Open Letter To A Comic Generator King.

Education & Technology Language Learning learning Various

Self-generating ideas for teaching with comics:

(This article is dedicated to Bill Zimmerman and teachers around the world. It celebrates the power of comics for teaching and the transformative impact that comic makers everywhere have on education.)

Dear Bill,

Here are my thoughts and ideas for your new section on which you’re designing to help ESL teachers. Although the internet is full of comic sites, your lessons and ideas have always filled me with extra purpose as a teacher.

Therefore, I’ll reflect lightly on this purpose, inform our readers of your ongoing work, share my own ideas, and then hopefully inspire further ideas from comic-loving teachers around the world….

What is your purpose?



Today I was reflecting upon my purpose as a teacher, blogger, mother, writer and human being.

A good way to do this is to remember the experiences that lift you up. By this I mean not only results-oriented experiences, but the process-oriented ‘aha’ moments.

Some people inspire others as way of life or, more significantly, as a simple expression of the ordinary, but special moments in their lives.

When true purpose becomes central to your teaching life, other people want to become a part of what you are doing, and they go on to spread the inspiration. We don’t even have to know these people, we can just appreciate what they have created.

One such person whom I didn’t know, but certainly appreciated,  was the creater of MakeBeliefComix.

The MakeBeliefComix website was so inspiring that I just knew that its Comic Generating King was really singing the song of himself through dedicating much of his life to helping others in creative, artistic, poetic and caring ways through his comics and lessons.

Writing Prompts for English Language Learners and Literacy Students.

poem of oneself

When I interviewed him and asked him about his motivation, ideas, and life experiences last year, it turned out that I was right.

Bill’s song of himself was one of lighting up hearts and minds through creativity; not only with respect to language learning but with respect to changing lives.

That purpose is what makes teaching special to me also, and as we reach out to each other to learn, experiment and share ideas, we invoke the power of community and collective minds.

Check out the links below to learn more about MakeBeliefComix, comics in education, and Bill Zimmerman.

Then you can help me to help Bill create a whole new comic world for ESL students.

Here are the links to our blog interview, webinar and slideshow.

Interview with Bill Zimmerman:

Creative comic collaboration for fun fluency development:

The webinar:


Bill is now currently updating his website for ESL learners and is seeking feedback and ideas from teachers who use his website or who are passionate about teaching through comics.

Here is the relevant status update on his facebook page:

“Dear reader, is working on a new section geared to help teachers of English as a second language. If you are an ESL teacher, would you share with us how you use our comic generator with your students? What kinds of activities do you use the site for? To teach vocabulary? To encourage creative writing? To reinforce your daily lessons? Do you use our printables or writing prompts? With your permission, we will share your experiences and ideas with our other users. You can comment here on Facebook or write to me directly at Thank you so much for your input — it is so helpful to us as we work to make our web site more useful to you..”

Sincere good wishes,

Bill Zimmerman Creator,
Here are some of my ideas:

Content creation for elearning materials.

The first time I ever used MakebeliefComix was to create visual elearning materials for my online students. In that sense, I could create any language I wanted for demonstration purposes and to guide students into relevant, authentic dialogue.

Student created content.

Obviously, the next step was for students to create their own comic dialogues.

It’s crucial for language students to feel the freedom of creating their own stories and dialogues for everything you can imagine; from exam practice,  preparation for speaking practice and role plays, to re-writing and reframing lexical & grammatical transformations. Comics give students a brain-friendly break from worksheets and mind-numbing exercises.

Business English students benefit too, as in real life they must learn how to socialise in business situations. In fact, most of what they have to do in their practical careers is to create meaningful dialogue with international business associates.

 Storytelling for small children.

My bilingual children love writing stories and creating comics; whether on paper or online. My kids have created beautiful stories using make-belief characters.

To witness magical thoughts and ideas flowing from children is to step into your purpose as a teacher or parent.

You can see the animated expressions, the light in their eyes, the fun, the mischief and the engagement. You can almost see inside their minds as they concoct new ideas and their faces reveal one idea after another being born before they are even printed in the speech bubble.

Storytelling for tweens and teens.

My children are now a mixture of one over-grown baby (8), tweenie twins (9) and my eldest daughter who will actually become a ‘real teen’ in April. Apart from that I also teach some local tweens and I have found storytelling for ESL children to be powerful beyond measure.

Here are  things that ESL children, tweens, teens and adults can do with comics to enhance their language learning and social/emotional development.

1) Learn phrasal verbs through reading teacher-created dialogues and/or creating their own.

2) Learn grammar, practise grammar and recycle grammar through grammar stories.

3) Present, practise and creatively engage with tenses through the magic of embedding time frames into comic dialogues.

4) Use captions to create background information for dialogues: This can give them a deeper insight into present continuous, time references, such as, while/meanwhile etc.

