How to Have Success with Projects: Bitstrips Edition

You know how projects can sometimes seem overwhelming? Too much work to set up? Kids don't perform as well as you'd hoped? I can't say that all of my projects are runaway successes every time, but I've found that using the right tool and the right processes can make them more meaningful for students. 

I've used Bitstrips for Schools several times in the past 18 months and my love for it grows daily. It's comic creation tool that allows students to create and share comic strips on any topic they choose. I wrote a recent article here on how it works.

In a recent project, I asked my middle- and high-school Spanish I students to tell a story about a day at school. They had to introduce a problem and resolve it while using the vocabulary and structures we'd been studying. Here is my process: 
  1. I distributed copies of Bitstrips comic strips on the same topic from the previous year's class. Students read and critiqued them individually, then explained the story to a small group of classmates, who had read different comics. This gave them a visual of what their own comic strip might look like (and was valuable interpretive practice as well). 
  2. Students logged in to Bitstrips for Schools and created their avatars. Some of them began a test comic strip too. This allowed them to become familiar with how the website works and served to get their creative juices flowing.
  3. Students LOGGED OUT of Bitstrips and put away their computers.
  4. In groups, students brainstormed typical school problems in Spanish. We came up with a class list of possible problems that students face at school; I supplied additional vocab where necessary.
  5. Individually, students wrote a one- to two-sentence summary of their story in Spanish, identifying both problem and solution.
  6. Students storyboarded their comic strips, writing out all dialogue and captions and sketching all characters and actions on paper BEFORE attempting to create their online comic strip. This made them focus on the accuracy of their language and the arc of their story without the distractions and difficulties of new technology. (I also limited translator/dictionary use to two words per comic box.)
  7. After submitting their drafts to me for approval, students logged in to Bitstrips and created their comic strips.
  8. Once all students finished their comics, they shared their comics with each other on our class website and commented on them in Spanish.
This process took about a week's worth of 50-minute classes, with some work at home required. Below are some snippets of students' final products.

From "Un caballo en la escuela" by Lillian R. 

From "The Cheater Who No Comprende" by Yerke A.

What students (and I) love about Bitstrips is its capability to make a visually appealing, complex-looking product while still being easy and fun to use. The wide variety of settings and characters satisfies most students' creativity, and you can also upload images if you can't find what you need. It's a great tool for student output, but also for input; I've made comic strips of interactions as reading comprehension activities or cultural analysis exercises. 

What tools and processes have worked well for you in projects? 


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