History in bubbles
Children love comics. They also love a good story, which is precisely what many historical events are. Lourdes Fernández suggests how we may combine the two to give our 3rd cycle pupils a valuable insight into some of the most memorable periods in British history.
When it comes to teaching historical facts to young pupils, it is very important to make them as vivid and meaningful as possible. Comics are a great way of bringing historical figures to life and to situate them and events that surround them in their historical context.
An important but often neglected part of learning a language is to learn about the culture and history of the country. For my 3rd cycle Primary pupils I decided to create a comic strip about Henry VIII and his wives. I chose this particular passage from English history because Henry VIII, besides being a very famous historical English character, represents one of the most eventful chapters in English history.
The real Henry
What was Henry really like? How diverse were the women he married? The comic should make this clear, as well as presenting the two main subtexts to Henry’s story, which are his break from the Catholic Church (and the subsequent creation of the Church of England) and the fact that his marital conflicts are closely related to his obsession with an heir.
I always begin each didactic unit with the comic, though just prior to this I introduce the characters and also try to draw out any previous knowledge of the subject our pupils may have. This is also a good time to explain the background to the main historical events they’re going to read about. This will help them to recognise the events in the story as they read them. Relating the event in the story to a parallel event in Spanish history helps situate it in a wider context which may be familiar to pupils if they have learnt about it in another subject.
There are various ways we can use the comic in the class. Pupils can simply read it, or you can present them with empty speech bubbles for them to fill (either by matching given sentences to the pictures or by inventing the lines themselves). Examples of both are provided here.
Once our pupils have read the comic, I give them a couple of follow-up activities:
Who is who?
This is a game that probably they have already played in Spanish. Before the lesson, print out and make copies of the two pages of the Who’s who worksheet (click here).
Divide pupils into pairs. Give out the page with the pictures on (one per pair). As a warm-up activity, read out the descriptions in random order and elicit the names. Another version of the activity which requires a little more preparation is to cut up the individual pictures and make sets of picture cards for each pupil. In this warm-up activity, pupils can hold up the card of the person being described. The advantage of doing this is that everyone is required to participate. A second alternative, if you have an interactive whiteboard and projector, could be to project the pictures onto the screen. Pupils could come out to the front and touch the picture being described.
Then give out the description sheets (one per pair). If you’ve chosen to make sets of cards, you can consolidate your pupils’ grasp of who is who by challenging them to match the pictures to the descriptions by placing each picture card on the corresponding description square. Finally, tell Pupil A to choose one of the characters. They take the picture card of that figure from their pack and hide it (or if you’re doing the activity without the cards, they can simply choose a character from the worksheet and remember who it is). Pupil B must guess which one Pupil A has chosen by asking questions based around the information they have on the description sheet, eg
- A: Is she a woman or a man?
- B: She is a woman
- A: Was she Henry VIII’s wife?
- B: Yes, she was
- A: Was she executed?
- B: No, she wasn’t
- A: Did she survive Henry?
The language will need scaffolding beforehand, particularly if pupils haven’t come across the past simple, but one of the advantages of learning about a content area through English is that the concept is obvious - if we’re talking about a period in history we would naturally use the past tense to describe it. Pupils can be given a list of questions; weaker pupils may find this a useful resource.
Other skills work
Reading and ICT skills can be practised by making use of some of the excellent resources available on the Internet. Direct pupils to the following site: http://www.brims.co.uk/tudors/index.htm . Here they can find out more information about the life of Henry VIII and his six wives, what Tudor life was like in Britain and what else was happening in the world at the time. Their comprehension can be checked through the interactive quiz at the end.
Finally, if you’re feeling really ambitious, why not dramatise the events by getting your pupils to act them out? We did this in small groups of 7 or 8. Again, pupils need help with the language but the key is to keep it as simple as possible.
Please feel free to use my comic with your pupils. If you want to teach them about other areas of history but don’t feel confident drawing comics, why not get your pupils to create the comic strips (or PowerPoint presentations) from the facts you give them? You could also use some of the many Web 2.0 tools available online to create comics, such as Kerpoof studio, Comic Life, PikiKids, Bitstrips, Pixton, Comiqs, ComicScout, Comics Mai’Nada and Comeeko, among others. Teachers can find more applications on the web at http://www.go2web20.net/. With a little imagination, there are many ways to bring history to life.
Lourdes Fernández teaches at Colegio Narval in Santa Ana, Cartagena.