic strip features
Listening and Note-taking – Describing a comic strip (15 minutes)

CD Track 4

This activity provides contextualised practice of the four conventions by listening to a speaker describe the use and effect of the features in a comic strip.
Set this activity up by having students consider the Peanuts comic strip, which appears in black & white on the student’s handout and in colour on T27 of the teacher’s notes. Teachers may like to enlarge the colour copy so students can keep track of what happens to the boxing gloves. The characters are: Snoopy (the dog), Lucy (the girl), Linus (pronounced like ‘minus’ – the boy). You may need to pre-teach: boxing glove(s), boxing, to have a fight, to throw a punch.

Note to the teacher – Summary of the Peanuts strip

NOT to be given to students but can be used for discussion after the listening task

In this strip, we see the theme of social status in the group explored through the vehicle of a competitive fight. The story starts with Lucy first questioning and then making fun of Snoopy’s ability to fight and the way he wears his boxing glove (a single boxing glove on his nose).

A key moment takes place in the story when Linus, the voice of moderation, warns Lucy not to enter into a fight with Snoopy without a strategy. Typically, Lucy rides roughshod over this warning and challenges Snoopy to a fight. Lucy at this point is wearing red boxing gloves, and Snoopy is wearing his purple boxing glove on his nose.

After several cleverly ordered and different visual scenes of the moment-by-moment fight and Linus’ reactions to it, the final panel shows us both Snoopy and Lucy having fallen out of the vortex of their fight and on the ground, but this time with Lucy sporting Snoopy’s nose-boxing glove and Snoopy apparently wearing Lucy’s red boxing glove.

Possible starter questions for the story: What’s the theme of the story? What kind of person do you think Lucy is? Does she already know Snoopy? Why does Lucy want to fight Snoopy? What role does Linus take? What happens in the last panel?
Possible starter questions for the features: Can students see how any of the conventions are used? What kinds of bubbles do we have in this strip and who uses them? Note Snoopy’s thought bubble in panel 5.
You may like to point out the use of words for sounds in panels 7 & 8, two fight scenes: the words, such as POW! and WHAM!! sound like the actual fight sounds, and so are called onomatopoeic (adj.) (onomatopoeia – noun). This word is used in the recording.
Prepare the students for the listening by explaining they need to take brief notes of the way the features, such as panels and speed lines, are used. If it’s needed, as a model, use a sentence from the beginning of the tapescript and reduce it with students to the minimum information to demonstrate the difference between dictation and note-taking.
Play the recording (CD Track 4) twice with pauses for writing – see pausing references below in the tapescript. Note that the speaker uses some phrases from the actual speech bubbles in the original comic strip, which is priming for Learning Activity 3: Writing. Also note that this recording is at authentic speed.
Suggested Answers:

Panels 3-4: warns; strategy

Panels 5-8: middle; stages

Panels 7-8: WHAM!

Panel 9: Lucy

Students should finish the activity with a clear idea that this strip uses all four features (panels, gutters, bubbles and speed lines) effectively. It is an excellent example of one approach to comic strip writing. Note that Manga1 has a distinct and different set of conventions for speech and thought balloons and speed lines.

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more support

  • Change task: Instead of the note-taking activity, give students a reduced tapescript matching activity (see T27).

Tapescript – CD Track 4

Learning Activity 2 Listening and Note-taking Describing a comic strip

CD Track 4 (4:00 minutes) with suggested pauses for the teacher to check students’ note-taking and for the students to re-focus
Oh, Peanuts! Well, this strip is a classic. And this episode has a clever use of storyline, panelling and guttering as well as speed lines and onomatopoeia for the fight scenes.

In panel 1, we see the story and setting up well. We’re clearly outside – we can see the grass and houses in the early panels 1, 2 and 3. In panel 1, everyone has a boxing glove, but Snoopy’s wearing his on his nose. This makes us laugh and at the same time is a key part of the story, which is picked up again in the last panel: panel 9.

(Pause at 0:42)

In panels 2 and 3, Lucy makes fun of Snoopy for his nose-glove. Now, this is important for the story when we come to the last panel, as something happens to Snoopy’s boxing glove.

Panels 3 & 4 are interesting for the story because even though Lucy is making fun of Snoopy, Linus warns her that Snoopy is a champ and she probably won’t beat him in a fight unless she has a strategy. Lucy ignores this and makes the situation worse in panel 4 by shouting that she’s going to knock Snoopy out.

So the writer uses panels 1 and 2 to set up the story and introduce Snoopy’s nose-glove. Then he uses panels 3 and 4 to increase the tension.

