Pictures are a great basis for stimulating discussion, which is why they're so widely used in speaking exams. Comic strips can be equally effective as prompts for speaking activities, and can also be used to integrate reading and writing activities.
In a cartoon with a single panel, delete the text from the speech bubble and get students in teams to create their own. This can be done purely as a speaking activity, or extended into a short writing activity. Once each group has made their own version of the cartoon, you can give them the original to compare.
For an activity that includes some reading, use a strip cartoon with several panels. Delete the text from the last panel and get students in teams to decide what it should say.
Of course you'll need to choose cartoons that are appropriate for the age and language level of your students. The theme of "good news and bad news", commonly used in jokes, provides a useful framework.
Or to provide more support for the students, rather than deleting all the text in the last panel, just delete part of it. Or delete any key words you choose from any panel in the strip.
In this example, the language is pretty simple, and as long as the students are able to understand the text, they'll easily be able to come up with some ideas to complete the final sentence.
A comic strip like this can also be used to make an ordering activity, which is an excellent way to get students to notice coherence and cohesion in a text. Using a comic strip adds visual support and makes the activity more fun. Cut up the strip and mix up the panels so students have to put them in the right order. This simple example uses a cartoon strip with just three panels, but of course you can also use this activity with much longer comics.
This same type of comic can also be used to make a matching activity. Delete the text from the speech balloons and have students match where each text goes.
Instead of searching for suitable cartoons, make your own cartoons for students to work with, or get students to create them. Like all of the activities suggested here, this can be done either on paper or in electronic format.
A lengthy comic strip can form the basis of a substantial reading comprehension activity. Or if you provide the visuals and get students to provide the words, this can also work as a collaborative writing task.
There are several great tools available for making comics online. For a good balance of functionality and simplicity, our top recommendation is:
See the complete TEFL Greece collection of links to useful sites for finding and editing pictures and creating cartoons at http://www.symbaloo.com/mix/pictures2
The inspiration for this article came from Michael Robbs' presentation at the 2014 TESOL Greece convention.
Peter Beech - email@example.com