Cartoons: A bona fide tool for the pre-reading stage

Azzeddine Bencherab


Quick guide

Key words:pre-reading, authentic material, exam-oriented syllabus, teachers’ responsibility

Learner English level:Intermediate to advanced

Learners maturity level:High school and above

Preparation:60 minutesper session

Activity time:60 minutes



When planning a reading lesson, there is an array of questions that should be kept in mind:

1) Is the reading passage authentic, comprehensible,and of interest to learners?

2) Does the reading passage permit learners’involvement?

3) Are learners familiar with the topic?

4) What are the best strategies that could be adopted to enhance learners’reading ability and sustain their motivation?

The answers to these questions, which are by no means exhaustive, will determine selection of reading materialsand frame the appropriate strategies to enhance learners’ability in reading, especially in countries where the syllabus is primarily exam-oriented, and thus teachers’sole responsibility is to get learners to pass their exam.

Therefore, teachers’endeavours will depend on how welland minutely the lesson is planned, and to what extent the learners’ profile and needs are taken into account. One of the components for a successful reading lesson is mental preparation, commonly known as the pre-readingphase. The pre-reading phase introduces the topic and useful vocabulary and places all learners on the same rostrum.

In this paper, I will describe how cartoons could be used in the pre-reading phase,enablingteachers to go beyond the limits of the class and monitor discussion. In my experience, cartoons often motivate learners because they are not only fun, but they often depict a topic under debate in the media; as a case in point here:the Environment.


A set of cartoons bearing a topic about problems related to trash is handed out to learners who will be reading through and examining the pictures.


Step 1:Learners examine the illustrations for a few minutes, and then answer the questions(e.g., What happened to the little boy’s window? Who broke it? What is written on his sweater? What does “re”suggest to you?).

Step 2:Answers are written randomly on the board to serve as a backup for later activities.

Step 3:Learners team up to fill in the bubbles (see comic strip: Reboy’s recommendations). This is a good exercise to make learners recall what has been said before and move from listening and speaking to writing. Surely, one should not expect them to find correct answers,but they can try, and in so doing they are given a chance to try their wings. With a lower levelclass, the statements could be written on the board.

Step 4:Once all the groups are finished, the teacher deals with the correction and asks general questions to add a finishing touch(e.g., How can people cut down the trash they produce? What are the 3 R’s? What does each “R”mean? What is recycling?).


A:Bye for now, I’ll see you soon!

B:Why won’t you? I’m ready to talk to a kid with falling trousers.

C:No, not at all! Work your brain, kid.

D:Relax, kid! I’m Reboy; I’m here to teach you the 3 R’s.

E:Not so much,unless you want to turn our planet into a garbage dump.

F:Ah! Ah! So is it! Do you know that the average American kid produces 475 pounds of solid waste every year?

G:Yes, you! But if you do the 3 R’s,you can reduce the amount of trash and protect the Earth.

H:Tell me boy, is your cap on the right side or did your head take a turn?


Bubble 1: D             Bubble 3: F              Bubble 5: C                Bubble 7: H

Bubble 2: B             Bubble 4: G              Bubble 6: E                Bubble 8: A

Follow-up activity

As review or reinforcement, the activity described above could be extended to include reported speech. In other words, learners could be assigned the task ofturningthe statements into reported speech.


In a language class, cartoons can be used in a hundred ways to serve hundreds of purposes. Implementing such a tool depends ultimately on the teacher’s ingenuity and imagination. The activity described above features very important characteristics:it introduces and generates a topic (recycling), it integratesall skills (listening, speaking, reading,and writing) and sub-skills (guessing, negotiating, and speculating),and perhaps more importantly it leads young learners into a world which is theirs: Cartoons. What more could we ask for?