(Pause at 1:34)
Panels 5, 6, 7 and 8 are grouped together as they show the beginning and the middle of the fight. Panel 5 moves the story along as we see that Snoopy is too quick for Lucy and this is shown by the clever use of speed lines – Lucy swinging and Snoopy ducking back.

Panel 5 is the only box that has a thought bubble instead of a speech bubble, and it’s used to show what Snoopy is thinking.

(Pause at 2:07)
The gutters between panels 5, 6, 7 and 8 are really important here as they divide the fight into stages: there are three parts to the fight, and each are different and there are only seconds between each part.
(Pause at 2:26)
Now, there’s a good variety here in the use of speed lines. Panel 6 shows Lucy going around in circles as she repeatedly misses Snoopy.

Panel 7 shows the two of them finally in a fight – we have one multi-line circle here that looks like one moving ball of energy.

Notice the use of onomatopoeia written in capital letters here: POW! WHAM!! for sound, and the visual effect of Linus’ hair standing on end.

Panel 8 shows speed lines as an explosion surrounded with stars and onomatopoeia words inside to show us the most extreme part of the fight.

(Pause at 3:04)
Notice, there are no captions here to describe time or place, and this is because the time between the panels is very short. If the time between the panels were longer, we might see a caption like, ‘later that day’ or ‘later on’.
(Pause at 3:22)

Finally, panel 9 relates back to panel 1 as we see both boxers on the floor, but this time, it’s Lucy who’s wearing the boxing glove on her nose – not Snoopy. This is Snoopy’s way of showing his skill and also making fun of her for the comments Lucy made in panels 2 and 3. Really clever storyline, it’s a clever use of visual images, a clever use of panelling, guttering and a variety of speed lines. It’s all really very entertaining.

Complete Peanuts strip

Note to teacher: Panel 9 (final panel) uses only images and no words to show the solution to the story and equalise the power between Lucy and Snoopy. As Snoopy also seems to be wearing Lucy’s boxing glove (see red glove), the comic suggestion here is that no one won the fight and there was an equal exchange which still resolves the insult that Lucy started the story with.

Please refer to the print version for the comic strip used in this activity.

Peanuts comic strip

Learning Activity 2 Listening and Note-taking Use of comic strip features

Listening and Note-taking Describing a comic stripfor students who need more support

Tapescript matching activity

What’s in the panel?

Write panel numbers

Introduction: This episode has a clever use of storyline, panels, gutters and speed lines.

Whole strip

a. Lucy makes fun of Snoopy.


b. These panels divide the fight scenes.

c. This panel has a thought bubble.

d. This panel shows the end of the fight with Lucy wearing Snoopy’s glove.

e. These panels show the outside setting and Snoopy’s boxing glove.

f. These panels show a good variety of speed lines.

g. These panels show Linus warning Lucy, then Lucy shouting at Snoopy.

h. These panels show the use of words for sounds like POW! and WHAM!!

Learning Activity 2 Listening and Note-taking Use of comic strip features

Answers for tapescript matching activity

Answers: a. 2-3; b. 5, 6, 7 & 8; c. 5; d. 9; e. 1-3; f. 6-8; g. 3-4; h. 7-8

Learning Activity 3 Writing Working with dialogue

A Reading – Balloons and captions (5 minutes)

This activity (a) provides practice in identifying balloon types and caption boxes and their appropriate language content; (b) provides practice in using reported and direct speech with a range of reporting verbs; (c) provides short controlled practice Glossary of writing dialogue / temporal items appropriate to the format (balloon / box).

This activity exposes students to the names and uses of four comic icons: (1) the speech balloon (2) the shouting balloon (3) the thought balloon / bubble (4) the caption box used for time and place setting. The students are asked to match the reporting verbs ‘thought’, ‘shouted’ and ‘said’ to the icon which represents these speech / thought acts in comics. The caption box matches with the adverbial time phrase, ‘one minute later’.

B Vocabulary – Words to describe speech (10 minutes)

This is a controlled vocabulary practice activity to help students to develop their range of reporting verbs. Students will not use these reporting verbs when writing comic strips, but they will use them when describing or interpreting comic strip dialogue.


