For many students, sequencing a story can be difficult. Often, it makes sense in their mind, but when they try to organize their thoughts on paper, it becomes a hot mess. They are bursting with ideas, characters and dynamic scenes, but structure, grammar and context is missing. Often it makes sense in their head, but to a reader, it is jumbled information. I find that they make assumptions about what the reader knows. This leads to a story that is fragmented and incoherent. That’s where the storyboard comes in.
It looks like a comic strip or a graphic novel, but is is much more. I realized their usefulness when making comic strips in my middle school art class. The purpose of my lesson was for children to sequence a story and tell it primarily through pictures… utilizing details, characters, camera angles, perspective and background settings to convey their message. Whether you are teaching creative writing or art, the concepts are the same and storyboards can help disorganized students solidify the plot.
I had one student who went from a kitchen scene, and in the next panel, the characters were in a car. She explained to me (verbally of course), “Well, you see they had a fight, and one person left and got in the car to go to the airport.” I replied, “That’s fine, but we can’t know that– you left out information between those two scenes.” She revised it by adding a panel that showed the missing information. She realized that just because she understood something in her mind, didn’t mean that it made sense on the paper.
Show examples of excellent and poor work to drive your point home. Analyzing well constructed stories is not enough. When I display poorly conceived storyboards- ones that are unclear, ones that leave out details and setting, students become acutely aware of what not to do. Knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do.
For children, drawing often comes more naturally than writing. We live in a visual society, and we often think in pictures before we think in words. Art is a personal language, and many children “are able to integrate the worlds of imagination, fantasy and reality in their artistic creations.” (Hurwitz/Day, Children and their Art). I am a firm believer in the power of pictures.
When we draw, we visually demonstrate our thoughts. When students draw their story, students are aware of details, perspective and setting. For example, characters need to have details to show age, profession, relationships, etc. Students have to draw details in each background to show the reader where the story takes place. Images also have to be shown from a certain perspective- sometimes bird’s eye view or worm’s eye view is best. These are key to any story, whether it be in pictures or words.
They must include characters, scenery and details that tell us what is going on through action. I also stress that the camera angles must change. Just as point of view is important in a written story, in a visual story the perspective changes.
Once the storyboards are done, I ask students to share their storyboards with a partner, asking that partner to read the storyboard and explain the story back to the artist. The student artist can not verbally explain anything- the pictures (and possible dialogue) need to stand by themselves. You could imagine, for seventh graders keeping quiet is a challenge! If the student reading it is confused or does not understand any important part of the story, the student artist needs to go back and revise it to fill in the missing information. This process usually requires the author/artist to add details to the existing panels, or add panels in between to expand the story. This process also helps the student reading it- they get practice in reading and interpreting images. The best part is the conversation between students- it starts a dialogue about their art and writing, therefore it is a conversation about their thinking. Students need to revise their drawings and include the omitted details so that the story clear.
What should not be missed is the ability for ESL students to thrive during this lesson. Using Comic Strip Storyboards with ESL children helps them to link images with relevant vocabulary. Often, it is my ESL kids who have the most detailed images. It is a perfect opportunity for teachers to reinforce or introduce new vocabulary. A game may even be made out of it by students trading Story Boards and verbally telling the story that they see. When children look at the image as they say the word, they will be more likely to internalize it.