In the area of language instruction, teachers are constantly searching for new and innovative materials to enhance learning in the formal classroom environment. To meet this demand, publishers try to promote their material as being authentic, but many teachers (and more important, students) believe that no matter how appealing texts might be, they still ring of artificiality and are just a representation of the real thing. A textbook is just that material that has been altered and simplified for the consumption of the learner.

One authentic material that has been explored over the past few years is the comic strip or comic book . Before this form of educational entertainment emerged to the foreground, it was often believed (and still is by some social critics) that “comic books were so educationally unsound that their use would lead to mental stagnation (Ellman, 1979, p. 24; MacGregor, 1996, p. 7).

Teachers, businesses, and publishers, however, have realized that comic strips and comic books have a widespread appeal to all age groups and levels of society because they reflect authentic language and culture, for example, social commentary, human idosycracies, stereotypes, and life conflicts (Conrad, 1993; Elkins & Bruggemann, 1971), and contain a richness in story content and character development (Yoshihiro, 1992). In fact, it is one of the most widely read media throughout the world, especially in Japan where comic books accounted for 22.9% of the entire publications in 1994 (Weng Kin, 1995). Simply that a cartoon is an animated visual format with sound and a comic is a written, printed format in black and white or color. Some characters appear in multiple formats, having an animated series on TV, movie or comic strip. Characters from Peanuts, cats Felix and Garfield, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and a host of Walt Disney and Walter Lantz characters are some examples. Other characters may appear in only one format such as in many video games which is yet another venue.

Utilizing Comics and Cartoons for Language Teaching

The language in comics and cartoons is usually very simple, it can be used in a variety of ways, such as:

  • to demonstrate high-frequency vocabulary in context
  • to illustrate idioms and expressions
  • to teach verbs and other parts of speech as examples of connected speech
  • to simulate dialogues to inject humor into class sessions
  • to provide a basis for oral discourse and writing activities
  • to illustrate culture and values

In order to improve the quality of the material we use in our classes, using authentic material as cartoons and comics may enrich a variety of groups in many teaching environment.

There is no person who doesn’t like reading something funny or that is appealing, and those learners who are usually reluctanct to participate in the classes are the first to discuss comics.

Comics require students’ thoughts, feelings and opinions about the situation portrayed through visual and linguistic elements and codes.

You can not only teach vocabulary and language structures through comics, but you can also help students:

– describe pictures making using adjectives recently learned,

– learn synonyms and antonyms to expand vocabulary,

– practice formation of different verb tenses,

-practice story telling,

-write a story using a comic as a starting point, etc.

Pedagogical Reasons for Their Use

The resurgence of interest in this form of entertainment has spawned a host of texts and magazines seeking to ride the wave on using comics for educational purposes. All of these have taken advantage of the inherent characteristics that make this medium so attractive as an educational tool: (a) A built-in desire to learn through comics (Richie, 1979); (b) easy accessibility in daily newspapers and bookstands; (c) the novel and ingenious way in which this authentic medium depicts real-life language and “every facet of people and society” (Yoshihiro, 1992, p. 9); and (d) the variety of visual and linguistic elements and codes that appeal to students with different learning styles (Bangs, 1988; Davis, 1990; Kossack & Hoffman, 1987). Furthermore, many lessons can be adapted to bring the material within the linguistic reach of different levels of students.

Many native English teachers in Japan are assigned listening and speaking classes, with limited opportunities to teach the other skills areas. There is, however, a general movement on many fronts to shift this once generic class towards more content-based or ESP courses. The result has been that English now becomes more than a mere frill to a true vehicle to disseminate one’s ideas. With the emergence of such a need, comics can fill this gap because of its multi-dimensional nature, combing both words and pictorial images

In addition to the uses mentioned in the summary lesson above, comic books and comic strips can be used to teach a wide variety of skills including:

