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Henniker: A Brief History of World War II (in Comic Strips)

The eighth graders of Henniker Community School have completed their quick comic strip introduction of World War II! Click to view each page of WWII comic strips:

These comics represent most students’ first encounter with the details of World War II, as well as most students’ first serious experience with focused comics storytelling.
Here’s how we created them:

  1. Students read from WWII comics texts, analyzing key techniques such as point of view and word-text interaction. (You can see some of those techniques in students’ work.)
  2. Discussion of contemporary texts like War Comics (1940) and later texts like Maus also jump-started our understanding of some of the key issues of the WWII era, such as:
    • persecution of minority groups
    • economic situations in various societies
    • modes of communication (propaganda, caricature, myth, medium, message, etc.)
    • global politics in the 1930s and 1940s
  3. Working from a basic timeline of WWII, students each selected a key historical topic between the years 1937-1945. (Each student chose a different topic; most were unfamiliar to the students.)
  4. Students researched their topic and collected 3-5 important facts, including reference citations for each fact. (For the sake of convenience and uniform source material, students used a class text book.)
  5. Using a basic three-panel template, students created comic strips that used words, images, symbols, and actions to communicate what they learned about their topics.
  6. These collected comic strips then give a snapshot of the students’ collective understanding at the outset of the unit. Students can then read the collection in preparation for classroom discussion (of subject matter) as well as critical feedback on techniquesa (what works, what’s confusing?).
  7. Students also take quick comprehension quiz after reading the comics, to ensure basic knowledge of terms and events that will be used later in the unit.

This project provides an exciting, creative way for students to share their learning with each other (and benefit from each other’s research). It ALSO provides a vibrant early assessment tool for the teacher. Collecting and checking these comics enables the teacher to gauge several factors in student learning at this stage of the larger unit:

  • Research skills
    • Given a particular topic, can the student locate and prioritize information in a controlled research environment (classroom materials)?
    • Does the student recognize primary and secondary source documents?
    • Does the student isolate and identify key facts versus non-factual information (e.g. symbolism, creative license, artistic techniques) in a secondary source (e.g. a student-created comic strip!)?
  • Engagement with the material:
    • How thorough was the student’s research?
    • How did the student choose to represent creatively the information she collected?
  • Engagement with the art form:
    • Does the student apply techniques discussed in classroom readings (and reinforced in classroom graphic organizers)?
    • Does the student use these techniques effectively to communicate relevant facts about the topic?
  • Engagement in process:
    • Can the student participate in detailed discussion of the comic strips and the subject matter?
    • Can the student make connections between different topics?
    • Can the student recognize and articulate creative choices made by student artists, including how these choices may affect the reading experience and accuracy of a particular comic strip? (“What works? What’s confusing?”)

… not to mention assessment of literacy skills!
Of course, this World War II Comics unit connects students with the personal voices and narratives of their community through materials from the local historical society. These comics provide a symbolic backdrop for later local history comics, as well as an initial experimental project for young artists to flex their emerging cartooning talents!

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