Thursday, September 17, 2009

Teaching with Political Cartoons

Political cartoons show up a lot in social studies curricula, including textbooks, worksheets, and now standardized state and national exams. In these cases, students are asked to analyze the cartoon's content or the cartoonist's point of view. In classroom instruction, teachers might try to "diversify" their instruction and have students create their own cartoon related to a historical or current event. The following sources provide some guidance for one way to include political cartoons as an authentic and legitimate part of any social studies teacher's instruction.

As a way to teach critical thinking, the Center for Media Literacy has built a curriculum around five key questions. All of these queries apply to analyzing any source--an advertisement, a newspaper article, or a political cartoon--but an important question is #2, "What creative techniques are used to catch my attention?" To further conceptualize this analysis, the Library of Congress has created a web-based activity, "No Laughing Matter," to help students evaluate cartoons with five basic concepts: Labeling, Irony, Analogy, Exaggeration, and Irony. I point out these concepts because they provide a helpful framework students can apply to any cartoon (or written source, for that matter). For example, "How does this cartoonist use irony to illustrate her point of view?"

Created at Toondoo (click image to enlarge it)

Finally, students need not be a professional artist to create stunning political cartoons. A free online tool, Toondoo Maker, on the Toondoo site allows them to select from hundreds of images to construct their own visual commentary on a historical or current event. Teachers can then require their students to describe how they used irony or analogy to make a visual argument. I've uploaded an example I recently created on the topic of immigration.

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