I tend to fidget. I fiddle with my pens, bounce my knees, and doodle while listening. When I was in school, I resisted my fidgets as much as I could. In fact, the only times my fidgeting really got me into trouble was when I would get caught playing with beeswax under my desk or drawing in the margins of my notebooks. Still, these instances were enough to give me the strong impression that my habits were bad, and I suppressed them as much as I could.
Now that I’m older, however, I’ve found that it’s better to embrace the fidget. If I do something with my hands during studying or listening activities, I am actually a more focused and effective learner.
As as an educator, I’ve noticed the same tendency to fidget in many of my students, regardless of their age. I recently realized that finding a way to incorporate hands-on activities into our tutoring sessions and learning processes could be useful to my students even if a topic doesn’t necessarily have a hands-on component already built in.
That’s where mini zines come in.
Zines in Context
Zines have a revolutionary, anti-authoritarian origin story, but they can be about anything, for anyone. They historically have tended toward an inexpensive, DIY aesthetic to make it easy to distribute them. However, zines don’t have to be simply made. Artists have used high-quality materials to create particularly elegant zines.
For students, zines can be efficient tools for disseminating information in an artistic and highly portable package. They can be stress-relieving tools for learning, practicing, or testing oneself on new information.
The zines I make with my students are composed of a (usually colorful) sheet of paper and allow for six pages plus a front and back cover. The design is simple, requiring only seven folds and one scissor snip (staples optional!*). Altogether, zine-making is a quick, fun way to produce a useful study tool that fits into most pockets.
*If you forgo the staples, you can turn your zine inside out and reuse it for another topic or unit!
Zines as a Study Tool
So what does this actually look like in terms of studying? The short answer is: it depends!
I’ve used zines for myself and with my students in a variety of ways. You can use one as a cheat sheet or study guide that will stand out among the constant shuffle of papers. Or, design it as a workbook of practice problems (or alternating examples and practice problems). You could even use it as a homework checklist, study plan, or a notebook for brainstorming on specific topics. The possibilities are endless. My students have used zines for topics ranging from vocabulary to US currency, from SAT math to literature, from brain teasers to creative writing, and so on.
However, it’s not just the informational aspects that make zines effective. Physically writing down content is a form of application, which helps to enhance students’ memories of the material and supports stronger recall. Physically making something also helps calm anxious students by serving as an outlet for dispelling nervous energy while learning new or difficult topics. Bringing color into the learning environment also stimulates mental activity and interest. Plus, students simply find zine-making fun!
In short, incorporating zines into my tutoring sessions has enriched and deepened the learning process in ways I wouldn’t have anticipated beyond satisfying my need to fidget. These days, I’m always looking for ways to incorporate mini-zine creation into my sessions. Whether or not your student is fidgety like me, I’d encourage anyone looking for a fun way to enrich a student’s experience to do the same.
Creating a Zine
If you’re ready to try your hand at zine-making at home, follow these simple steps (or print out this free guide):