  • To practice describing characters using adjectives (e.g., Garfield is a very troublesome cat);
  • To learn synonyms and antonyms to expand vocabulary;
  • To introduce culture-specific onomatopoeia words that imitate what they represent (e.g., Drip, drip for the sound of falling rain or leaking pipes, Bang representing the sound of something crashing, etc.);
  • To practice writing direct speech (e.g., Hey, move your car!) and reported speech (The man said, “Move your car!”);
  • To identify different family roles and stereotypes (e.g., Are men in Japanese comic strips portrayed as indifferent to sexual harassment as the news suggests?);
  • To improve students’ listening by reading aloud the action in one of four panels in a comic strip and having students select the correct picture;
  • To identify social, political, economic, or environmental problems facing the world today;
  • To introduce paralanguage Çlexical items with out a written correlate (e.g., Uh-oh, you’re in trouble now for lying to Mom; Pssst. What’s the answer to number five on the test; Uh, let me see). Paralanguage is perhaps the most used, yet most pervasive, language form, and many teachers are slow to introduce them because they are not aware of how much these items permeate everyday language. Fortunately, comics are rich in paralanguage content;
  • To practice formation of different verb tenses (i.e., changing the present tense of the action in the strip to the past tense);
  • To practice telling the story of a sequentially-ordered comic strip that has been scrambled up;
  • To reinforce the use of time-sequence transition words to maintain the unity of a paragraph or story (e.g., First, the boy left for school. Next, he . . .);
  • To help student recognize word reductions in written text, identify the corresponding long form, and practice these reductions orally (i.e, going to verses gonna; have to verses hafta; want to verses wanna);
  • To practice basic rules of pronunciation.

The visual images in cartoons and comics help encourage students to observe and analyze the situation. Moreover, they also help the

students to understand the situation told within the cartoons and comics more easily. comic explains the visuals in our teaching that promote students’ analytical skills and activate higher level thinking ability. Besides, the humors in cartoons and comics comprise enjoyment in the foreign language classes and release students’ burden and tenseness in learning a new language. In addition,  explains that children can learn to analyze cartoons, look for subtleties beneath the surface of familiar situations, and gain a better understanding of symbolism, satire, and humor. Thus, doing a variety of activities for the students help them to learn and comprehend better. Moreover, in one class, the students are so heterogenic that a teacher has to facilitate all of them to understand the materials. Comics and cartoons have been widely used as one of the teaching media in EFL classes. However, many studies done on the use of comics and cartoons as teaching media have not well documented the use of comics and cartoons as tools to enable students to be the 21st century learners. Comics and cartoons have been used due to their interesting visual images, which can attract students to learn. Therefore, the activities used have not well

developed students’ ability to respond to visual images. Basically, comics and cartoons can be used to enable students to have the 21st century skills because they embrace a variety of learning activities that appeal to multiple learning modalities. By providing all those multiple learning modalities (visual-spatial, kinesthetictactile, and auditory-sequential) in their teaching, teachers have assisted the students to be the 21st century learners. Hyde (2007) clearly explains that, in general, no student learns with only one style; so it follows that providing a variety of activities for young students would help them to learn better. In addition, comics and cartoons are also considered excellent teaching tools because they not only add humor to a topic but also illustrate the idea in a memorable way. In this regard, Giunta (2010) accurately explains that humor, such as found in cartoons and comics, is an important factor for making learning an enjoyable and, more importantly, memorable experience. Moreover, the activities in the teaching and learning process using cartoons and comics are interesting and interactive for the students. Barker (2009) clearly explains that the best way to keep our students interested and engaged in lessons is by making them interactive. Additionally, adapting comics and cartoons into our classroom with correct and applicable activities can encourage students’ observational, analytical, and higher thinking skills. Oliveri (2007:2) elucidates that cartoons and comics can spark thoughtful conversation, and open the doors for teacher and students to discuss current events, social and family life, values, morals, and religious philosophies. Furthermore, cartoons and comics can be adapted into the 21st century teaching and learning process by asking the students to critically analyze them, understand their implicit meaning, and gain a better understanding of symbolism, irony, and humor. Also stated by Oliveri (2007:2), comics and cartoons give insight into the world around us, and provide opportunities for genuine and meaningful communication. It is so because using cartoons and

comics, students are taught to express their ideas using multiple communication technologies, not just the written word.

Comic is a written, printed format in black and white or color. While, cartoon appears in multiple formats, they can be a both animated visual format with sound or sequence of drawings that tell a short story. For this study, the researcher used cartoon and comic in the printed format or they are usually called as cartoon or comic strips. However, it is also possible for the teachers to have the combination of the two formats of cartoon and comic in

their teaching. The point is that teachers have to be able to engage and invite students to understand the implicit meaning within cartoon and comic they read or watch, and in turn, they can expose their own ideas in the form of cartoon and comic. Helping the students understand the different kinds of implicit meaning within cartoon or comic strips can also help them develop critical thinking skills.

