Thursday, June 4, 2009


By Chris Wilson

Not all teachers are open to new things, but there are those that embrace innovation. Second grade teacher, Mrs. Smotherman, is just such an educator. I did a two-week student teaching rotation in her classroom this Spring working with some wonderful children. The experience has enriched my learning and future teaching.

Smotherman was interested in my work with comics and she asked me questions about it. I showed her many of my comics for primary grades and she saw the potential. At the beginning of my second day, she approached me and said that wanted the children to create comics as a way to demonstrate their learning.

The evening before my second day Smotherman designed a lesson that combined traditional literature, comic literature, writing and art. Building upon the foundation already established using THE MAGIC TREE HOUSE #1: DINOSAURS BEFORE DARK, she helped the students discuss in pairs elements of the story: characters, plot, and setting. Smotherman then used THERE’S A WOLF AT THE DOOR: FIVE CLASSIC TALES, an oversized graphic novel about the big bad wolf, to teach the students the basic elements of comic creation. For instance, she taught them about panels, dialogue and thought bubbles, and the order one reads comic panels.

The second graders were asked to take their favorite scene from THE MAGIC TREE HOUSE #1: DINOSAURS BEFORE DARK and then create a new ending for the story. They were to do this in comic format. That’s it. She turned them loose.

Ten minutes turned into nearly an hour of solid work by the students of varying achievement levels. Pointing to one student Smotherman whispered to me, “I’ve never seen [this student] work so hard,” The interesting thing is that the child made an almost identical statement to her about five minutes earlier.

In an attempt to reconnect the assignment back to other parts of the day, I sprawled out on the carpet at the front of the room and chose two students who needed special attention in reading. During reading time, the students and I read the dinosaur graphic novel, BLAST TO THE PAST, aimed at grades 1-3. Each student chose a character or two to read aloud dramatically, and I read the remaining parts. Periodically, I stopped and asked questions about the characters, setting, plot, and asked the students to make predictions about the outcome of the story.

We made it past three pages and then I looked up to find myself surrounded by three other students. They weren’t reading aloud; they were just following along. This continued for the duration of my rotation, each day surrounded by two or three readers and three to five observers. Reading, you see, was engaging, interesting and educational.

It was a simple, impromptu act by Smotherman that sparked an entire week of reading instruction and engagement. All it took was an interest in comics on the part of a teacher to create a new-found interest in reading for a group of children.

1 comment:

Mary Lee said...

Hurray for Mrs. Smotherman and for you being there at just the right time with just the right resources. This is a lesson I'll borrow, so the ripples widen!