i try to keep this blog mostly focused on my lousy drawings, but i got this e-mail today and thought it was a pretty fair representation of a question i’m approached with pretty often. While i must strongly emphasize that the best way to bring comics into your classroom is to hire someone who is trained to do it (pick me! i got bills to pay!), i thought it might be useful to post this as a potential resource for teachers who weren’t gonna hire me anyway.
For the science curriculum I am designing I am going to commit one lesson to making a comic strip.
The topic is symbiotic relationships. Specifically, the partnership between fungi and roots. The fungus give nutrients and the plant gives sugars.
The sequence of the class goes like this:
Part 1. What is a symbiotic relationship? (positive teamwork): examples from the world or some team work game
Part 2. The fungus and plant partnership: called Micorrhizae.
Part 3. Intro to comic strip creation: what is a comic and how to illustrate sequence
Part 4. Make a comic strip (i am thinking 6 panels) about when Fungus and Plant meet for the first time and decide to work together.
If you could give me very simple, clear ways to teach comic strips that would be great. Part 3 in particular (20 minutes)
The whole class is about 90 minutes. So part 1 (10 minutes, part 2 (20 minutes), part 3 (20 minutes), part 4 (45 minutes)
The students live in rural india, ages 10-16.
Get back to me soon if you can because I am going to write this lesson in the next day or two.
Below is a quick blurb on MIcorrizhae
Mycorrhizae is a partnership between fungus and plants. 95% of all plants form a partnership with funguses. In this partnership, the plant gives sugars to the fungus and the fungus gives nutrients to the plant. When two species live off each other it is called a symbiotic relationship. The Mycorrhizae is one of the most important symbiotic relationships in the world. Without this relationship many plants and funguses would not survive. If many plants died there would also be less oxygen and less food for animals. It would be a world with very few living things!
Fungi are not plants or animals. They usually live in soils and feed off dead organic matter (leaves, branches, dead animal parts etc.). Sometime they grow out of the soil. For example mushrooms are funguses that grow above the ground.
Funguses connect with plants in two ways. One, the fungus can attach to the plant. Two, the fungus can live very close to the plant. Both ways help the plant. The fungus gathers nutrients from the soil and sends it to the root hairs of the plant. In return, the plant sends sugars for the fungus to live off. This team work makes the lives of plants and fungi more efficient.
(note: ayo is an old friend of mine, which at least partly explains the presumptuous tone of his e-mail)
Wow, this is a real can of worms! I’ll do my best to provide you with as useful a working outline as I can, but before I say anything I have to tell you that applying comics to a classroom curriculum is something I’ve been learning about for years and will continue to learn about for as long as im working. The best I can do in a single e-mail is scratch the surface…
That said, here’s the best quick fix I can provide:
I have to begin by admitting that I know very little about the culture of India. Are comics very common there? If so, I imagine you can take this as an opportunity to learn from them as much as they will learn from you. In my experience, kids tend to work fairly intuitively, so if they’re approaching this activity with a pre-formed interest in comics then I think you can just provide the science info and step back while they do their thing. You’ll be amazed at the solutions they’ll come up with. What’s that called when two organisms benefit from interacting with each other? Ah, who cares…
Anyway, whether or not these kids have any prior familiarity with comics, I recommend finding some popular Indian comics and bringing them in to class (I think you would also learn a lot by suggesting they bring comics from home). If you can plant a seed of enthusiasm about comics in general then I think an interest in creating original comics with applied ideas from class will sprout organically. Obviously some kids will jump all over it and others will think it’s totally lame, but that’s a chance you take with any teaching approach, right? If you can’t get the gather the energy to familiarize yourself with Indian comics then I suppose you could simply use some from the U.S. Calvin and Hobbes is always a crowd pleaser (not to mention an extraordinary show of what the medium can do), and I’ve had good luck with Peanuts, Spider-Man, Batman, Little Nemo, early Matt Groening (you might have to white-out some words…), Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, Bone, Sailor Moon, and Graham Anabelle’s comics, to name a few…
I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t know how text is read in India. Do they read left to right, top to bottom like we do in the U.S.? However it’s done, you should be mindful of reading order when designing comics. In comics, the most important thing is that the order of the sequence is clear to the reader. Take for example this Calvin and Hobbes comic:
See how the design guides your eyes through the sequence? It’s also worth noting how the panels are organized to describe the passage of time (open panels take up more time, 2 small panels placed right next to each other represent a quick exchange) and how the overall composition alludes to the contrast in thinking between the two characters.
To put it in more simple terms: emphasize how important it is that the order of the panels and the texts within them are clear to the reader. Here’s an example of something I see a lot:
Because the dialogue bubble that is intended to be read first is placed below the question that’s supposed to precede it, it’s bound to be read out of order. Try reorganizing them so that they are positioned in the order we traditionally read text:
Another simple piece of advice that I get a lot of mileage out of is that it really makes things work out better if you write the text before you draw the bubble. If you try it the other way you end up with:
As far as panel arrangements go, I like to let the students decide how many panels they want to use and what shape and size each should be, but I also provide very simple templates to students who want them. You mentioned a 6-panel arrangement, like this:
Some kids will want to use it the tall way and some will want the wide way and if you ask me either way is just fine.
So now that we’ve talked about form a little, let’s move on to the content. While I think the approach should be flexible, it’s still necessary that your students understand the material before they can recreate it. You sent me enough information about Mycorrhizae to make a whole bunch of different 6-panel comics. The most straightforward approach would be to break up the process into 6 steps and describe each in a panel. Ideally you can spend a little time with each kid to help them craft their approach, and throughout that process of interactions you can help develop a spectrum of different approaches to the comic. Some kids will take the straightforward approach I just described, but others might want to experiment more. Allowing for a more creative approach can lead to a deeper understanding of the material. Maybe some kids want to apply these concept to their own experience, like how they have a symbiotic relationship with their brother or their dog. Other might become particularly interested in the concept of fungus and will want to create a strip that explains the differences between it and other forms of life like plants and animals. If you allow for more variety you’ll be providing more of an opportunity for your kids to teach one another when they all share their finished comics. I also recommend that you take all their finished comics and print them up in a little comic book for each of your students to take home.
I think that’s all the wisdom you can squeeze out of me at such short notice. Like I said, this is just a start, but I hope it helps.