Cool Tools for Schools, Thing 6: Digital Storytelling

Once upon a time, we used Bitstrips for Education several times a year in the library for projects across multiple grade levels. Every since it went away, so have those great projects we did with it. Recently, I attended a great workshop through my local BOCES on Free Comic Book day and using comics in the classroom. Since then, I’ve been inspired to do a mini unit on comics with my classes leading up to Free Comic Book day. And what better way to celebrate comics than to make some of our own! With that unit in mind, I set out to see what online comic creators were available to us and would *fingers crossed* work in the classroom.

What I looked at: I explored the two comic makers I saw on the list, Toon Doo and Make Beliefs Comix. There were things I liked and disliked about each of them.

Toon Doo

  • Likes:
    • Loads of choices-from layout design to backgrounds to characters to props and more, Toon Doo had lots of options to choose from when creating a comic
    • Ability to create own Characters-hands down, one of the kids favorite things about using Bitstrips Edu was making their own characters to use in their comic strips and Toon Doo brings that option back
    • Control-Toon Doo allows you to clone objects for faster comic creations as well as control exactly how the speech bubbles appear and even search for exactly what you are looking for rather than searching through all the options
    • Book Creator-Toon Doo also offers more than just comics, they have a book creator as well
  • Dislikes:
    • Students would have to create own accounts in free version
    • Not safe, secure or private-since I work in an elementary school, this is always a concern
    • Teacher version (Toon Doo Spaces) not free-the safe, secure and private option for classroom use is not free and wasn’t economically priced for how often I would use it in a given school year

Make Beliefs Comix

  • Likes:
    • Tons of school friendly extras-Make Beliefs Comix offers printables, a greeting card maker, writing prompts, lesson plans, suggestions for home use, options for using with ELLs or students with special needs and of course, comic creation
    • ALA approved-they made the ALA list of great websites to use with kids
    • Easy to use-less robust than Toon Doo, it was relatively fast and easy to learn how to use
  • Dislikes:
    • Less control/options-there just isn’t as much here as with Toon Doo
    • Less diversity-along with fewer choices comes less diversity of characters which is a always bummer
    • Students would have to create their own accounts, no teacher/school account available

Ultimately, if I was going to go with a free version, I decided to go with the one that made the ALA list of best websites to use with kids (as well as Parent Choice Recommendation). And since I started this journey looking for ways to teach kids about Free Comic book day, that’s what I made my practice comic about!

What I’d like to do with them: In addition to the above comic, which I plan to use to introduce our comics unit, I’d like to create some additional comics about basic library expectations and use them to teach students about the parts of a comic strip, basic comic vocabulary and, how to read a comic.

What I’d like students to do with them: When the unit is done, it would be great to have students demonstrate what they learned about comics by creating their own comic strips explaining key terms and vocabulary. I think it could also be fun to have them create their own comics promoting Free Comic Book Day that we could hang up in the hallways.

I’m not sure I found a tool that will make me stop longing for Bistrips Edu but, I did find an acceptable option that we can use for our upcoming unit and our celebration of Free Comic Book Day!