Engage Students in Historical Fiction by Making Comics

Every once in a while I have a super artistically inclined kid in class (I think we’ve all had the kid who draws on everything at some point), or one who likes making comics out of what we’re learning, or one who turns everything into song lyrics.  But this year in my Thursday class, 4 out of the 9 kids LOVE LOVE LOVE making comics strips out of what we’re learning.  They do it on their own time and bring them back to class for me to see and they also try to do it as part of the assignments whenever they can.

Recently they were working on a Ben Franklin activity, and one of the tasks is to create a dialogue between Franklin and one of his sons.  There are a few prompts provided, but they can really use a significant amount of creativity in completing this particular part of the activity.  Well, one of my girls blew me away with her final product.

creating historical fiction out of comic strips

creating historical fiction out of comic strips

Not only did she complete the task (which let’s be real, that can be a huge win in and of itself sometimes), but she exceeded the minimum expectations, she made in a comic strip style, and on top of everything she drew each figure freehand (and yes that’s impressive to me since I can barely put a stick figure together).  And side note, this was a LOT more fun for me to read that night than traditional paragraph responses.

Most of the other kids turned in movie script style line dialogue–which was totally fine since that’s how I had originally envisioned that part of the assignment anyway–and one kid turned in a response along the lines of, “I can’t create this dialogue  because I’ve never met Franklin or his son so I don’t know how they would feel as the conversation progressed, and I don’t want to put words in their mouths.”  I assured him that as long as Franklin remained a patriot in the conversation and his son remained a Loyalist, it was ok to use some creative license in recreating a scene which likely happened multiple times in Franklin’s home.  He kept insisting that he couldn’t think of what they would discuss, and even though I clarified that he wasn’t “putting words in their mouths,” especially since this was just for the 10 of in class and not a historical panel, he was still totally uncomfortable so I let it go and he did an alternate assignment that I made up on the fly (one that was way less creative in nature and more academic to meet his comfort level).

This unintentionally became a lesson for me in finding a balance between pushing my kids a bit beyond their comfort level and respecting their comfort level (and of course that balance will be different with each group of kids I have).  I always try to make sure my kids aren’t “settling” for what they think their limits are, but in this particular instance with this particular student I decided to back down and let him work on an alternate assignment because I knew (based on previous experiences) if I kept pushing him he would completely shut down and I didn’t want that to happen.

Anyway, last week we talked about the Industrial Revolution and I asked the kids if they wanted to make comic strips and most said yes.  The same kid asked if his assignment could be turned in the usual way (traditional written responses) and I said yes, but he had to include one component that was out of his comfort zone (and I gave him a choice of 3).  Most used their comic strips to show someone coming up with an invention, presenting it to society for the first time, and its reception by society.  Probably the best part was how into their self-initiated debates they got about which comics were likely more historically plausible than others (and in some cases, why!!!).

I loved how they balanced historical possibility with creativity, and they enjoyed not writing formally.  Of course they write formally/academically throughout the year, but we only have 3 classes left so we have been getting a bit more creative to keep the kids as focused as possible.  I’m sure you can all relate to that  🙂

Categories: Teaching

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