The examples of cartoon and comic given were taken from some websites that provide cartoons for educational purposes, for instance:,,,,, and so on.

Moreover, the researcher also encouraged the students to visit those websites.


The use of comics in education is based on the concept of creating engagement and motivation for students. The effectiveness of comics as medium for effective learning and development has been the subject of debate since the origin modern comic book in the 1930s. Sones (1944) notes that comics “evoked more than a hundred critical articles in educational and non-professional periodicals.

It has been noted that the use of a narrative form such as a comic “can foster pupils’ interest in science”and help students remember what they have learnt and providing a means of fostering discussion. However, it has also been noted that many educators remain “ambivalent” about the use of comic books as an educational tool. Comics have also been used as a medium to communicate health care information on subjects such as diabetes.

Using cartoons and comic strips

Cartoons and comic strips can be used from beginner level to advanced level for a variety of language and discussion activities.

Cartoons are powerful teaching tools and can:

  • Tell a complex story in a few images
  • Provide comment and provoke thought on events and issues in the news
  • Give an example of vocabulary related to current trends and fads
  • Provide easily identifiable characters to form the basis for sketches
  • Show culture in action with the ways that men or women are behaving and are expected to behave
  • Comment on and illustrate a whole range of issues like racism, teenage relationships, sexism, ageism, family relationships.
  1. Activities for exploiting cartoons

    Exploring the theme of humour

    Take one cartoon which depicts absurd situations. This can be a Gary Larsen cartoon or one of those greeting cards using a black and white photo and a funny sentence which gives a strange twist.
    Ask students to work in groups and get students to discuss:

  • What does the cartoon mean?
  • Why is it funny?
  • What techniques are used to make it funny?

Their own sense of humour and national tastes in humour

Use a cartoon to introduce the idea of humour and culture. Take a selection of cartoons and ask groups to decide what each one means and if they think they are funny.



  1. Activities for using comic strips

    Tell the story

  • Cut up the pictures and get students to re order the story. Make this more difficult and challenging linguistically by giving separate frames to each student in a group and ask them to not show the pictures until they have arrived at an order through describing the pictures.
  • Remove the last picture of a cartoon and ask students to think of an ending. Artistic students may like to draw the last frame. Vote for the best ending.
  • Remove the sentences under each frame and either ask lower levels to match them to each frame or ask them to write the sentences that tell the story. Lower levels might need vocabulary prompts on the board.

Make the comic strip

  • Give students a comic strip with a short paragraph for each frame. Ask students to reduce each paragraph to one sentence for each frame. Compare their efforts to the original. With higher levels you can discuss techniques of summarising your message.
  • Give students a story. Groups confer to guess what might be missing. Give them the comic strip version. They must fill in the blanks in their written story by using the comic strip pictures. Then ask them to think of speech bubbles for the comic strip. This might also include thought bubbles for characters.
  • Remove speech bubbles from a comic strip. Cut them up and give out. Ask them to order them and to imagine what the story or situation is. Groups can act out their version for the class. Then give them the comic strip and ask them to see if their speech bubbles fit the story there.
  • When you use a short story with younger learners ask them to make the story into a series of 4 pictures. This can be a group effort or a whole class task with each group drawing one part. If you use a black and white comic strip allow time for younger learners to colour their versions.
  • Make an information gap using a photocopied comic strip. Blank out details or change what characters are saying. Make sets which are coloured differently. Set up spot the difference activities using the comic strip and then lead in to story telling and acting out the comic strip.
  1. Exploit characters

    Make a comic strip character

  • Look at different comic strip heroes. Get suggestions from the class of names: Superman, Bart Simpson, Asterix, Tin Tin or others. Describe popular characters for their age range in the UK today. Encourage the students to tell you about local comic book characters. Ask them to describe one character in pairs.
  • What makes this character special?
  • What can they do? Have they got special powers?
  • What are their weaknesses?
  • What do they look like?
  • What are their special interests or ambitions?
  • Then ask each group or pair to choose a favourite character and make a simple situational dialogue which is typical for them.
  • Ask students to work in pairs or groups to invent their own character. If appropriate students can draw the character. Give the character special powers, a name and a special mission.
    The final stage is to tell an everyday story involving the character.

