April 13th, 2016

welcome to the comic jam! how to use the 4 book trust videos

Can you remember the last time you were given a blank piece of paper and told to ‘write a story’ or ‘draw a picture’? It can be an unpleasant experience, especially when your brain refuses to cooperate, but it’s part of daily life for school children. Some decide this means they hate writing or loathe drawing. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here's an introduction to a series of four Book Trust videos about making comics, which can be used as an school classroom lesson (ages 8+), or just for fun at home.

Article originally published in Teach Primary magazine, 2015

Children naturally connect with making comics. There’s something about the combination of drawing and writing that pulls them through the process of creating a story, and it’s more fun than trying to fill a page with writing alone.

In making a four-panel comic we can explore the basics of story structure, characterisation, plot, motivation and dialogue. And comics are a great medium for engaging kids who have a diverse range of skills and needs.

If a child’s drawing isn’t all that great, he or she can enhance basic stick figures with clever writing and it will still tell a story. If children can hardly write a word of English, they can tell a story in pictures, and get help when they decide they need a sound effect here or there.

Reluctant writers are likely to enjoy the energetic nature of comics and the freedom that speech and thought bubbles provide. In a workshop film I’ve produced for children’s reading charity, Book Trust (available free online here), I start with a little tutorial on how to draw a Sea Monkey, a funny, incidental character in Oliver and the Seawigs, my illustrated chapter book with Philip Reeve. If the children have read the book, they’ll enjoy seeing one of its characters going on to have further adventures. (And even if they haven’t read the book, it’s still fun to draw Sea Monkeys.) How often have you finished a great book and wished you could keep following the characters, even though the story has ended?

In the first of the four videos, I walk the class through the process of creating a character they feel is their own. The kids can decide its name, how it will look, which kind of cheese it prefers, how it brushes its hair / scales / fur. It’s like having a new friend, or a beloved pet. They warm to it, and it looks back at them from the page.

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