Friday 21 December 2012

Flagrant Copyright Violations

Christmas lessons are, as I’ve previously hinted at, tricky little fuckers. Quite apart from all the cultural baggage which you may or may not bring to the table, the timing is generally a bit awkward as well; sandwiched as they usually are around end-of-year exams and the end of term itself.

If you’re doing one directly before the tests then you better make damned sure you’re using language and grammar relevant to those tests, else both students and staff will quite rightly begrudge the time wasted on looking at pictures of a fat man with a  heavy beard giving presents to children he’s never met before. And if you’re doing it right after the exams, then it’s right after the exams! Who gives a shit anymore? The next tests are months away and we’re all on holiday next week anyway. No-one’s going to remember a fucking word you say.

In this context the British tradition of letting kids bring in their own toys on the last day of term starts to seem less like a gift to the children and more like one for the teachers. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s a tradition I could get away with importing, even under the guise of ‘increasing cultural understanding’ or whatever they’re calling it now.

Of late I’ve generally been doing these ‘christmas’ lessons after exams, so have a little more freedom regarding content. In that spirit I’ve gone the whole hog and passed that freedom on to the students as well. And ripped off a few comics too, just to get into the spirit of the season. Get a few comic strip panels, blank out the words, and tell the students to make their own stories. It’s basically a glorified gap-fill exercise. I’m certainly not pretending it’s anything earth-shattering in terms of pedagogy or originality.

Nor, honestly, is it the most communicative of activities. But it works and, for once, it actually forces the students to use the language, as opposed to merely studying it, and finally –finally– can get students away from thinking about it in terms of having only one correct answer. This activity also holds a special place in my heart as one iteration of it inadvertently provided the title for this blog.

I generally give the students about four or five complete strips (maybe 12-15 panels), and tell them to cut them up and rearrange them as they see fit. I’ve found it’s a good idea to have two or three slightly weird or different panels to act as obvious punch-lines, but keep the rest as simple as possible – just combinations of the characters talking to each other – in order to give the students room for their own ideas.

It doesn’t really matter which strip you choose. Whatever you can get your hands on. Garfield worked pretty well a couple of years back, even if none of the students recognized him. Disappointingly none of them came anywhere near the genius melancholic nihilism of Garfield Minus Garfield. This year it was Peanuts, which they did know. My general feeling about Peanuts is that these guys at Better Book Titles are bang on the money. I’ve never really understood the ‘comic’ appeal of the same shitty things happening endlessly to the same shitty children. But what do I know?

Anyway, in the interests of practicing what I preach, I’ve decided to give it a go and share my own efforts with you. What’s sauce for the goose and all…

Yeah. It’s harder than it looks. But I can at least take heart in the fact they’re no less funny than the original strips.

Credit where it’s due. Ha!


  1. I don't think Snoopy comics were ever meant to be funny, were they. I think it's more to get kids used to how life really is.

    Great work with the comic writing :D

  2. I came here looking for a nice warm cup of Starfucks and all I got was a few frames of Charlie Brown...

    1. You see? It's all Charlie's fault. Everything he touches turns to disappointment and failure.

  3. Have you considered trying some Calvin and Hobbes strips?

    I like the idea of adding in different dialogue as a language exercise. I may do that myself just for shits n giggles.

    1. That's not a bad idea. I make posters from the best ones, which is why I try to rotate strips every year (so they can't just copy). Calvin and Hobbes might just be the ones for next time. Thanks!

      If you do have a go, please share. As I think I've conclusively proved, it isn't all that easy...