The Use of Cartoon in the Learning of EFL

Posted on

The idea of practicing literacy skills, e.g. in composition practice or vocabulary building, using cartoon is not really new. Based on my experience, using cartoon can be fun and enjoyable for students. Cartoon has been popular with learners of EFL. The pictures with sufficiently prepares for the activity, involves students in expressing their ideas in written forms. The purpose of this paper is to share ways of utilizing cartoon for teaching composition and vocabulary enrichment in EFL classes.

Key words: EFL, literacy skills, composition, vocabulary building, cartoon


Nowadays communicative language teaching (CLT) comes across as a reference when teaching EFL. In CLT, it is advocated to use maps, menus, travel brochures, newspaper and other authentic materials in the classroom. Many studies have revealed that these types of materials are very effective in generating student interest, encouraging interaction between students, and teaching customs and vocabulary. Most importantly, using authentic materials has given students confidence in using English.

One of the most difficult tasks for an EFL teacher is to make the language as real as possible for students and to motivate them to learn. Harmer (1992) agrees that it is essential to create a stimulating and realistic environment in learning a foreign language. A pleasant atmosphere should be established. Beside, material presented must be varied and something with which students can readily identify.

Cox (1999) mentions that teachers are always concerned that their students should use the language as soon as they start learning the target language. Good teachers have devoted much time and expertise to ways of producing appropriate situations for language use. Many students, however, sit in class and do exercises from the teachers which many of them find the activities as boring. Teachers respond to this situation in different ways. Some just ignore it; but others try to find more interesting ways to teach.

When teaching a foreign language, it should be contextualized as explained by Brewster (2003). Contextualization is the incorporation of materials to be learned into an identifiable and meaningful context. Apart from that, they also recommend the use of personalization in which students are involved in learning and usage of the language in real life. This can be achieved using variety of techniques such as video analysis, viewing filmstrips, role-plays, regular letter, and use of single cartoons and cartoon strips.

Cartoons are especially useful because they are stimulating, varied and often humorous. Comprehension of the language is facilitated by the pictorial situation. Students are often reading cartoon in their own language and are able to identify easily with this medium. Tanner and Green (2002) observe that many materials for EFL teaching using communicative approach do not provide enough variety of idiom, colloquialism, and slang that is part of everyday conversation. Cartoons are a means by which students can simultaneously widen their vocabulary and improve their knowledge of the syntax, grammar and semantics of the language.

Furthermore, Tanner and Green (2002) mention that a combination of visual and verbal aspects of the language, like cartoon, is far more likely to assist students in their retention of material than a purely verbal presentation. Surely every exercise is best done as a combination of image and word. Cartoons are another step in the development of literacy practice in the foreign language that helps students build up knowledge already gained and provides stimulus for extension activities.


Activities presented in this paper could be useful for encouraging the practice of literacy skills. In essence, the activities or techniques explained below are presented as suggestions to EFL teachers for possible supplementary approaches which might be based on course books or real-life needs or materials. Teachers themselves, as explained by Hedge (2002), would be best able to judge themselves the usefulness of such materials incorporated in these activities. The following activities have been compiled from a variety of sources

  1. 1.            Gap filling
  • The aim of this activity is to improve the command of structural aspects of the language, and the correct spelling of vocabulary in context.
  • Preparation:
    • Select an extract from any suitable cartoon strip, with as many verbs as possible.
      • Make two photocopies
      • On the first copy, cover the endings only of verbs.
      • On the second copy, cover all verbs and write numbers in the spaces on both sheets 1 to n (where n = total number of covered words or endings)
    • Both pages are duplicated onto an OHP transparency and onto sheets for students to use.
  • Introduction

For either exercise, project the cartoon onto a screen. Introduce any new vocabulary crucial to general comprehension. Much of the vocabulary is usually described in the cartoon, and new words and expression can be taught by question/answer.

  • Cloze Dictation

Dictate extract twice, using a variety of voices for the different cartoons characters. Students fill in the missing verbs beside the number.

  • Ending-completion

Students read the extract and complete the missing endings.

  • Other procedures

Cover idiomatic expression, nouns or any category of word or expression which you wish to highlight. Mix these covered words in a list below the cartoon. Students then select appropriate words to fill the gap.