Discuss comic strip characters – higher levels

  • Many popular comic strips in the national press are used to challenge stereotypes and criticise discrimination. You can exploit these aspects of the stories to introduce lessons on these issues in a less formal way.
  • Many comic strip characters are seen in situations based on misunderstandings. Exploit these features of communication break down to discuss how characters speak to each other and what they might say. Devise role plays based on these comic strips to challenge more advanced learners. Get them to act out the next sequence in the story.

Exploit short sequences for sketches and improvisations.

  • Choose a key situation which would involve language students might need to practice, such as agreeing with opinions, asking permission or saying you are sorry.
  • Use a sequence from a cartoon with the sound off so students describe what is happening, imagine what is being said and can then use the sequence to improvise a sketch. Listen to the real sketch at the end


Comics have been around for decades, but teachers and school librarians are now seeing an influx in their use in educational settings. Many experts see comics and graphic novels as a gateway for reluctant or struggling readers. Many readers begin with comics and move on to harder reading. Incorporating text and visuals causes readers to examine the relationship between the two and encourages deep thinking and critical thinking. Comics and graphic novels have many attributes that cause them to be appealing. Comics have reduced text, which attracts reluctant readers. They also have bright colors and popular characters that interest readers and keep their attention. The graphic novels can lead students into exploring books, magazines, and other reading materials. Teachers using graphic novels in class are finding students eager to read, recommending books to one another, and creating comics of their own. They have also seen students branching out socially as a result of discussion groups centered on comics and graphic novels.

Many ELLs are reluctant readers because traditional texts seem overwhelming. Through the aforementioned literature, a strong case can be made for including comics in the ELL classroom. Comics have visual appeal, less text, and some familiar characters that will draw students in. Looking beyond the initial appeal, comics can increase literacy and language acquisition.

Comics have been a popular source of entertainment for decades. Banking on the popularity of comics can be useful in the teaching of English by capturing student interest and creating motivation for meaningful English production in the classroom. It is useful to define the term comics before investigating the subject any further.  The four major types of comics are: cartoons (a single stand alone panel); comic strips (stories in sequenced horizontal blocks of three to five panels); comic books (similar to comic strips but increased to 20 to 40 pages); and graphic novels (full-length comic books often carrying entire runs of stories previously serialized). There are several reasons to use comics in classes related to principles from second language acquisition, brain-based teaching and progressive literacy (Carey,2004). involved in activities using language for communication. There are many ways students can collaborate using comics as materials for interaction in pairs or small groups. Many such activities will require students to exchange ideas and opinions, edit each other’s work or collaborate in teams for original comics production. When students interact with each other or the teacher they are using language for real communication.

Comics can be used in a variety of ways as motivating input to capture student interest. as discussed earlier, there is significant theoretical backing for using this type of comprehensible input with second language learners. Using authentic comics can reflect the rewards of progressive literacy by motivating students to learn. Furthermore, comics can provide a valuable opportunity for interaction in English. There are a number of activities that reflect brain-based learning, which could be used as the main focus of a course by having students make their own comics or simply can be incorporated into other lessons as a warm-up or extension activities during regular classroom instruction.



  • Astin, Alexander W. 1996. “Involvement in Learning Revisited: Lessons We Have Learned”. Journal of College Student Development. 37:123-34
  • Becker, Howard S. 1986. Writing for Social Scientists: How to Start and Finish Your Thesis, Book, or Article. Chicago, IL: University Of Chicago Press
  • Benson, Denzel E., Wava Haney, Tracy E. Ore, Caroline Hodges Persell, Aileen Schulte, James Steele, Idee Winfield. 2002. “Digital Technologies and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Sociology”. Teaching Sociology. 30:140-157
  • Bergin, Joseph. 2002. “Teaching on the Wiki Web.” Pp. 195 in Proceedings of the 7th Annual Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education. New York , NY: ACM Press.

Bills, David B., Anthony Q. Stanley. 2001. “Social Science Computer Labs as Sites for Teaching and Learning: Challenges and Solutions to Their Design and Maintenance”. Teaching Sociology. 29:153-162.

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