5) Practice reported speech and direct speech simultaneously through combining the use of captions and speech bubbles.

6) Transform sentence stems into alternative expressions with the same meaning, as tested in the Cambridge ESOL exams. Use of English, tenses, phrasal verbs, opposites, and all of the lingistic nuances students must become proficient in can be practised creatively before students ever have to look at an exam paper.

7) Making up stories with prepositional phrases.

8) Making up stories with collocations.

9) Theme-based stories.

10) Using lexical sets within a story.

11) Using rhyme for poetry comics.

12)  Practising homophones, antonyms or prefixes through rhyme and humour. Think Dr. Seuss in a comic strip.

13) Transforming song lyrics and themes into comic dialogues.

14) Creating stories around objects, personalities, missions, challenges & journeys.

15) Creating “what if” scenarios to practise conditionals & develop lateral thinking skills in the process.

16) Have students create joke dialogues using English jokes they’ve learnt or by translating their own cultural jokes into English.

17) Summarising is a skill demanded in life and in top level Engish exams. Summarising can be fun if students practise transforming longer books or movies into short comic strip stories. In this way, they must focus on the essential points and highlights of the longer piece and reframe them into a new, shorter medium.

18) Students can create their own morals and metaphors by finding the moral of a story the teacher tells them and then redesigning the moral into a new metaphor via situational comic strips – think ‘Aesop’s tortoise and hare’, except that these would be original stories.

This would actually be very powerful for business English students too. The best Business brains know how to sell ideas and products through story and metaphor. Business English students can map out sales pitches in story format onto comic strips.

19) Teachers challenge students with a moral dilemma, or interpersonal conflict and students create a problem-solving dialogue.

This could work for school issues, such as bullying, competition & cliques, or it could focus on conflict resolution in the work place for business English students.

20) Visual journalling for reflection & linguistic soul therapy.

This may sound weird, but using a blank canvas ‘nothing’ approach could mean everything to students. After having worked very hard on a unit of work, and having focused on all kinds of revision and repetition, it’s important to give students the artistic licence to create any kind of story they like without thinking too much about it.

In fact, this trains the creative mind as many student are too locked into logical thought to ever tap into their own inner resurces or subconscious insights. Projecting subconscious flow onto comic trip characters makes this kind of story design safe, yet illuminating and therapeutic.

I must admit that these ideas are just based on the comic generator tool itself.

Yet the soul of the Makebelief website resides in the lesson sections created by Bill Zimmerman himself, and this is what inspired me to use his website, interview him, and even contribute towards his newer initiative.

What are the other sections?


I challenge teachers to look into the sections on advice for parents, teachers, printables, special needs and writing tools. Then brainstorm how we can build upon this collection as language teachers – teaching English as a second/foreign language.

We could also add some more sections to our collective ESL wishlist……..

Such as these typical sections that divide our English Language Teaching World into various specialisations.

1) EAP/ Exam English:

2) Business English

3) Humanistic language teaching techniques.

4) English for specific purposes.

5) Socialising.

6) Reading/writing/speaking/English.

7) Educational technology.

8) A new creative section for teenagers (boys and girls).

Teenagers would like prompts to do with action & adventure (mostly boys?) and some romance and girly topics for girls.

Although this sounds old-fashioned, boys and girls do gravitate towards different things, proven by psychology and my own children.

However, we could also have some (unisex) topics for boy/girl teens, especially as it’s of vital importance to break down sexist divides and make gender roles more fluid, open and interconnected.

I just believe that our higher ideals as teachers need to reach teenagers through their own maps of the world and ideas of what’s cool or uncool.

We can meet them on their own maps and them help them to create new maps – visonary collaboration through comic prompts.

For more about teenagers and learning, check out this guest article I wrote for Dimitris Primalis.

Then we could have sections on ‘parts of a lesson’ or unit of work……

1) Presenting language.

2) Eliciting language.

3) Collaborating/pair work/group work

4) Recycling, revising, error correction.

5) Creating something new.

6) Evaluating.

6) Publishing, sharing, building online learning networks.
I challenge my personal learning networks to add new sections to this short list.

Next time I’ll try and persuade Bill to create a new section on professional development for teachers;)

Think Daily Comic Diary For Teachers by Bill Zimmerman meets The Zen Act Of Teaching By David Deubelbeiss;)

If any teachers out there would like the idea of journalling & sharing their teaching journeys through online collaboration, support and story reflections, please let me know – anything is possible online:))


Please comment below with your ideas, on the MakeBeliefComix facebook page, or directly to Bill Zimmerman via email.


Last but not least, when the new ESL section is ready, Bill will give away a new e-book which he will be adding to the web site called Something to Write About: Writing Prompts for English Language Learners and Literacy Students. The book features the writing ideas he has used over the years with his own ESL students.


Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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