Superman. Batman. Spiderman. Wonder Woman.
These cultural icons are popping up all over the place, especially this weekend at San Diego’s annual Comic Convention. They have universal appeal all over the world — and can be used in your classroom to help reach out to ESL kids who may feel shy about English or just shy to find themselves in a new environment where no one speaks their language.
Superheroes speak everyone’s ‘language.’
Your ESL student may not realize their iconic heroes are American, but they have certainly encountered them in their home country. I remember meeting a Spiderman fan in an elementary school in France who pronounced his hero’s name like ‘Speederman’ and I had to correct him, asserting that Spiderman was actually American and we say his name a little differently. The red and blue hero will always be ‘Speederman’ to that little boy, but it gave us a connection and a way to bridge the cultural and linguistic gap.
Are comic books really books?
Yes, they undoubtedly are. Grant it, comic books today tend to be a bit graphic and over-sexualized, but there are tamer versions for all the major superheroes that are more accessible to a young audience.
Here are the two major comic book companies’ websites designed just for kids:
DC Comics for Kids
At first a young child may just want to look at pictures and perhaps imagine their own stories. But this is helpful as well. You can encourage the student to look for words or pictures (depending on the grade level) that correspond to vocabulary for the week for extra points. You might also want to encourage a student to do a project or class writing assignment around their favorite superhero. Not only will they be more engaged in the lesson, but your student might just become more popular with his or her peers!
Superheroes on TV
Again, your ESL student will have probably encountered many American heroes through television in their native language. Encourage your student’s parents to have the child watch their favorite hero’s TV shows in English, especially episodes that the student already knows in Spanish or perhaps French. The familiar story will give the child context, and they may be more willing to try and understand their hero’s native language.
Some parents may be worried about too much violence in some TV shows. I recommend some favorites of my childhood, He-Man and She-Ra (most episodes can be accessed on YouTube), which had a child psychologist on-call when writing episodes to ensure they were creating positive role models. It may be even more useful to introduce an entirely new superhero world in English:
During my student teaching, we used the He-Man and She-Ra intros to teach the words he and she. Then we made badges with She-ra for the girls and He-Man for the boys. The kids could earn the badges if they could read all of their spelling words since the start of the school year (about 4 weeks’ worth). They LOVED this and kept those badges close to them for weeks after!
Basically, don’t be afraid to be creative and to have fun! Find interesting ways to reach out to your students on their level. At the very least, it never hurts to come armed to class with Batman stickers!