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How We Learn: Panel Scramble

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Objectives:

  • Explore an exisiting comics narrative by building it up from disordered pieces
  • Learn how comics creators sequence their stories
  • Make content connections between panels
  • Appreciate alternative sequences and their effects on the story
  • Notice the importance of directionality in the reading experience

This fun puzzle-exercise combines good comics with exploration and experimentation, putting students in the roll of sequencing and arranging existing artwork.

  1. Choose two or three key pages from a challenging, interesting, or thematically appropriate comic.
  2. Copy the pages onto overhead transparency sheets.  (You may need to secure permission from the publisher first!)
  3. Cut up the transparency sheets so that all the panels are separate.  Shuffle these panels together and put them in an envelope or envelopes (10-12 contiguous panels per envelope works well). 
  4. Either keep an intact copy of the complete pages on overhead transparencies, or else have another display copy ready (photocopied packets, digital projections, etc.).  Your students will need to see the artist’s original concept, after they’ve done this exercise!
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 with other page selections (or other comics) until you have enough samples to accomodate the class size.
  6. Divide the class into smaller groups and distribute one envelope of panels to each group.DSCN2037.JPG
  7. Give each group time to sort its panels into order.
  8. Special instructions:
    1. Pay close attention to panel direction — wordless panels can flip, to create opposite direction effects!
    2. How do you know where each panel goes?  Why did you make your decisions?
    3. What clues does the artist build into the work?  Why?
    4. How does each panel refer to the panel before it, and the panel after it?
  9. As groups finish, they can circulate and read each other’s work.  (Encourage a low-volume read-aloud approach.)  After putting their panels in order, each group can find which other groups had panels other pages of their own sample work, and put those groups’ pages into order.
  10. After reading everyone’s work, the whole class comes together to look at the original artwork for each sample.  Group members explain where their panel arrangements differed from the original artwork, and why.  (Encourage students not to think in terms of “right” and “wrong” orderings, but rather in terms of “artist’s” and “alternative” orderings.)  If you’re using an overhead, you can also put the groups’ transparencies up on the projector to aid their explanations!
  11. After one or two samples, you may want to return to student projects, and read the rest of the samples later.  Students put a lot of effort into figuring out this challenging exercise, and so they become intensely curious about how the artists ordered their panels in the original artwork.  They’re invested in learning at the hands of the pros; encourage them to apply what they’ve learned in their own artwork.

This exercise always generates LOTS of thought and reasoning around the complex task of ordering and explaining a good comic.  The artists have already done the composition, so students get to focus on understanding the decisions and techniques that go into sequencing a comic.

 Choose your samples carefully!  Students will engage with the work on a deeper level than merely reading it; they’ll be actively ordering it to create meaning and structure.  Choose comics that are developmentally and thematically appropriate for your class.  (With an older, more advanced group, you might purposefully choose samples that will expand students’ concepts of comics and genre.)

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