Trickster Tales Tie Comics & Digital Cartoons

Trickster Tales Tie Comics & Digital Cartoons
Posted on 12/14/2018
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Third grade Oaklawn students learned all about Trickster Tales, cultural stories that include one character who tricks another and a moral or lesson, in a until surrounding storytelling across cultures and throughout time. To gain deeper understandings of the concepts surrounding this this unit they simultaneously wrote their own trickster stories in art class and created four-part comic strips to illustrate the stories. To build on the lesson even further, they transformed their comic strips into digital cartoons in the library media center!  By teaching common themes across disciplines and integrating classroom standards into multiple mediums, students with all types of learning styles, needs, and interests benefit. A book of comic strips and digital cartoon archive of all third grade Trickster Tales is being compiled in the Oaklawn Library.

Oaklawn Art Teacher Ms. Allison Cole tries to align art projects in her classroom with the standards being taught in day-to-day assignments by other teachers. As third graders were studying stories and folklore from across the world, Ms. Cole took the opportunity to allow students to explore the creative intersection between storytelling and comic strips. She assigned students in art class to develop their own Trickster Tales in a four part sequence with the following criteria: 1) The story should involve two simple characters, one trickster and one secondary character who is the friend of the trickster. 2) The characters should be simple shapes. 3) The trickster must plan a “trick” for the friend, but the trickster does not get the last laugh. Whatever the trick is, it ends up being something that the friend actually likes or benefits from. 4) The story must be told through short dialogue between the characters.

“I encourage them to focus on making simple characters and simple drawings, which is why I require that they work with basic shapes. This assignment is more tied to character and story development than it is to creating detailed artwork. It’s important for them to know that art and language doesn’t always have to be complicated to be successful,” says Ms. Cole.

An example Trickster Tale written by a student for the assignment is as follows: A trickster makes cookies for a friend and secretly puts jalapenos into the batter. Jalapenos (obviously) don’t belong in cookies and could cause someone to become frustrated and confused. The trickster presents the cookies to his friend and finds that he actually loves jalapenos. The friend loves the cookies more because he believes his friend (the trickster) was thoughtful enough to include them in the recipe.

This assignment reinforces the third grade curriculum standards requiring students to understand the beginning, middle, and end of a story. It also helps them to develop problem solving skills, learn more about how to recognize the different layers of a character, and to determine what motivates character actions. Once the stories were written in sequence with a clear plot, Ms. Cole helped students draft several versions of full color comic strips to communicate the stories visually through expressive and original drawings.

“It’s so important that we start exposing them now to the many ways they can build their creative intelligence. Students get excited at opportunities to practice sketching and writing in styles required of products like comic books. By helping them to realize their potential as young artists, we are opening their eyes to the many opportunities art provides and building their confidence. Projects like this that integrate the arts help to reinforce curriculum and standards and are key to improving learning in all other academic areas,” says Ms. Cole.

Media Specialist Mrs. Jessica Jeffers worked with with Ms. Cole to add another layer to the project knowing that students could benefit from learning how to create digital copies of their comic strips as well. Just as they went through a process to draft and finalize their hand drawn products, Mrs. Jeffers offered a lesson via the online program ToonDoo (see:  about producing a digital version, or online cartoon, of their stories.

“The purpose of creating digital copies of their work is to remind them that we have many options for how we present our work and ourselves to the world. Many didn’t understand that the graphics we see printed in books and online require a step-by-step process for creating, just like other types of artwork,” says Mrs. Jeffers.

Just as an artist would do in Adobe Photoshop or other similar program, students worked with Mrs. Jeffers in ToonDoo to build layers and re-create comic strips in four part digital cartoons. They built backgrounds and colors first, and then concentrated on defining the shapes of characters. They added dialogue in carefully crafted text boxes as the final step.

“Students enjoy comparing how tales turn out differently in the different formats. This prompts discussion about why it is valuable to have options for the way that we tell stories, and the importance of embracing the different talents and skills required for all of those mediums,” said Mrs. Jeffers.

Ms. Cole noted that collaborative efforts like this, with support and participation from all staff, help create a bigger picture for students. “Something they do, that may seem small or insignificant now, can become something much greater and could lead to a lifelong passion or career. I believe that presenting well rounded units of study and exposing students to many different creative processes will inspire them to cultivate their skills with intention, and in turn could brighten their futures” she said.

The following classroom standards are the foundation for this project: RL.3.2: Summarizing the important message of text and finding evidence to support response. RL.3.3:Character motivation and sequence.

A book with copies of of all third grade Trickster Tale comic strips, and an online archive of all Trickster Tale cartoons will be compiled in the Oaklawn Library by Mrs. Jeffers.  Learn more about our HSSD Oaklawn Visual and Performing Arts Magnet School, here.

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