Te(a)chnology: Using Make Beliefs Comix to Encourage Writing

By Rebecca A. Hines

As teachers look for ways to engage students and use principles of universal design for learning (UDL) while still meeting standards, sorting through digital tools can be time-consuming and overwhelming.  One website that offers ease-of-use, sample lessons, AND ideas specific to students with disabilities is Make Beliefs Comix, where students can make their own comic strip in minutes.  Besides the fun visuals for students, the site offers lots of resources and ideas for teachers as they add a layer of UDL to any classroom.

Creator Bill Zimmerman and site illustrator Tom Bloom both share a background in journalism, and bring their talents to educators through the site. “My intent is that you will regard this site as a safe place where you feel empowered to create and to test new ideas and ways to communicate through art and writing,” states Zimmerman on his site.

Zimmerman offers 21 ways to use Make Beliefs Comix in the classroom, which includes specific suggestions for educators for everything from academic tasks, such as practicing new vocabulary and introducing creative writing, to practicing conversation skills and social skill training.  Scroll to the bottom of the page and you will also find a link to a section entitled SPECIAL NEEDS.  In this area, you will find ideas from teachers of students with special needs who share strategies for varying types of learners.

Getting Started

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Unlike many sites, there is no sign-up procedure necessary for giving it a try.  Log into the site, and begin creating!  Note of caution:  The site is very much designed for contemporary users, so don’t expect a lot of written directions for getting started. Creating is intuitive on the site, but some users may feel more comfortable clicking the red Getting Started button near the top for written instruction.  There is also a Menu Help button under the menu to the left, so check there for help navigating actions.

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Need a way to get started without jumping into the creating mode?  Teachers can begin introducing more graphics and visuals, or add a layer of differentiation, using one of the PRINTABLES available free on the site.  Simply click the tab on the website, and you will find student-friendly pages you can print for students that include the same characters they will see when they create their own comics.  The printables  cover a wide range of academic organizers, as well as specific pages for students with autism, second language learners, social/emotional activities, and more.

Another layer is provided through a DIGITAL WRIT-ABLES section.  This section allows students to write directly on the screen on a single cartoon.  A writing prompt is provided, with the intent of encouraging students to begin putting words on a page.  

In addition to the web-based tools, creators just released an iPad app for 2014 .  Whether you’re a comfortable computer user who can easily navigate the comic creation feature or a fledgling willing to add a new layer, Make Beliefs Comix has something for everyone.

CEC member and Te(a)chnology columnist Rebecca A. Hines is a faculty member at the University of Central Florida, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in technology in special education and specializes in inclusive practices. She can be reached at rebecca.hines@ucf.edu.

Graphics from http://www.MakeBeliefsComix.com.  Used by permission of author and creator Bill Zimmerman.