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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

REVIEW: Buzz! Whiz! Bang! Using Comic Books to Teach Onomatopoeia

Onomatopoeia: Teaching the Concept with Comics.

This article reviews a lesson plan from READ WRITE THINK by Maureen Gerard

Using comics as a means to teach onomatopoeia appears to be an intuitive connection. Comics are filled with examples of words that convey sound such as POW! and BAM! Squiggles, motion lines, exclamation points and other marks are also used to show motion and narrate a story (Eisner, 2000; Marion, 1993; Stoermer, 2010).

Although comics are a medium which is rich, dramatic, and possibly filled with (imaginary) sound (McCloud, 1994) it is primarily a story telling medium.

The planning guide includes categories for “characters present” and “actions that occur.” I recommend adding and emphasizing traditional elements of plot, such as conflict and resolution.

The lesson directs the teacher to a prepared planning guide, comic strip maker and rubric. The comic strip maker uses static images, and the comic will consequently rely on words rather than movement to tell a story.

In my experience, classroom generalists at the elementary level are often reluctant to allow students to draw. Perhaps because children’s drawings appear unfinished to an adult eye or that maybe drawing skill is viewed as a natural talent. Still I would recommend producing original drawings as the means to approach this lesson. At the planning stage, allow students to write or draw story elements.






Activities which could support drawing and drawing sounds could include:

  • Adding words to motion lines and other marks to existing comics.
  • Word/Pictures which show the meaning of the word, words such as drip, fire, path, and others. Shown above in artwork from the Plymouth State University course, Creativity and the Visual World.
  • Listening to sounds and then drawing them, as seen below, in this video on Foley Artists from YouTube



Revising this activity, will require the teacher to rethink the rubric; The evaluation of a student’s use of landscape and captions is tied to the comic strip maker and can be eliminated. Instead use the requirement proposed by The Comic Book Project, that text be included in every frame and then evaluate the text for story telling, grammar, spelling, onomatopoeia. This will result in a more concise and easy to use rubric. Furthermore, asking fellow students to “read” the comic without prompting or hints from the author can be used to introduce peer editing[1].

Recommended use: As part of a larger unit on fiction. Although the graphic nature of comics will support all learners, it will still be challenging to create and edit a story filled with sound effects.

Recommended comics: Rube Goldberg’s machines, Calvin and Hobbes, Astrix, wordless comics such as Gon (a young dinosaur). Teachers will find only a limited supply of onomatopoetic words on the funny pages.

Recommended artists: Roy Lichtenstein and the artists he borrowed from Jack Kirby, Russ Heath, Tony Abruzzo, Irv Novick and Jerry Granenetti.

Eisner, W. (2000). Comics & sequential art. Tamarac, FL: Poorhouse Press.

Marion, P. (1993). Traces en cases: travail graphique, figuration narrative et participation du lecteur. Louvain-la-Neuve, France: Academia.

McCloud, S. (1994). Understanding comics. New York: Paradox Press.

McCloud, S. (2009). Dissertation defense: Teaching between the frames: Making comics with seven and eight year old children: A search for craft and pedagogy In M. R. Stoermer (Ed.). Bloomington, IN.

Stoermer, M. R. (2010). Teaching between the frames: Making comics with seven and eight year old children: A search for craft and pedagogy. Indiana University, Bloomington, IN.


[1] Recently Scott McCloud (2009) reports using this peer editing approach to defuse the hierarchy of the critique.

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* B. Architecture, University of Cincinnati * Teaching Certificate, Art, Portland State University * Education Leadership Coursework, Eastern Washington University * MAT, Art Education, University of Idaho * Ph.D. Indiana University