Chris Terrell outlines the benefits of using Tooncards, an exciting new resource for teachers, which he has developed, offering teachers additional possibilities for enhancing communication, engagement and understanding in the classroom.

Getting young people to engage constructively in group discussions, understand the need for basic rules and give and receive constructive feedback is a challenge at the best of times, whether in the classroom or in more informal settings such as residentials and other trips outside the school. Add to this the requirement to achieve inclusion for SEN pupils and the pressures on teachers and support staff mount up rapidly.

Tooncards, a newly published resource for teachers and group-workers, aims to facilitate inclusion and engagement in such sessions and provides teachers and assistants with a simple, fun and flexible way of starting sessions that focus on behaviour, qualities, feelings and the consequences of behaviour. The themes and outcomes from these sessions fit well with the PSHE and citizenship curricula and with the aims of the DfES SEAL (social and emotional aspects of learning) resources (see SENCO Update issue 66 and

The development of the tookit
Tooncards were developed initially to help engage children and young people in discussions about behaviour and to provide them with a ready-made visual and verbal means of giving each other feedback in a way that enabled them to overcome some of the barriers of literacy and verbal skills. It soon became apparent that the cards had wider application in the school curriculum, especially for mainstream teachers who were telling me that they often found it difficult to engage children with learning difficulties, and other pupils lacking confidence, in these activities.

I have been using Tooncards, in an earlier form, in residential outdoor education settings since early 2000, primarily as a tool for reviews, feedback and discussing and agreeing ground rules. Groups have consisted of a wide range of people, all being a mix of abilities and backgrounds including a variety of formally classified special educational needs (eg: Asperger’s, Dyslexia, Down’s, ADHD).

At my local secondary school (Ysgol Uwchradd Tywyn) Tooncards were used in a trial by SEN support staff with a mixed class of pupils with Dyslexia, ‘low reading age’ and unspecified learning difficulties. They were used in sessions about consequences of behaviour and in an English lesson, studying a character’s emotions. Among the outcomes and benefits were that Tooncards enabled the pupils to express themselves more clearly and with a wider vocabulary, as well as raising their awareness of their own behaviour and its effects on others.

Responses to the toolkit

The Tooncards toolkit comprises a handbook of guidelines, session plans and curriculum links, 120 large, robust cards with cartoons and accompanying phrases, and a CD-ROM allowing the user to print more cards. As well as their uses in the session plans provided, which are intended to act as a starting point for users to develop their own ideas, the cartoon cards can be used to support other learning activities and topics.
In addition, the deliberately simple nature of the cartoons allows for easier extrapolation from the cards by pupils and staff in comic strip form, copying the simple style, reducing the drawing skills barrier and opening up a variety of opportunities for participation and expression.

The addition of a CD-ROM to the Tooncards toolkit means that a wide range of creative activities can be used, using cards that can be printed in-school in different sizes and can form part of the products – mobiles, masks, posters, cards, diaries etc.

This allows the possibility of pupils being able to keep copies of cards that they are given as a record and reference point for future reflection and discussion, for example in a feedback session in which they are given cards for things they are doing well (‘makes useful suggestions’, ‘determined’), or to allow them to indicate emotions without speaking by using Tooncards as ‘flags’(‘bored’, ‘confused’, ‘unhappy’, ‘apologetic’).

One practitioner and occasional colleague gets the pupils to pick out relevant cards during pauses in some outdoor activity sessions to highlight behaviours or feelings (somebody ‘has achieved something’).

The response in all cases has been of immediate interest and curiosity, with animated discussions arising naturally and many opportunities for picking up on participants’ comments to highlight relevant points. The cards enabled reticent pupils and those with low levels of literacy skills to take an active part in proceedings by being able to select and indicate relevant cards without having to speak out. The combination of strong, simple (and humorous) visual images with straightforward phrases to describe behaviours, qualities and feelings gave participants a verbal and visual vocabulary that helped get beyond the ‘buzzwords’ such as ‘teamwork’ and ‘communication’ that are so easily learned and regurgitated!

Other recent ‘case studies’ illustrate this: see the panels on this page.
They have also been used, by myself and others, with diverse international groups from a variety of cultures and widely differing language skills.

Linking to SEAL outcomes
Tooncards activities can contribute and link directly the curriculum for PSHE and citizenship, as well as to SEAL outcomes:

l feedback and reflective activities promote self-awareness l using Tooncards for showing, as well as telling, your own story and feelings contributes to developing empathy

l the cards give people a way of indicating emotion and referring to difficult behaviours in a constructive way and without having to struggle to find the right words – this can help them to manage and express their feelings and points of view appropriately.

Tooncards are a useful resource for working with the seven themes referred to in the SEAL materials and many of the session plans in the handbook are relevant:

l ‘New beginnings’ – ground rules sessions l ‘Getting on and falling out’ – reviewing, ground rules, behaviour and consequences, exploring alternatives sessions l ‘Bullying’ – as above, plus feedback sessions l ‘Going for goals’ – reviewing and starting off sessions on ground rules and planning ahead l ‘Good to be me’ – feedback and individual reflection activities

l ‘Relationships’ and ‘Changes’ – review, discussion and imagination activities.

The handbook in the Tooncards toolkit includes easy cross-referencing of session plans to closely related themes such as agreeing ground rules, behaviours, consequences and alternative strategies and individual feedback. Session plans are also linked to phases of a course, beginning, middle and conclusion / preparing to move on, allowing users to select activities accordingly and adapt them to fit in with other activities.

When I have shown Tooncards to teachers, trainers and facilitators including SENCOs, I have been consistently and pleasantly surprised by the range of imaginative and creative ideas for using the cards that they have described; some of these have made it into the handbook, which offers a springboard for using this versatile but simple resource to enhance learning and engagement in sessions.

Chris Terrell is a freelance trainer, facilitator, outdoor educator and artist living in Wales. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

Tooncards are published by Network Educational Press:

Facilitating communication and agreement

I used Tooncards with young group leaders in the 2004 UWYC (United World Youth Conference), held at Radley College, who in turn used them with their own groups to facilitate agreement on ground rules – essential given that the group members represented countries and ethnic groups actively in conflict!

Building an ‘emotional sub-text’ to the events of a course

A small year 6 group were at the end of a five-day residential in Wales, including ‘Andy’ (pseudonym) who has ‘mild’ but apparent Asperger’s. In the final session we reviewed the week using Tooncards to provide a cartooning style (the ‘Stick-Man’ school of art!) that everybody could use to produce a comic strip of the activities and events, then I asked them to choose from a selection of Tooncards to find cards that showed what people had been feeling and had been good at in each activity.
This made it easy for all of the group to join in and build up an ‘emotional sub-text’ to the events of the course. They carried this forward into the final part of the review, in which they chose cards to give to each other (eg: ‘Andy’ was given ‘has lots of ideas’, has a good memory’ and ‘talks a lot’)… the teacher took a group photo of them standing in front of their comic strip of the week, holding ‘their’ cards, for use back at school in their records of the residential.

This article first appeared in SENCO Update – November 2005