Said: remarked, mentioned, told (me / you)

Shouted: yelled, shrieked (means shout in a high pitch), screamed (higher pitch)

Thought: wondered, imagined, guessed

Time / place: later that day (time), the following day (time), in the kitchen (place)
Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more challenge

  • Add the following four reporting verbs for vocabulary extension:

Replied means to respond to another comment or question

Whispered means to speak in a low voice (possibly so others can’t hear)

Snapped means to speak defensively in a sharp, quick and unpleasant way

Groaned means to speak in a low, slow, unenthusiastic way

ote: Although the convention ‘=’ has been used to explain the meaning of the three balloon types, there is, of course, no one-to-one correspondence between these words: all the reporting verbs (both verbal and mental) have additional meaning, which is where the dictionary work will come in useful.

C Writing – Dialogue (20 minutes)

This activity provides an opportunity to draft thoughts and dialogue for the character of Linus for panels 7-9.
This activity provides students with a creative opportunity to think about how the character of Linus responds to seeing the fight take place between his friends. The comic iconography shows very clearly his dramatic response to the event. Note carefully the drawing of the hair (panel 7), bodily movement (panel 8) and blank expression Linus has looking out of the strip, fully facing the reader (panel 9). Draw these details out from the students, supporting them with needed vocabulary, and then have them draft Linus’s reactions (i.e. thoughts) for panel 7 and 8 in the thought bubbles.
Panel 9 is different: here what Linus thinks and what he actually says may be very different. He may be thinking ‘I told you so, Lucy’ or ‘I warned you, Lucy’, but for the sake of keeping the newfound peace, may either say nothing or something supportive. Again, draw the distinction out from the students and have them suggest wording for both the speech balloon and thought bubble.
As this is a creative activity, there are no suggested answers. Teachers should accept suggestions that are appropriate to the context and mood.
Learning Activity 4* Writing Superhero profiles (30 minutes)

This activity (a) exposes students to female superheroes and typical comic-strip iconography (styles); (b) provides reading practice of descriptions using items of clothing, equipment and defining and non-defining relative clauses to provide details; (c) provides short descriptive writing practice.

Note: As this is a supplementary activity there are no language awareness, extensive discrimination or controlled practice Glossary tasks. It comprises a vocabulary / grammar-based comprehension matching task followed by an info box and writing stimuli. Online controlled practice activities for relative clauses are suggested in the web resources section.
This activity takes a change of focus from the family-oriented storylines of the two comic strips we have used so far, and deals with Superheroes. The students match the descriptions of the clothing and equipment of the heroes and are asked to write a further description of the heroes’ helmets or masks. Guidance should be given in (a) describing the material – ‘it’s made of...’ ‘it’s a (magnetic / laser)...’,(b) what its powers are, e.g. ‘which can project...’, ‘which can defend…’.
After an info box describing villains and superhero weaknesses, a longer unsupported writing activity appears at the foot of the page, which requires students to write a description of one of the heroes’ arch enemies, her / his clothes, equipment and to include a description of the heroes’ one weakness. This may only be appropriate for more able students. For students who need support with heroes’ weaknesses, provide stem sentences, e.g. ‘She’s afraid of…’, ‘She becomes weak when she’s near…’, ‘She loses her power when she sleeps next to…’, ‘X makes her feel….’
If teachers would like to extend this activity, an excellent online resource for creating superhero characters is suggested in the web resources section. This could allow for practice of descriptive writing incorporating relative clauses.

Notes on vocabulary used in the superhero profiles

A distinctive feature of superhero comic strips is the use of inventive and original gadgets, tools and weapons, for example, Batman’s ‘batmobile’ (his car), or Astroboy’s ‘megabuster’ (a weapon) or his titanium skin. These new words are often formed from adjective + (adjective) + noun, as a compound noun from a grading word, such as ‘mega’, ‘hyper’, ‘super’ + noun, or a completely new term. The superhero profiles have some such terms and it may be helpful to get the students to think what the names refer to.

Vocabulary used in the superhero profiles
An insignia – a symbol or sign / picture worn on the clothing to represent a type of energy, value or power.

A two-colour top – a piece of clothing for the upper body that has two colours. ‘Two-colour’ is hyphenated here and used as an adjective.

Zoom wands – an invented tool. The word ‘wand’ is associated with magical powers, and the word ‘zoom’ is connected with acceleration and direction.

Hand-held magnetic tools – note that there are two levels of modifying adjective in this example: (1) hand-held (past participle) and (2) magnetic.

Cape – a cloak-like covering.

Magnetic ballet flats – ‘ballet flats’ are flat ballet shoes which were in fashion at the time of the production of this material, and so many girls will recognise them. To make them fit for a superhero, they have a magnetic function.

