How to Use Cartoons and Comics in TEFL

Who doesn’t love cartoons and comics? They can be used in English language teaching in a number of ways. So what’s the difference and how can we use them?

Larry Lynch
Cartoons and Comics in TEFL

Cartoons vs. Comics

Who doesn’t love cartoons and comics? Okay, so I’m no fan of the Simpsons, but even I enjoy Felix the Cat, the Pink Panther and a host of other Saturday morning offerings. If the cartoon network came on in English where I live, I’d record it for use in my English as a foreign language (EFL) classes (and a little personal humor and enjoyment). There are two venues which actually can be used in teaching English as a foreign language or in foreign language teaching and learning; cartoons and comics. What’s the difference?

The Differences

What’s the difference between a cartoon and a comic? 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.

Who Do You Love?

Why don’t you try asking your English or foreign language learners; “Who’s your favorite cartoon or comic character?” “Why?”

Learners could then elaborate on their favorite character in addition to:

  • describing the character’s personality
  • acting out a scene from a cartoon or comic
  • white out dialogue bubbles and write in their own lines of dialogue

Adapting Comics and Cartoons for Classroom Teaching

How can these different formats be adapted for use in an EFL or foreign language learning classroom setting? Well, you’ve hit the jackpot here. Because the language in comics and cartoons is usually very simple, it can be used in a variety of ways, such as:

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

Other Related Activity Possibilities

Numerous other related activity possibilities exist, which may be applied with just a bit of imagination. For example, have your English or foreign language learners relate:

  • who the author or creator of the comic / cartoon series is
  • a biography of the author with photos
  • describe the setting and theme of the comic or cartoon series
  • show examples of cartoons, comics and characters in class, then compare them

If you’d like even more focus, you could show a cartoon or comic strip series in class to familiarize everyone with the character(s). Then might discuss the character’s personality and other elements and ask, “Why is this cartoon or comic funny?”

Be sure to let the learners interact about their favorite comic strips and cartoon characters.

Take a Survey

Remember to take a survey of who the most popular cartoon and comic strip characters are among the learners. Better yet, have the learners design and conduct the survey themselves, presenting the results and reasons afterwards. By all means, do let Felix the Cat, the Pink Panther, the Simpsons, Garfield, the Power Puff Girls, Hagar the Horrible, the Wizard of Id, Peanuts and a generous host of English language cartoon and comic strip characters lend fun, flavor, magic and a whole new dimension to your English as a foreign language or foreign language learning classes.

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Larry Lynch

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is a bi-lingual copywriter, expert author and photographer specialising in business, travel, food and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape From America, Mexico News and Brazil magazines. He now lives in Colombia and teaches at a university in Cali.

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  • scott Mcloud

    Technically, a “cartoon” can also be a single panel picture, with similar graphical conventions as a comic (speech bubbles, etc). In fact, some cartoons have 2 or even 3 panels.

  • Elisabeth

    Excellent ideas but I’d love to know where can i look for comics or worksheets to take into the classroom.

  • Ahmed

    I tried to use comics and cartoons in my classes and the results were really unpredictable. My students responded differently as some liked the idea and some didn’t. In conclusion I think that comics and cartoons are very cultural and this fact must be considered when introducing them in classes.

  • Carmen

    Your article truly put a big smile on my face today! :) The idea of using cartoons, even when teaching adults, really is brilliant. I have tried it with a group of adults and it worked perfectly. I used a series of cartoons made by PIXAR and it was very funny and very effective from a linguistic point of view, too. Cartoons work because whatever makes one smile, or even better laugh, stimulates one’s intellect, creativity and desire to learn.

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