2.      Script sequencing

  • This activity is to familiarize students with new expressions and practice cooperation and thinking in EFL particularly in written form. This activity is very much like story reconstruction in which a story is cut up into constituent sentences or clauses.
  • Preparation:
    • Make a copy of 6 different cartoons.
    • Number each frame on the back in random manner and cut each cartoon into separate frames.
    • On the student’s copy, cover all captions and descriptors.
  • Procedure
    • Students shuffle frames and distribute equally in groups
    • Students discuss in the target language and they reconstruct the story.
    • Students turn the cartoon over to reveal the correct number sequence
    • Follow up with a role-play

3.      Caption Invention

  • This activity is to introduce an element of creativity into language activity. This is also to improve written aspects of the target language.
  • Preparation:
    • Select 2 cartoons (strips) with a number of descriptors. Make a transparency copy of the 1st; and two copies of the 2nd, i.e., one is on paper, and second is on transparency.
    • On the 1st copy, cover the captions entirely, and number them in sequence. The transparency copy can be displayed at the end of the exercise.
    • Make some copies of the 2nd cartoon
    • As a help, the teacher may wish to provide a description of the story in the mother tongue (L1) and perhaps several of the more difficult phrases.
  • Introduction

Use the 1st cartoon strip as a whole-class exercise on OHP to accustom the students to thinking and writing in this way.

  • Cover the captions on the screen
  • Read the descriptions and ask what the characters might be saying. If it is too difficult, provide alternatives for a particular caption.
  • Explain that students will now work on the second cartoon, in pairs or groups.
  • Procedure
    • Students read the L1 descriptions of the story as already been discussed with the teacher, and look at the blank captions of the cartoons
    • The students then write suitable captions on their own paper alongside numbers corresponding to the numbers on the cartoon blank.
    • Students prepare a role-play of the cartoon strips.
    • Teacher asks some pairs or groups to present their version to the class.
    • Teachers reveal original. Class discusses similarities between their versions and the original. Theirs may be just as valid and even more imaginative and funny than the original.

4.      Story Writing

  • The objective of this activity is to use a cartoon sequence as a stimulus for writing a narrative piece in the target language.
  • Preparation:
    • Select 2 cartoons with few descriptors and plenty of captions. Cover any descriptors, leaving the captions.
    • Make an OHP transparency of the 1st cartoon, and some other copies of the 2nd cartoon.
  • Introduction
    • Use the 1st cartoon strip as a whole-class exercise on OHP to accustom students to this mode.
    • Have several good students play the role of the characters.
    • As they read through, the teacher asks what is happening.
    • As students answer, the teacher writes the sentences on OHP, thus building up a skeletal story.
  • Procedure:
    • Students work in pairs or groups on the 2nd cartoon.
    • They ask each other the same types of questions asked by the teacher.
    • Each writes down the empty answer on his/her own sheets.
    • Students write his/her own story with direct speech or indirect speech, in present or past, depending on the class level.

5.      Caption Matching

  • This activity aims to use cartoons either in L1 or L2 as discussion points to extend students’ vocabulary
  • Preparation:
    • Select 10 separate cartoons. Cover the captions. Make some copies for the students.
    • Display mixed captions on OHP.
  • Procedure:
    • In pairs or groups, students match the captions to the cartoons.

6.      Translation of Cartoons into L1 or L2

  • The objective of this activity is to improve translation ability especially in written forms.
  • Preparation:
    • Copy L2 cartoons.
    • Number the frames or single cartoons.
  • Procedure:
    • Have students write the caption beside each number on their own sheets.
    • Students write an idiomatic and accurate translation of each caption.
    • Repeat with L1 cartoon.

7.      Gap-filling using synonyms/explanations

  • This activity aims to extend vocabulary in the target language.
  • Preparation:
    • Make 2 copies of a cartoon strips, one for the teacher on transparency, and the other on paper.
    • Cover selected words and phrases except the initial letters.
    • Write synonyms and explanations for missing words and phrases on a sheet.
    • Make a copy per student or per pair or groups
  • Procedure:
    • Students copy out the captions and fill in the gaps using synonyms and explanations as clues.


The teacher’s role in communicative activities is to create a stimulating and joyful language learning environment. Visual materials, like cartoons, can meet this requirement. Cartoons are inexpensive because they can be taken from any newspaper or magazines. Besides, cartoons can be personal as they are selected by the teacher that can lead into student’s enthusiasm to use the target language.

The teacher will find many occasions on which cartoons will be useful for just part of the lesson as a stimulus of some activities. Apart from that, cartoons can be used as background explanation of a topic being discussed. Cartoons function as an illustration of something being read or talked about. If a teacher is aware of a wide range of options in the choice and combination of language aspects, then he/she has an immensely powerful tool, such as cartoons, not only for adapting activities to fit different situations, but also for creating, wholly new activities.


Cox, Carole (1999). Teaching Language Arts: a Student and Response-Centred Classroom. U.S.A.: Allyn and Bacon

Harmer, Jeremy (1992). The Practice of English Language Teaching. U.Uk: Longman

Hedge, Tricia (2002). Teaching and Learning in the Language Classroom. China: Oxford University Press.

Tanner, Rosie & Green, Catherine (1998). Task for Teacher Education. Malaysia: Addison Wesley Longman

written by Syaifur Rochman “English Language and Literature Department Jenderal Soedirman University”

International Seminar ‘Creative Strategies for Teaching English’/English Dept UNNES/6th of June 2009

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *