I decided to create another quick “The Best…” list today rating sites that allow you to create online comic strips.
These can be excellent opportunities for English Language Learners to be able to focus more time on developing language, writing, and storytelling skills instead of having to focus on creating drawings. Of course, I’m not denigrating the role of art in the classroom. It’s just that there are a number of online sites that make that part easier, and might make both writing and reading a little more engaging and attractive.
I’m differentiating “comic strips” from cartoons. There are many sites that let you add speech balloons to single images off the Web. You can find links to several of them on some of my The Best Ways To Create Online Content Easily & Quickly lists.
The sites here let you tell a story in several frames.
My criteria for including a site on this list include it being free, accessible to English Language Learners, and appearing to have some monitoring of its site to help monitor content so it appears to be appropriate for classroom use. In addition, the user’s creation is hosted on the site indefinitely.
I wasn’t really able to rate them in order of preference because many of them are so similar, though I do highlight a few. They can primarily be divided into two categories:
1) Ones that require no registration; are extremely simple to use; and don’t create a potential problem with inappropriate content since you pretty much don’t have access to other comic strips created on the site. The downside to this sites are they only allow you to link to the comic strip, not embed it. In other words, you can’t actually place the comic strip itself on a blog or website — just a link to the strip. In addition, most of the sites in this category generally don’t offer the same level of creativity that the next group does — most here have a smaller number of pre-set templates for the strips.
2) Ones that require registration, are more complicated (though they’re all certainly accessible to even Beginning English Language Learners with a few minutes of instruction) and have many more options for creativity. These also allow you to embed your creations in a blog or website. The potential downside (and upside — there are plenty of examples to use as models) to these sites is that there is easy access to strips created by others. The sites I’ve listed in this category seem to monitor for appropriate content, but there is always the possibility, however slim, that something might slip in. Of course, after you embed student creations on a blog or website, that dramatically reduces the possibility of their accessing other non-student creations, anyway. The risk is when they’re at the site creating them. There’s a risk in everything we do, of course, and I’ve had my students access these sites without any problem at all.
Here are picks for Category 1:
Make Beliefs is a fairly well-known site that has a variety of characters that can be used in pre-made templates. It’s already popular in schools — both in mainstream and ESL/EFL classes.
Bubblr! comes from the extraordinarily creative people at Pim Pam Pum, who have developed a number of sites that work well with English Language Learners. Bubblr! lets you search for images from Flickr and create a comic strip slideshow with speech bubbles. They seem to have some sort of “safe search” control in place because in the four years I’ve used their various web applications none of my students have ever found an inappropriate image.
(Editor’s Note: Jay Bennett wrote in the comments section that he was able to pretty quickly discover an inappropriate image using Bubblr!, so perhaps the site isn’t as “classroom-safe” as I have thought.)
Chogger lets you easily create a comic, with no registration required. What’s particularly nice about it is that you have a choice of drawing it or searching the Web for images you can insert.
And now for my choices in Category 2:
I have four sites in this batch, and I have to say — in my eyes at least — it’s difficult to distinguish between them. The four are:
Pixton, a newer site that, if you make a series of comic strips, lets you put them into a virtual “book.” It also seems to have a very overt and pro-active (at least it says it does) policy on ensuring that only appropriate content remains on the site.
Comiqs, which lets you make comic strip slideshows with photographic images — very similar to Bubblr!. Their content seems classroom appropriate, but it’s not clear to me what their policy is.
Toonlet, where, like Pixton, you “draw” your comics. Like with Comiqs, their content seems appropriate, but I’m unclear on their specific policy (Thanks to Damianne President, I’ve learned that it’s now clear they don’t have a strong policy, and inappropriate language is not uncommon on the site. I would no longer recommend it).
The final one on my list is ToonDoo. When you go to their site, at the top you see something that says “Safe Search On.” All you have to do is click on that to gain access to mature content, apparently, but I’ve done that and haven’t actually found anything inappropriate.
Comicbrush is the latest addition to this list. It seems pretty accessible to English Language Learners. There’s a gallery of created comic strips, but I couldn’t find anything objectionable with a quick look. The site says it has pretty strict policy on inappropriate work, but I don’t know what amount of energy they put into enforcing it.
Story Top is the newest addition to this list. It has a very simple “drag-and-drop” menu (including text boxes) for a multi-frame strip, and you can post the url on your website or blog (or use Embedit.in , a free web tool that makes pretty much any url address embeddable). You have to register for the site, but it takes seconds and doesn’t require an email address.
Creaza has a number of student tools, including ones mindmapping, moviemaking and audio recording. I’ve posted about them in the past, and wrote that I thought their apps were just a bit too complicated to be included on any of my “The Best…” lists. I took another look this past week and, though I still feel that way for most of their tools, the one for making cartoons appears to have been simplified.
At the “Dilbert” site, you can register and add your own dialogue to any Dilbert strip. It gives you three choices — create dialogue for the last box, all the boxes, or do it for one of the boxes and send the others to friends to contribute. You can then embed or link to the final product.
20+ Tips and Resources to Engage Learners with Comics is from Shelly Terrell.
Using cartoons and comic strips is from The British Council.
As always, feedback is welcome.
Links to these sites, and to others, can be found on my website under Student Comic Strips.
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