Interpreting Political Cartoons – Guest Post

The inspiration for this lesson came from an article by John Bickford discussing how political cartoons can and should be used in the classroom. The article is copyrighted but I have recieved permission from Social Studies Research and Practice to share the article with freetech4teachers. If you would like to view more articles from their online peer reviewed journal click here.

In an effort to encourage class discussion I had my students watch pre-selected video clips of the GOP debates. This assignment can be done just as well by using primary source documents.

Then they create their own political cartoons on Toondoo (others will work but I like toondoo the best). Using a computer program or website works better than allowing the students to free hand the assignment. The point of the assignment is to draw meaning and historical significance from the videos or documents not draw lines an characters.

Depending on your students ability this assignment will take a week or even two to complete.  The cartoons should be well thought out and well presented. Then when the students are finished they will present.

In every piece of art two messages exist. An intended message and a conveyed or received message. This idea is at work in this lesson. 

The students who created cartoons will present the cartoons to the class but will not be able to share their intended message until prompted by the teacher.

Meanwhile the remainder of the class is discussing the conveyed message. It becomes particularly interesting to see how the two perspectives make up the whole message.

Student engagement is always essential to an effective lesson. I have rarely achieved the same level of student engagement in class discussion. I believe it has something to do with the fact that they created the content in which we are discussing.

My big points that I attempt to get across to my class throughout this process are as follows:

  • Why a political cartoon is different from a comic strip
  • How to find the message of a cartoon (imagery, symbolism, sarcasm etc.)
  • Perspective

Perspective is the big one. I want my students to try to figure out the creators perspective and what they are trying to accomplish by the cartoon. If they can successfully learn this it will help them understand professional cartoonist.

If you are feeling like a super overachiever you may see if you can contact a political cartoonist from a local newspaper to come in as a follow up activity a week or two after the lesson.

About the Guest Blogger
My name is Marcus Byrd and I write at TeacherAde. I have only been blogging for about 4 months but have really enjoyed the experience of learning from and connecting to other educators. I am studying at the University of West Georgia while I work in the Paulding County School District. I am always interested in building a larger network of teachers and collaborators.

My teaching career began as a paraprofessional or teachers aid. After two years of working alongside the teacher I realized how much that teachers are responsible for. My attitude from early on became that I like to help teachers teach. So I began the blog to do that on a larger scale and have been thrilled about where it has taken me in 4 months. I am even more excited about where it will take me in the future. If you know something that will help teachers teach then by all means share it!


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