Arts and UDL: Engaging Diverse Learners with Cartooning & Improv

Richard Jenkins has a new article at the Teaching Artist Journal site “ALT/Space.” The first two of six parts are now up on the TAJ site.

The article is a reflection about his teaching work in an inclusive classroom. His task  was to teach 19 ELL (English Language Learners) and 3 Special Needs students, all of whom were in the same classroom.

Richard guided the students through four art making activities; creating and illustrating fictional cartoon characters (like the one above), generating ideas and material for stories through two acting/improv activities, and a final story making activity.

It was challenging to teach such a wide range of students. Looking for ways to engage these students, he turned to UDL (Universal Design for Learning). UDL is a teacher planning tool which applies the latest brain science and differentiated instruction in order to engage students with diverse need in their learning.  This article gives a detailed description of UDL and how Richard applied it to his teaching.

Click here to read the first two parts of this six part article.

Cartoon Story Making Workshop: Vernal Utah

Richard Jenkins guided a group of teachers in Vernal Utah through a cartooning workshop. They were a lively, willing, and creative bunch! Present were elementary and secondary teachers, general and art teachers. The teachers learned different strategies and activities for integrating comics into their curriculum. Here Richard is guiding the instructors through a sequencing activity.

The teachers also learned techniques for inventing and drawing fictional cartoon characters. Using the simple drawing steps from Comic In Your Curriculum, the teachers combined basic lines, shapes, and patterns to create their characters. Here are some of their marvelous an eclectic inventions.

Finally, Richard guided the teachers through the a story making activity, in which they created comics about their characters. The teachers finished penciling and inking their comics and will color them when they return home. Below is an example of one of their engaging and funny stories.

Each teacher created an original character, a fictional story in cartoon form, and received detailed lesson plans aligned with the Utah State Common Core Education Standards, assessment rubrics, sample comics for use in their classroom, and lists of other resources for integrating comics into their curriculum. Click here to book Richard Jenkins for a professional development workshop.

A special thanks to Lynna Kendal, a music teacher in Vernal, and to Jean Irwin of the Utah Division of Arts and Museums for making this workshop possible.

Cartooning Activities: Sentence Mechanics

In an effort to continue promoting the integration of comics & cartooning in the curriculum, we will post lesson plans and activity ideas on this blog. Teachers will be free to use these lessons with their students. It’s our hope that teachers reading these posts will join the discussion here and share their own ideas and reflections about using comics in their curriculum.

Inspired by our book, Comics in Your Curriculum, Phil Amara recently used comics in his classroom. Here is a look at a lesson he created to do with his students. For all of you teachers out there, take a look at this. Try it out. And let us know your thoughts. Post your reflections, comments, and ideas here for other teachers to use.

(Please be aware that the material below is for classroom use only, and not for commercial use or sale.)

Phil Amara
3rd grader teacher, Guild School, East Boston, Boston Public Schools
Title: “Sentence Mechanics”
Grade level: Third
Curriculum Objective: SWBAT (Students will be able to) create their own story using whited-out lettering balloons and published comics strips.
Criteria: Students will use full sentences with capital letters and end punctuation. They may name a character recognized in the strip, such as Batman, and should use clues in the sequence of comic art to craft their story. But otherwise, the story should be their own.
Supplies: photocopies on 11 x 17 paper of black-and-white comic strips. Material can be three-panel newspaper style, or several pages of a comic book or manga, depending on time constraints and student proficiency level. Supply crayons if you wish to have students color material
Share out: Students will work briefly with peers for review, and then share their work after completion. Work is posted on wall of classroom and then students keep the material in their writing folder as a ‘fun’ reference of sentence mechanics to use for other assignments. you may also allow students to color the material.


What evidence did you find of the kids learning?
Students were motivated by their freedom to create their own stories without restraint. As long as they constructed complete sentences, and took clues from the art, the sky was the limit. The result was eager student work and that wonderful, subconscious, internalization of the criteria that all teachers desire.

How did the use of cartooning help or hinder this learning?
Helped because the criteria was embedded in a ‘fun’ project that linked to BPS (Boston Public Schools) standards, but the students didn’t know that.
What evidence did you find of the kids engagement?
Very engaged, vocal and excited to complete the work and show the work to peers and instructor.
How was the activity for you as a teacher?
Worked great, only challenge is copying and whiting-out the materials.
What would you do differently if you did this activity again?
Make the project longer, challenging students to keep their story going, like their chapter books.
What could you do as an extension of this activity?
Not sure about extension, but an option would be to scaffold it so that less and less information is provided in each panel. So, by the last panel, students are drawing the art and balloon as well as doing the writing. With the wealth of material available in comics form, especially in manga which is typically black and white, it’s fairly easy to connect the activity to science, social studies, what have you.

Try out Phil’s idea in your classroom. Make a variation of your own. Create your own ideas to try in the classroom. Then share them with your colleagues. This and future lesson plans will be saved under the “Activities” category.

Comics In Your Curriculum: The Beginning

2008 marked the release of “Comics In Your Curriculum,” by Richard Jenkins and Debra Detamore, a book was six years in the making.

It was the year 2002. Richard Jenkins was working as a cartoonist and teaching artist. He was illustrating the Sky Ape graphic novels and working as a guest artist, teaching students the creative process of cartooning. Debra Detamore was teaching Gifted & Talented students in Moore, Oklahoma. She wrote a grant to have Richard come to her school and work with her students.

The co-authors Richard Jenkins & Debra Detamore

While Richard was teaching the students Debra watched and learned. She recognized that he had refined the cartooning process down to a set of clear simple steps. One that she felt like she could do on her own. “Richard, you should make a book of your lessons for teachers.” “Wow,” Richard responded. “That’s a good idea. But I’ve never written a book for teachers before.” He paused. “I’ll do it if you help me.” “”Sure!” she readily agreed. So their partnership was formed.

Excerpt from the book

For the next two years, Richard and Debra went through the process of creating their book. First writing detailed lesson plans for creating comics and stories. Next creating lesson plans integrating cartooning with math, language arts, science, social studies, and visual arts. Followed by connecting all of the lessons to the National Education Standards and creating the assessment rubrics. Then creating all of the drawing worksheets. Finally, in 2004 they began searching for a publisher.

Excerpt from the book

In 2005, they signed their contract with Pieces of Learning. They had some revisions for Richard and Debra, including the title. Their original title was “Comics In Your Classroom.” Kathy Balsamo at Pieces of Learning suggested the new title. The publisher then formatted the files for the print. And In 2008, “Comics In Your Curriculum” was released.

Book Cover

Their ultimate goal is for teachers to be able to take advantage of the rich educational potential within comics and the cartooning process. Richard and Debra both hope that teachers will find Comics In Your Curriculum an easy and helpful guide for integrating cartooning into their classroom.

To buy a copy of Comics In Your Curriculum click HERE.