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Make Beliefs Comix
Pros: Emphasizes writing and creativity for students; hundreds of printables for teachers.
Cons: Poor navigation; artistic students also can't use original work.
Bottom Line: While it feels a little dated and disorganized, Make Beliefs Comix retains its charm and can promote creativity and self-expression.
Make Beliefs Comix provides a list of ways you can use site content in the classroom to teach writing, storytelling, literature analysis, and other principles. Ideas range from encouraging students to create an autobiographical comic strip to using comics to help them understand new vocabulary words.
Students will most likely need to work individually on the site, and it unfortunately doesn't offer any functionality to save creations on the site so you can view them online later. However, students can save the comic locally, print it out, or email their comic. The site's plentiful -- one might even say overwhelming -- activity suggestions, including hundreds of printables (which are incredibly useful), can be used to help students practice writing and gear up to write longer essays and stories. These printables are also a great way to reinforce and extend learning that's happening on the Make Beliefs Comix site.
Beyond the printables, the Lesson Plan and Writing Tools/Prompts sections are worth visiting. The former offers six example lessons, and the latter collects a large amount of inspiring writing sparks for students. Another newer feature that teachers can take advantage of are the interactive ebooks.
If you are a teacher who has a healthy population of English language learners, there's an ESL section that provides students with activities to help them continue to acquire either the English language or, in case they are working on the acquisition of another language besides English, the site supports students learning French, German, Italian, Portuguese, or Latin; the site accepts words written in those languages. Lesson ideas for students with special needs are also included.
Make Beliefs Comix is a website that helps students create comics and build writing skills. It also offers a wealth of resources for teachers and parents to support comic creation and writing instruction. Site creator/cartoonist Bill Zimmerman says he created Make Beliefs Comix to help strengthen families and let students express themselves. Students can view simple instructions before starting; they then choose a character from the site's library and insert it into a panel. They can also add dialogue balloons, backgrounds (including color options), and objects. Items can be scaled down, flipped, and moved (these controls are simple but require some practice), and although students are working with pre-drawn images, there's a decent selection to choose from. Finished comics can be saved locally, printed, or emailed. Note that since the site is free, it's also supported by ads.
Over the years, the site has taken strides to add more diversity among the characters as well as more backgrounds and objects for students to choose from (including some with three-dimensionality). With story building, choice is important, and these options give students more to work with. However, selecting characters and backgrounds still requires quite a lot of scrolling. It'd be useful if students could see a large window with all their options.
Students get tips throughout the process. The site provides dialogue prompts under each blank frame that explain the importance of pacing and plot. The help is a nice bonus for students who are struggling with content; although, these instructions are text-heavy and teachers will want to point them out and help explain them. The site's content also touches on a number of positive themes. Its outstanding and overflowing Printables section, for example, features several thought-provoking exercises that can help students identify feelings and make better decisions. Writing activities encourage appreciation and learning from mistakes. Many of the themed comics that include space to add text stress empathy and self-assessment; they can also introduce students to subjects like women's rights and analyzing 9/11's effect on their life. While it's not as versatile or streamlined as other comic creators like Pixton, Make Beliefs Comix remains free (although there are ads) and has a valuable focus on social and emotional learning (SEL) and encouraging students' creativity and self-expression.
Make Beliefs Comix also has an immense amount of resources for teachers which, while they're not well organized (the whole site is kinda old-school), are definitely classroom-ready. There are lesson plans that provide literature, writing, ESL, and foreign language instruction ideas. Writing prompt suggestions can also help students get started if they're stuck. An additional section offers advice on using the site with students with autism, hearing issues, and other special needs. For a comic creator, these extras are unique and make Make Beliefs Comix a great resource.