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The Power of Digital-Comic Therapy in Schools

Published 5/21/17 on The Atlantic

By Paul Wisenthal

NEW YORK—Every day, the teenagers Jeremiah Aponte, Jasherah Nalls, and Paula Rodriguez squeeze into a small four-story building housing three schools and close to 1,700 students in the South Bronx neighborhood.

Mostly serving generations of families living in one of numerous high-rise public-housing projects or homeless shelters dotting the area, The Urban Assembly Bronx Academy of Letters, a New York City public high school, sits in the country’s poorest congressional district. Recently, The New York Times cited the city’s 40th precinct as having the highest murder rate in the city, but where there are the fewest detectives per violent crime. To get to their school, these three teens must also walk through a neighborhood that includes two methadone clinics.

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Digital Comics Boosting Skills of Students with Special Needs

Published 3/28/17 on School Library Journal

By Paul Wisenthal

In an increasingly social media–driven world, school library media specialist Cindy Symonds sees herself as the personal tech guide to the teachers and 560 students at Round Top Elementary School in Blythewood, SC. One media tool she’s recently introduced is interactive comic strips. Her students have been creating stories using the comic generator MakeBeliefsComix.com.

With perpetually limited funds, librarians and teachers are turning to the growing number of free make-your-own-comic websites and apps. These allow students to create their own characters, settings, dialogue, and stories. In particular, they seem to be stimulating literacy, communication, and linguistic skills among students with special needs. Often, they improve such students’ attention span and increase their class participation.

School students creating comix on MakeBeliefsComix.com website
First graders at Round Top Elementary learn about the stages of a story using MakeBeliefsComix.com.
Photo by Cindy Symonds.

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Magical Kingdom of Learning

Published 9/6/16 on The Huffington Post

By Paul Wisenthal

Eleven-year old Joe struggled with temper tantrums. His anxieties drove him to physical violence and numerous school suspensions in Wales, United Kingdom. A year ago his uncontrolled outbursts were tempered after James McKeon, a school psychological counselor, began working with him using MakeBeliefsComix.com, one of the world’s most popular educational comic websites.

The troubled teenager learned to channel his anxieties and fears into storytelling using the comics. Working one-on-one twice a week, they tapped into two resources offered by the free site.

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Makebeliefscomix.com teaches English through comics

Published 10/30/14 on Graphic Novel Reporter

By Matthew Burbridge

Let's Make Believe and Have Fun Together!

Bill Zimmerman has created something wonderful — Makebeliefscomix.com, a website with a clear message: nurture children's creativity through family fun.

Zimmerman's mission is to ensure that anyone coming across this site has something fun to do, and here, the fun to be had is in comics! Zimmerman, accompanied by cartoonist Tom Bloom, has created a series of written prompts where children and children-at-heart can create their very own comics and comics stories utilizing illustrations and characters by Bloom. His latest work? A free interactive digital comic book for students enrolled in literacy and English Language Learner programs.

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Creative Comic Interview with Bill Zimmerman of MakeBeliefsComix

Published 2/26/14 on The WizIQ Blog

By Sylvia Guinan

As she interviewed Bill, Sylvia thought she was in a comic herself ...

It was a great pleasure to interview Bill Zimmerman for last week’s webinar on Creative Comic Collaboration For Fun Fluency development.

Bill is the mind, heart and soul behind MakeBeliefsComix.com

I’ve been exploring comics websites and creating all kinds of different comic lesson plans for the last few years. This year I’m going into comic-style educational publishing. My children are writing their own comic stories and I’m planning my own educational comics for language learners.

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Comics Aid Family Healing

Published 7/1/09 in AARP Bulletin

By Paul Wisenthal

As a child, Bill Zimmerman relished the armload of Sunday newspapers packed with colorful comic sections that his father would bring home. “To me the comics were paradise,” he says. “This is how I learned to read and write.”

That love of the funny papers grew to be a passion for Zimmerman.So much so that he is now helping the young and old connect, one comic at a time.

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References & Resources: MakeBeliefsComix.com

Published June 2008 in Essential Teacher magazine

By Tamara Kirson

Imagine a computer lab full of adult ESOLstudents where not a word is heard, where every head is bent in concentration, where smiles erupt spontaneously, and where fingers are clicking away on the keyboards. This is precisely what occurs when my students work with journalist and author Bill Zimmerman’s Web site, MakeBeliefsComix.com.

The Web site allows students to create their own comics, and it is easy to navigate for language students who want to express their ideas in a novel way. From the moment they open the Web site and discover the tools, the students begin to explore. Minimal instruction is needed because the tools are self-explanatory (with language or visuals), and students feel comfortable experimenting with them. Students readily learn to choose among different characters, select facial expressions to reflect emotions, move the characters in the panels, scale their size, write text in talk and thought balloons, and even add background colors.

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Nifty comic-creation tool offers positive, upbeat messages.

Published on Common Sense Media

Common Sense Rating: 4 out of 5 star rating

Teacher Rating: 4 out of 5 star rating among teacher reviewers

age 8+

Parents need to know that Make Beliefs Comix is a website and app where kids can create their own positive comics using a charming cast of predrawn characters. Kids don't have to register to use the site, and, because it doesn't let users post comics, it provides a safe experience (kids get a reminder to either print or email their creations to themselves or a friend). Generally, content is controversy-free. The Printables section features a few religious references; an activity encourages kids to create a prayer for someone they love, a parental-advice section briefly mentions God's plan, and another item refers to past lives. However, the nondenominational references don't encourage kids to believe or support any particular religion, and the comic creator itself doesn't include any religious overtones.

The troubled teenager learned to channel his anxieties and fears into storytelling using the comics. Working one-on-one twice a week, they tapped into two resources offered by the free site.

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3 Great Free Arts Websites for ELLs

Celebrate diversity and encourage self expression in the classroom.

Published January 20, 2017 on Common Sense Education

Top Picks

Arts-based projects are a great option to support and encourage English-language learners (ELLs). Arts tools offer a variety of media for creative expression -- from comic strips to radio production to virtual art collections -- that can help ELLs feel more comfortable practicing their English and communication skills while embracing their own cultural backgrounds.

These free websites are accessible options to try in any classroom. And check out our Digital Storytelling for ELLs page for even more great recommendations, tips, and advice for empowering all types of learners.

Make Beliefs Comix

Price: Free
Platform: Website
Grades: 3–12

This unique comic construction tool stresses positivity, awareness, and self-acceptance. The site also offers lesson plans specifically for ELLs. Students begin by choosing a character and emotion from the site's library; then they can add captions with dialogue, tinted backgrounds, and objects. Thought-provoking exercises and activities help kids identify feelings and stress both empathy and self-assessment.

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