A transfixer disc – a disc is a hoop which can be thrown, and the notion of ‘to transfix’ means to immobilise. In this way, the hoop, when thrown at someone, will stop them in their tracks; freeze them still.

Answers: (1) C (2) H (3) C (4) H (5) C

Learning Activity 5 Writing Tips for comic strip writing

(15 minutes)

This activity provides students with a good practice list when writing comic strips by means of a factual error correction activity.

Ask students if they’re any good at spotting mistakes. Tell them that you have a job for them: a student has written a list of guidelines for other students new to comic strip writing, but it’s not as good as it should be. You need them to improve it before it can be used. Go through the first example with them and elicit improvements.

Suggested Answers:

Comic strip stories – make sure there are lots and lots of problems.

Comic strips generally take one problem and solve it at the end of the story, often making a joke about it. The story can use an object or a struggle between the characters.

Family characters – have around ten characters and make sure they are all different, e.g. different clothes and hair. The story should involve all of them.

Have two to three characters maximum. Make sure they are distinctive and different from each other (height, weight, hair, skin colour, accessories). Consider having animals as characters. The characters should be friends, school mates, family members or have some other role towards each other.

Panels – use panels to show the action. Every panel should have an action scene in it: conflict, drama, conflict, drama!

Have around eight to ten panels. Panels 1-3 should show the setting (time / place) and set up the character tension (e.g. brother-sister disagreement); Panels 4-8 should show the main action or problem and complication; Panels 9-10 should show the outcome of the main action and resolution / reflection / joke.

Gutters – don’t worry about gutters. They’re not important.

Gutters are important. They mark the pace of the story and indicate when the reader should expect some change in time and place. (Note for the teacher: The Calvin and Hobbes strip makes excellent use of panelling and guttering to slow down time, and the Peanuts strip makes excellent use of the same to show three fight scenes. Both these strips use guttering to show time, not place.)

Speed lines – use as many speed lines as you can to create action and adventure. Use as many stars as possible.

Like everything in comic strips, there is very little space to create an effective story, so speed lines and stars need to be used at key moments only and should reflect the action appropriately. If there’s a great deal of action, the number of lines and stars will increase.

Speech balloons or thought balloonsevery panel should have a speech or thought bubble to keep the readers interested. Put in a lot of dialogue.

Speech and thought should be used at key moments, very often to set up the problem and show the relationship at the start of the strip. (Note for the teacher: Calvin’s speech is slowed down for the main action of this strip, and there is no speech at all in panels 5-9 of the Peanuts strip.)

Sounds – if you have action, make sure you include at least ten sorts of sounds (onomatopoeia), like ‘smash!’, ‘thwack!’ and ‘pow!’.

Choose a small number of onomatopoeic words and write them in one or two panels only.

By the end of the activity, students should have created a good list of guidelines which they can refer to for their own comic strip creation.

Catering for Learner Diversity
For students who need more challenge

  • Increase challenge and load: Have students write their own guidelines with just the headings. Do the first example together and give them a key word or two for the other headings.

For students who need more support

  • The box below is a multiple-choice activity where one answer is correct and two incorrect.

Learning Activity 5 Writing Tips for comic strip writing

Sheet for students who need more support

Comic strip writing

A friend has written some points for new ‘family and relationship’ comic strip writers at your school. Unfortunately, she made some factual mistakes. Read her list and circle the correct idea.

1 Comic strip stories

  1. There should be lots and lots of problems.

  2. There should be no problems.

  3. There should be one main problem.

2 Family characters

  1. Only use around three characters in a strip.

  2. Use around ten characters in a strip.

  3. Only use one character in a strip.

3 Panels for action / drama / conflict (e.g. fighting, running)

  1. Don’t have any dramatic action panels.

  2. Make the dramatic action take place in two to three panels.

  3. Have dramatic action in every panel.

4 Gutters

  1. Guttering is important. Think carefully about how to separate the action in the story panels.

  2. Don’t worry about gutters. They’re not important.

  3. Separate dialogue by using guttering. Use a panel after each person speaks.

5 Speed lines

  1. Use as many speed lines as you can to create action and adventure. Use as many stars as possible.

  2. Use speed lines to show people speaking to each other.

  3. Use speed lines to show movement and action, e.g. running.

6 Speech balloons or thought balloons

  1. Use speech balloons or thought balloons to show dialogue and what people are thinking. Don’t use them in every panel.

  2. Every panel should have a speech or thought bubble to keep the readers interested. Put in a lot of dialogue.

  3. You don’t need speech or thought balloons in a comic strip.

7 Sounds for action

  1. Choose the sounds you use carefully to help the reader to experience the action. Only use two to three sounds.

  2. You don’t need sounds to show the action.

  3. If you have action, make sure you include at least ten sorts of sounds (onomatopoeia) like, ‘smash!’, ‘thwack!’ and ‘pow!’.


