Over the last couple of weeks, the Dogman comic series by Dav Pilkey has slowly taken over my first grade classroom. Over half the kids have one of the books in their backpacks and, "Mr. Halpern, can I read Dogman?" has been a constant question throughout the day. With three weeks left of school, I decided we were going to shift focus and study Dogman to learn more about what comic book authors do... Hey if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So this week we began, what I'm calling our Comic Book Mini-Unit. We're using the first Dogman book as our mentor text. Many of the kids have read it, but there are some that haven't, and even a few who are trying, but can't - so I'm hitting many notes by using it as our mentor text. I splurged and spent $5.99 on the ebook version, so I could project it and it would be large and crystal clear - studying comics requires a little more clarity than a document camera provides.
Now this 'mini-unit' isn't something that came with my Writing Units kit... but we've done enough of them for me to know the structure. Each day we read a few pages of Dogman and add to our 'anchor chart' called 'What Comic Book Authors Know...' - it could have just as easily been called 'What Comic Book Authors Do...' or even 'What Mr. Halpern is figuring out on the fly as we read this Dogman comic...' but I digress.
There are days I have something in mind as a teaching point, but others where we go where Dogman takes us. Sometimes a student even notices something I haven't and it becomes the teaching point - now isn't that responsive teaching?
One day, while we were talking about jokes - something that always seems to go into bathroom territory - hey, toilets are funny - a little girl noticed something... 'Hey, in that cell, there is a new character and the author labelled her so you'd know who she is.' And up on our chart it went as a move.
At first, some students had trouble thinking of their own characters. They simply wanted to write their own Dogman story. I tried to encourage them to think of their own characters and once they realized the zanier the better, they were off.
"But Mr. Halpern, I can't think of anything," one boy declared.
"Listen, you are funny. You're one of the funniest kids I know, Dav Pilkey put a dog and a man together, there are no limits here," I encouraged.
"Um, I don't know... maybe a hot rooster who likes blueberries?" He asked.
Here's the thing, my students are writing more than I've ever seen. They are actually begging me to work on their comics. Some are working in pairs - taking turns writing and illustrating... Some are working alone... Some have one comic their working on alone and another they're working on with a partner... I have had no less than seven comics come in that were written at home... in one week. When they arrive, the first thing they do is work on their comics. At snack - can we work on our comics? Why didn't I think of this sooner?
We still have two weeks of school left and we'll be studying and writing comics right up to the end. All thanks to Dogman.
You can find a download of this unit here.