Using comics to increase writing achievement

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1 March 2016

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This paper will focus on a Classroom Action Research Project performed at an elementary school with a group of seven 5th grade English as a Second Language students. The project involved using cartoon comic strips to both motivate ESL students to write and also to see if a non-traditional approach to teaching writing will increase the student’s writing achievement. Popular newspaper comic strips were used to motivate students and they were required to read it and then answer a set of open-ended questions.

Statement of Intent

Many students have the ability to be successful writers. The ESL students struggle to write, but when they get motivated they seem to write better. Many ESL students are unmotivated about writing because of language, lack of background knowledge, or the topic is not authentic or interesting. The more the students write the better they will become at it. If ESL students can get motivated to write, they will write more and thus become better writers.

Popular newspaper comic strips were used to motivate the 5th grade ESL students to write. Students read popular newspaper comic strips and then answered open-ended questions.

Here are the questions that will be answered at the end of this Classroom
Action Research Project:

1)Can ESL students get motivated to write?
2)Will a non-traditional approach to writing motivate 5th grade students to write? 3)Could the use of comic strips in writing help increase writing achievement in 5th grade ESL students?

Rationale for Research

Research into the process of writing has shown it to be a very complicated problem solving process requiring the writer to constantly monitor their progress towards a specific goal. Students that become good writers experience intrinsic as well as extrinsic rewards, but face problems with motivation along the way. Writing requires the individual to pay attention to motivational conditions. The following is a list of the four clusters of conditions that are keys to developing writing motivation:

1)Nurturing functional beliefs about writing.
2)Fostering engagement using authentic writing tasks.
3)Providing a supportive context for writing.
4)Creating a positive emotional environment.

The teacher’s views, beliefs, conceptions, and misconceptions are very important in determining the right conditions in most writing contexts. Research is needed to better understand the process of motivation as it relates to writing.

Children start writing at an early age by scribbling. The writing process continues from there and proceeds at different paces depending on the child. As writing develops children start forming letters, words and soon sentences. “They begin to shift away from list-like writing and localized control (e.g., linking to vocabulary used in the previous sentence, repeating familiar syntactic frames) toward a more goal-directed, strategic approach ( Berninger, Fuller, & Whitaker, 1996). Their writing has more topical and the- matic coherence (e.g., Flower et al., 1990), as purpose, planning, and revising play an increasing role. A growing metacognitive capability gives them the potential to shift from a knowledge-telling to a knowledge-transforming approach ( Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1987) and to use information about audience, genre, and rhetorical stance to accomplish a variety of writing purposes ( Berninger et al., 1996). “

Highly motivated capable writers that can adapt their writing to changes in audience and topic can only achieve the developmental writing process described above. They can use writing as a means of communication with others. They write the same way they would talk with another people, stress free and with control.

In a 1997 National Center for Education Statistics writing assessment shows that 80% of eleventh grade students can write clear and focused responses and less that one third can write clearly enough to show sufficient information to support their claims. 2 % of students can write proficiently enough to show effective responses that have enough information to support details and discussion.

Teachers are failing to develop positive beliefs and motivation about writing. Comic strips can be used to motivate and inspire students. For one thing, comics can take away the number one worry that students have about writing today: finding something to write about. Most of the times when you leave it up to the students to write about something, they never know what to write. Every teacher has heard the same thing. “I don’t know what to write about.” Introducing and discussing comic strips is a great way to motivate and stimulate students about writing. Many students already know the characters from comic strips and this makes the experience less stressful and fun. It also provides the students with kid friendly language and the relationship between the pictures and text makes it perfect for lower level readers. All these facts put together makes it possible for comic strips to provide the level of motivation and interest that will help students stay focused about writing and this will in the long run improve their writing skills.


The study was completed with a group of seven 5th grade ESL students for a period of three months one half hour a week. Starting in the beginning of September and ending at the end of November. This group of ESL students is composed of fluent English speakers that are limited English readers and writers.

At the beginning of the study, the students read a short story about ants and then answered an open-ended question. The students were then told to draw a happy, straight,  or sad face depending on their level of frustration and/or stress. This was used as the pretest.

At the beginning of the study students were introduced and exposed to newspaper comic strips. They read, discussed, and drew them. Students were exposed to a variety of lessons on the writing process and were required to do one comic strip writing prompt a week. Included in every writing prompt is smiling, straight, or sad face that is drawn by the student in the upper right hand corner of the paper to show their motivation level.

A record of the student’s motivational level was kept to measure fluctuation patterns according to the cartoon character used that week.

Research Analysis

At the beginning of the study the students were told that they would be taking part in a study that would require them to write. Many of them immediately showed signs of stress and much complaining followed. We met once a week for half an hour and they were introduced to a comic strip and discussions followed. The students then had two days to complete the prompt on their own, including a drawing of a face on the upper right hand corner to show how they felt about it before it was collected. The prompts that were used are from the Comic-Strip Writing Prompts book by Karen Kellaher (2001).

During the initial pretest three students drew smiling faces, three drew straight faces and one drew a sad face. Although it seems that the percentage of students that felt good versus the percentage of students that had no emotion at all is the same their reactions during the writing would tell a different story. The students all seemed stressed and bothered with the writing.

Most of the students answered the question during the pretest, but all are lacking creativity and emotion to their writing. All the answers came straight from the story. No opinions, personal connections, or point of views were part of anybody’s writing.

There were only five students remaining in the group during the last week of the study. One moved and the other one tested out of the ESL program and was no longer available to meet. In the final writing prompt all students drew happy faces. They did seem to be more excited about the writing than in the beginning. This may be due to the social rewards as well as the stress free environment due to the fact that no grades went along with their writing assignments. The following chart shows the before and after motivation and writing results for each student in the group:

Motivation BeforeMotivation AfterWriting BeforeWriting After Dayannara V.

Below BasicBelow basic
Jose V.

Below BasicBelow Basic
Jeffrey R.

Maria C.

BasicBelow Basic
Jacqueline A.

ProficientBelow Basic

* The Chart above shows the beginning and end results of the study.

Comprehensive Conclusions and Reflections

The study increased the overall motivation of the group, but it did not increase writing achievement and in-fact lowered the writing achievement of two students. The contributing factors associated with the lack of success of this study are as follows:

1)Time frame – The group met for half an hour once a week. This was not enough time to effectively influence the writing achievement of these students. Using Comics to Increase 10

2)Reading level – The reading level of these students was not significantly high enough for them to be able to read the comic strip and understand it. Even if they could have understood the comic strip, the prompt questions were too hard to for them to understand.

3)Background knowledge – A student who is asked to write about ice hockey or fishing that has experience it first hand or has been exposed to it will definitely be able to write about it better. Many of the urban kids are asked to write about things that they know absolutely nothing about. A good example is the time the Reading School District had a district wide writing assessment about snow. The students had to write about a snowy day. Many ESL students had never seen snow.

4)Can’t get the joke – This one is the most important when it comes to comic strips. Most of the students could eventually read what the comic said, but they could not understand the jokes. A good example of this was the comic strip where Garfield says “Cats have just surpassed dogs as the country’s favorite pets!” Odie the Dog comes hopping by and then Garfield says “Somehow the victory would have been more satisfying had the competition been stiffer.” The students had no idea what this meant and could not understand it without some explanation.

5) Vocabulary – The students don’t have a sufficient vocabulary to understand comic strips. Although comic strips are written at a lower reading level, some of the vocabulary words that are used are hard for ESL students to understand and some extensive explanations had to be done before they could start writing. Example: “Had the competition been stiffer.”

In closing, the ESL students need a lot of help. They of course need to write as much as possible, but if we work on increasing their reading level and expose them to as many cultural experiences as possible then we can really begin on making them great writers. If the study was to be done again it is suggested that the group meet daily and that there be vocabulary development lessons done to supplement the comic strip writing activities.


Yale University. Retrieved December 11, 2006, from Web site:

Tom Janz, T (2006). Newspapers in Education — Middle School Writing. Litsite Alaska, Retrieved December 11. 2006, from

North Carolina State Board of Education, (2006). Making the Grade: Writing Through The Grades., Retrieved 2006, from

Brunin, R (2000). Developing Motivation to Write . The Questia online library, 35, Retrieved December 11, 2006, from

Kellaher, K (2001). Comic-Strip Writing-Prompts. New York, N.Y.: Scholastic.

Parsons, J (1993). Using Comic Books To Teach.. ERIC, Retrieved December 11, 2006, from


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Using comics to increase writing achievement. (1 March 2016). Retrieved from

"Using comics to increase writing achievement" StudyScroll, 1 March 2016,

StudyScroll. (2016). Using comics to increase writing achievement [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 30 September, 2023]

"Using comics to increase writing achievement" StudyScroll, Mar 1, 2016. Accessed Sep 30, 2023.

"Using comics to increase writing achievement" StudyScroll, Mar 1, 2016.

"Using comics to increase writing achievement" StudyScroll, 1-Mar-2016. [Online]. Available: [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

StudyScroll. (2016). Using comics to increase writing achievement. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed: 30-Sep-2023]

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