1 (c) 2 (a) 3 (b) 4 (a) 5 (c) 6 (a) 7 (a)

Extension Ideas

This section provides teachers with further ideas they may like to develop into projects with their students.
Project 1 Create your own comic strip Creativity – narratives

Use the first three website addresses listed in Resources to set up comic-strip making activities. The online resources have templates, characters, and ideas for storylines. Students will probably need teacher support with limiting storylines to one event, and with dialogue writing.

Project 2 Superheroes Creativity – descriptions

Using the Hero Machine web address, set an activity to create and describe superheroes. Check the website to prepare for the sort of language support students will need for clothes and patterns. Ask students to decide on the moral qualities, special powers and one weakness of their heroes. Once complete, have the class vote for their favourite superhero.

Project 3 Cross-cultural comparisons Analytical skills – comics as culture

Ask students to compare the Calvin and Hobbes and Peanuts strip (both American) with a current strip from a Manga (Japanese) or Manhua (Chinese) strip. Set 4 categories of comparison: (1) story themes / storylines; (2) characters – number, type, style; (3) panelling and guttering; and (4) speech, thought balloons, stars and speed lines. Organise a panel discussion to go through the findings with supporting images that students have produced on PowerPoint.

Project 4 Onomatopoeia & Culture Analytical skills – comics as culture

Once you’ve drawn students’ attention to the use and form of onomatopoeic words such as POW!, set up a small-scale project to compare such items in Japanese Manga, Chinese Manhua and American, British or Australian comics.

Resources for Comic Strips
Websites for Comic Strips:
Read Write Think Comic Creator

Allows students to create 1, 2, 3 or 6-panel comics, using a range of characters, speech and thought balloons, props and room for titles and captions. Has a helpful ‘?’ button to navigate the simple screen.

Garfield’s Comic Creator

Creates 3-panel stories with speech and thought balloons, backgrounds, Garfield characters (mostly household animals) and props.

Make Beliefs Comix 

This site has 15 characters to choose from, some human, some a mix of animals and humans. Allows students to create a 2, 3 or 4-panel comic with captions, speech and thought balloons and background colours. One of the main features of this site is its storyline ideas (see ‘More story ideas’). Two story ideas for secondary students are ‘A Day At School’ and ‘Dealing with Bullies’.

Comic Life Mac Software

If teachers have access to Apple Mac software, they will find a substantial range of options for comic creation using this piece of software, which includes templates for creating Manga comics.

Websites for Superheroes:

Hero Machine – Create your own Hero

Allows students to design their own superhero with options for skin design, wings, and clothes: masks, capes, footwear shields, logos and helmets. Male and female versions available. Warning: one of the options to choose from is weapons which include different types of guns. However, the site is an excellent tool to generate characters for speaking / writing activities for character description.


Top Ten Comic Book Superheroes 

This is a list of a selected top 10 American superheroes including Superman, Batman, The Hulk and Wonder Woman. This could be used as reading material for an activity that compares American with Chinese or Asian characters. The second link shows a list of American comic book villains.



Stereotyping in Comic Book Characters 

This site contains a lesson plan and some materials for teachers. It is not designed for language learning, but raises awareness about stereotyping in male and female comic book characters and may be useful background reading for teachers.


Websites for the language practised in comic strip text-types:
Rules for reported speech and relative clauses can be found here:


Written controlled pattern practice activities for reported speech and relative clauses can be found here:


Articles for teachers on the use of comics and cartoons for language teaching:
British Council Language Assistant

Includes ideas for working with comic strip characters. Contains further links to Marvel and Calvin and Hobbes sites.


Books for teachers on comics:

The Language of Comics by Mario Saraceni

Not written for language teachers, but full of fascinating analysis and description of comic strip conventions and their uses.

Vocabulary Comic Strips by Dan Greenberg

Aimed at a reading age of 9-12 for English first-language speakers. Covers a range of topics.

Comic-Strip Grammar: 40 Reproducible Cartoons with Engaging Practice Exercises That Make Learning Grammar Fun by Dan Greenberg

Designed for English first-language speakers. Has well-structured and exemplified activities.

1 Manga was introduced in Learning Activity 1 on S15 / T17

Comic Strips T

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