(For a printable version of the “Create Comics with Big Nate” activity, please see the “Activities” tab on the Big Nate page.)
The only thing better than reading comics is making your own! When students plan out their own stories, they not only think critically about what they’re expressing, but also how they’re going to express it. By combining vocabulary (found in speech balloons, thought bubbles, sound effects, and captions) and visual literacy (found in the illustrations interpreted by the reader), comics provide a dynamic space for creative communication.
Imagination is everything! Just like with all forms of storytelling, there are an infinite number of ways to make a comic. The four-panel, punchline-driven format Lincoln Peirce uses is pretty standard across comic strips, but there’s more to his process than meets the eye. Listen to him break it down here:
Nate, the titular character of Peirce’s beloved strip, also creates comics, but since he’s not a pro, he just uses a pencil and paper. Students of all ages can do so too, especially after they dive deeper into the mysterious, magical fusion of words and pictures.
This activity can be done on scratch paper or a printable sheet. Let’s start by looking at a completed comic:
Do comics need words though? Not all of them do! We think Nate and his friends are funnier when they talk to each other though. Look below to see how much the scene changes when the dialogue is removed. Not quite as punchy, right? Nate just doesn’t seem like himself without the gift of gab. With your student(s), try thinking of new dialogue that would make sense when paired with the scene. It can be anything, but it might be more fun if you try to think of something completely different than before!
Swapping out the words can completely change the story of the original comic strip, but the pictures are just as important. Now try drawing new characters, in a different setting, but saying the same things as the Big Nate characters do originally. Think outside the box! What can a Peruvian snake venom extruder look like? Are they still in a school? Are they still on Earth? The sky’s the limit, so encourage your student(s) to get creative.
Once kids understand how comics tell stories by pairing words with pictures, they can start telling some of their own! Whether they follow a four-panel format or design an entirely new layout, what’s important is that they’re expressing themselves. For a print-and-play template (and more literacy-building activities), check out our resources library!