Whimsical comic creator for young students
Make Beliefs Comix is a web-based comic creator simple enough for elementary students. It makes for a fun assessment, alternative response method, or extra credit project. The characters are whimsical - people and animals, historical and fantastical. There are props and scenes, but not too many. The biggest (only?) downside is that students can't save and revise their work. They can print it and/or email it, and you can take a screenshot to save the image, but it can't be re-edited. I know account functionality is a lot to ask, but being able to return and re-edit strips would be a huge plus for classroom use. Sometimes there just isn't enough time in a computer lab block for students to get a strip done (at least well). And even the best student-created strips could use some revising and editing... The site was created by author Bill Zimmerman and artist Tom Bloom, who together have been helping young writers find their voices for years. Check out some of their books here, including a couple of free ebooks, at http://www.billztreasurechest.com.
How I Use It
I've used it successfully with students as young as second grade. Modeling the creation process is important, of course - don't just cut students loose on the site. I had all my upper-elementary students make a strip about their summer. This really engaged them! The unusual cast of characters that the site provides led to some very creative "What I Did This Summer" comics that they were excited to share with each other. I've also had a few students use it as an alternative story summary (using the Somebody-Wanted-But-So structure in a four-frame strip). This was more difficult for them than the Summer strips, but the ones who chose to do it were able to manage. I wish I would have saved some of their summaries electronically, to share them here! You can see a humorous summary of Twilight that someone else did here: http://www.makebeliefscomix.com/Comix/?comix_id=351983652C729686). There are other good lesson ideas on the site itself that I haven't tried yet. I have used Bill Zimmerman's book "A Book of Questions" for writing prompts when students are finished early with their work. Like the Common Sense reviewer noted, Make Beliefs Comix isn't nearly as versatile as Pixton or others, but for my students, that's an asset. In creative work, having too many options can be debilitating! And, perhaps paradoxically, the right limitations can unleash students' creativity. Said Chesterton: "Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame."