Using online comic strip generators for formatively assessing the stages of ‘respiration’

What was the activity?


Traditionally, comic strips have been used in the humanities and have been largely ignored in science education. For a long time, comic strips have been deemed as only suitable for children as they do not contain lengthy prose. However, comic strips have the power to convey important scientific messages in a more interesting and comprehensible way for adults compared to using a textbook or newspaper article (Koutnikova, 2017). 


The main aim of this study was for students to create comic books that would provide imagery and context that would enhance their learning and attitudes about cellular respiration, and it would be marked as a formative assessment.

Teaching strategy

All students were first taught about the different stages of cellular respiration: glycolysis, links reaction, the Krebs cycle and oxidative phosphorylation in a three-hour online lecture. The week after the lecture, the students attended an active learning class over Zoom (two hours in length) where they were expected to produce a comic strip explaining cellular respiration in teams. We asked our students to create a comic strip using illustrated scenes and dialogue that matched their storyline. Students were recommended to use comic strip generators such as ‘Canva’ or ‘Pixton’ and were told that standard spelling and grammar should be used within the description of the comic strip boxes. Students were encouraged to use speech bubbles and technical words related to the stages of cellular respiration which were required to be embedded within the storyline for example, adenosine triphosphate (ATP), cellular respiration, Krebs cycle, electron transport chain. Finally, students were told to write their comic strips in a creative way, for example the students could portray mitochondrion as a superhero such as ‘Electricity man’ or any other fun character. The role as the teacher was to facilitate the creation of the stages of respiration.


After finishing the task, we graded the students’ comic strips (out of 50 marks) based on the following criteria: scientific content, illustrated scenes, dialogue, spelling, punctuation and grammar and creative illustrations.

How did it impact students?

There was an obvious enhancement of creative thinking, personal expression, and communicative skills of our students. It is an interesting way of formatively assessing students, through combining the arts, technology, and science. Students had the opportunity to experience peer learning where they worked in small groups to produce their comic strips. This was useful in synthesising knowledge and having exposure to more diverse perspectives. ‘Create’ is at the top of Bloom’s taxonomy (1956) for categorizing the thinking skills of students. One of the advantages of implementing comic strips, was that no artistic skills were required when using online comic strip generators and students could collaborate on the same document simultaneously.  

Student feedback

Student A: ‘Comic strips are so fun and add a twist of humour to the class. It’s always the funniest moments and fun activities in life I remember, as opposed to the dull moments’

Student B: ‘Assessing us through our comic strip is more interesting than writing an essay / doing an oral presentation. I think assessment doesn’t have to be boring, and our comic strip task is proof of this’

Any advice for others?

This comic strip activity can be adapted for any subject discipline. We would suggest that readers have a clear marking scheme aligned to what you are expecting from the comic strip. If you want to use this as a marked assignment, be clear on how many marks are awarded for the following: content, illustrated scenes, dialogue and vocabulary, spelling and grammar, and creativity.

Other contextual details

Cellular respiration is a challenging topic within the Foundation year Bioscience. Foundation year learners can have a wide range of misconceptions about cellular respiration which must be rectified before they achieve higher order thinking. We wanted to use an assessment method which allowed students to convey important scientific messages in a more interesting and comprehensible way.


Bloom, B.S. (1956) Taxonomy of educational objectives: The classification of educational goals. New York: Longman.

Koutníková, M. (2017) ‘The application of comics in science education’ Acta Educationis Generalis, 7(3), pp. 88-98.



  • Dr Shelini Surendran

    I am currently a Teaching Fellow at the University of Surrey in Biosciences. I am very interested in playful and flipped learning. I have experience teaching in primary schools, colleges and universities in the UK and China. I completed a PhD in Nutrigenetics and have a PGCE in higher education.

  • Dr Sam Hopkins

    I am a Teaching Fellow in Learning Development in Biosciences. I studied a PhD in Ecology and I completed my MA in Education. I lectured at the University of the Western Cape and continued with postdoctoral research in chronobiology.

How to cite

Surendran, S. and Hopkins, S. (2022) Using online comic strip generators for formatively assessing the stages of ‘respiration’. Teaching Insights, Available at: (Accessed: 21 September 2023)

Post Information

Posted in Edition 2, Recipes for Success