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14 Visual Lesson Plans that Exploit Cartoons

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By: Christine M. Canning, United Arab Emirates University

Contact: Christine Canning, POB 17172, UGRU English Unit, UAE University, Al Ain, UAE
Email: [email protected]

Author’s Information: Christine Canning is a supervisor and lecturer in the UGRU Unit at UAE University. She serves on the Executive Council of TESOL Arabia. She has presented at numerous domestic and international conferences, in addition, to publishing numerous articles in the field of EFL/ESL. This article was recently published in TESOL Arabia News, 6:2, March 1999m p 7-8.
It is reprinted with permission from the author in order to help other EFL Professionals with lesson plan ideas.

Are you looking to create alternative activities to keep students’ interests in class? Why not use cartoons to teach English. Cartoons can be used to teach reading, writing, speaking and even listening.
Belowyou will find some sample lesson ideas that can be used across levels and most curriculums for supplementary activities:

1. At the most basic level of a cartoon activity, are the basic dialogue techniques. For example, cut a cartoon strip out of a local paper. Next, take some white-out or a corrector pen and remove the dialogue in the box. Photocopy enough strips for the entire class. Ask students to rewrite the dialogue in the open spaces. If time permits, ask students to read their dialogues to the pupils.

2. Cut out a cartoon strip and remove key vocabulary items or grammatical structures with white-out or a corrector pen. Ask them to make educated guesses about the missing vocabulary words. Let the students compare their answers with each other. Next, allow students to compare the language use that he or she made with other students’ choices in the class. The comparison activity can be used as a lead in lesson on word selection, structural choice, or grammatical differences in form and/or function. It can allow students to examine the appropriateness of their choices. This lesson can be furthered by the use of a thesaurus. Students can be asked to find antonyms and synonyms for his or her decision for a lexical item. Next, ask students whether or not these choices can be substituted into the cartoon dialogue. This is a nice introduction into looking into language not only in a form, but in a functional perspective.

3. Ask students to cut out a cartoon strip from the paper every day for a two week period. Ask the students to paste each cartoon on a separate piece of paper. Next, ask the students to rewrite the dialogue in the past tense or in the future. In the second part of the activity, ask the students to write
the dialogue in the present negative, past negative, or in the future negative. You can adapt this lesson by asking the students to rewrite the dialogue using direct or indirect speech patterns.

4. Ask students to cut out a cartoon for one week. Next, have the students paste each cartoon under one another in consecutive order. Ask the students to photocopy enough pages of their cartoon for a few groups or for the entire class. Then, have the students read the cartoons and write essays discussing what has happened in the progression of the story. This should be followed up with the students writing about how they may/might have changed the story line accompanied with a short explanation of how it would benefit the characters by making these alterations. An alternate lesson, would be to write conditional sentences that would indicate how the story would have changed, if the character had responded differently.

5. Why not exploit a “Pete and repeat” activity? Take a cartoon out of the paper and photocopy it
twice. Leave one cartoon alone, but make a few alterations on the second cartoon that indicate minor differences. Make enough copies of each for half the class. Pair students together allowing one person to have a copy of picture A and one student to have a picture of copy B. Ask the students (without allowing them to look at the partner’s picture) to find the differences between the two pictures through verbal negotiation.

6. Ask the students to find cartoons on the internet. Allow students to download the cartoons from
Email card sites such as: ; ; ; or at any other electronic card sites. Students may also want to download cards from various web cartoon sites such as on the internet. Next, have the students write poems, stories, or commentaries about the cartoons they have chosen. Perhaps, they could be asked to create computer graphic storyboards with texts by importing the images to be the basis for a related educational technology project.

7. Ask the students to cut out a favorite cartoon character. Require the students to write a children’s story to help a younger sibling learn how to read English. This activity emphasizes grammatical structures and spelling at the fundamental levels. Allow students to share their books with the class. Often times, I have asked students to create glossaries to accompany their book to help reinforce vocabulary.

8. Cartoon T-shirts are very popular. Ask students around examination time to create the “REVIEW
T-shirt”. This involves students creating a cartoon character of themselves or an imaginary bubble figure that explains grammar points or sample lexical items all over the t-shirt in various designs. This activity encourages students to review materials and to re-read what they have written. Put the T-shirts on display and allow students to read the grammar and vocabulary on other pupil’s T-shirts for further reinforcement of the materials learned in the course.

9. Download pictures from ClipArt and use them as a basis for comparison. For example, take 2 or 3 pictures of men or women (depending on the gender of the students that you teach) from the selection. Ask students to write sentences in the comparative and superlative. Moreover, suggest to the students that they should compare similarities by using the positive with phrases like: Ibrahim is as tall as Yagoob. A second idea is to take image selections from ClipArt or a cartoon strip and have students post them on paper. Next ask the students to number the objects in the picture. Ask students to post their pictures on the wall. Require students to walk station to station with their notebooks recording all of the vocabulary words that they know from the images. Words that they do not know or that seem unfamiliar to the students must be drawn into their notebooks. Students can ask each other what is the object, look it up in a picture dictionary, and/or ask the teacher.

10. Allow students to create language game boards. Ask groups of students to think up an original game that other students could play to learn English. Let them use cartoon figures from the newspaper as game pieces to move along the board as they answer questions.

11. Give half the class the cartoon with dialogue and give the other half of the class the same cartoon with out dialogue. Ask a partner to dictate the dialogue for extra listening practice. Next, allow students to compare answers.

12. Ask students to create their own comic books with a cartoon character that they design. Allow
the students to share their comic books in the class. Perhaps, you could create a reading corner that displays the student produced comic books for pupils to use in their free time between lessons.

13. Ask students to create a cartoon or to use a cartoon for a puppet show. Students are required to write and to perform the dialogue for the entire class. Because a small stage can be made and the students can hide behind a table when speaking, this can lower student anxiety about using the language.

14. Cut out cartoons from different series and paste them onto on big piece of paper. Pass the
cartoons out around the class without the dialogues attached. Next let the students listen to a series of dialogues that you pre-record on a tape. Allow students to match the conversation with the correct set of cartoon characters based on the visual image.

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