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NIFL-AALPD 2005: [NIFL-AALPD:1975] Cartoons, continued

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Date: Mon Mar 14 2005 - 09:25:51 EST

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Hello everyone,
Last month, many of you shared challenges, discussion points, resources and 
ideas for teaching with political cartoons. I recently shared your ideas and 
resources with a group of workshop participants in Tennessee, and they added 
more ideas to the list.  I've compiled all of the feedback (see below) -- 
Thanks to everyone who contributed!

Have an enjoyable week,

Jackie Taylor
Program Coordinator
List Moderator, NIFL-AALPD
Teaching With Political & Editorial Cartoons

The following challenges, discussion points, ideas for the classroom, and 
resources for teaching with editorial cartoons were suggested by NIFL-AALPD 
and NIFL-FOB subscribers, as well as teachers who participated in Tennessee 
workshops: "Helping Students Master Charts, Graphs, Maps, and Other Visual 

Challenges Some Teachers Face in Using Editorial Cartoons in the Classroom

•	Editorial cartoons can be difficult for learners to interpret for several 
reasons, including that cartoons may draw upon either an unfamiliar context or 
prior knowledge that the learner does not have in order to understand or 
become engaged with the message being presented in the cartoon.

•	Oftentimes teachers may find themselves teaching the historical and social 
background to get to the “context” and presumably “meaning” conveyed in an 
editorial cartoon.

•	Given the finite amount of time teachers have with learners and given that 
there are only a few cartoons on the GED, what is the cost/benefit of spending 
a proportionate amount of ABE/GED class time on cartoons?

Why Cartoons?
Lots of reasons!  The GED 2002 Series test has a greater percentage of 
questions that test the critical thinking skill of analysis. Analyzing 
editorial cartoons might help to strengthen analytical and other higher order 
thinking skills.  Cartoons are used to convey not just political, but also 
social issues; editorial cartoons can be used to teach a variety of skills; 
and for the GED classroom, editorial cartoons can be integrated across GED 
content areas.

Tips from Teachers:

*A few quotes from a discussion of using editorial cartoons*
•	“I actually feel that it is important to NOT let understanding context be a 
litmus test. More important, I feel, is that students learn the skills needed 
to decipher and decode meaning.  In this way, they can learn to "read the 
word, to read the world" in terms of Freire. I focus on skills required to 
read and decipher political cartoons and remind the students of what they need 
to use each time they read one. I speak about condensed meaning (using analogy 
of condensed milk - i.e. "thick with meaning" so they have to look at all 
parts), symbolism, and thinking about what you already know about something. 
We practice talking through the cartoons so that we can all see the 
understanding evolve; that is the goal anyway. My thinking about all of this 
is that, even if they do not know context, being able to narrow down meaning 
and to decipher part of context, will equip them better to do well when they 
do have to make an educated guess.

It is impossible to know all contexts for all political cartoons (or anything, 
for that matter). It is possible to learn to employ skills, like parachutes, 
when necessary. Evolving the skills and improving the ability to understand 
political cartoons is not something that can be taught in a few short 
sessions; the skills can be taught, the practice is a process. I view my role 
as equipping people for the process.” Melissa Monti, East Petersburg, PA, 
NIFL-AALPD subscriber

•	Central message of the cartoon may be universal instead of content-oriented. 
For example, A GED question might be one “…regarding the meaning of a picture 
showing a mustached, saber-wielding, Teddy Roosevelt stepping on the neck of a 
young Fidel Castro. The person would most likely select the correct answer. 
The overriding message of the picture would be superiority and victory...the 
contextual clues of communism, democracy, etc. would seem to be 
unnecessary...unless the correct answer dealt with these issues and not the 
central message.”  Bryan Wilson, NIFL-AALPD subscriber

*Suggested Lesson Activities*
•	Start with cartoons of interest to the learners; ones they would like to 
explore.  Encourage the class to generate and maintain a collection of 
cartoons that they find interesting.

•	Try Daryl Cagle’s Suggested Process for Editorial Cartoon Analysis 
(reprinted in the March 2004 Voting issue of The Change Agent
1.) What is the event or issue that inspired the cartoon?
2.) Are there any real people in the cartoon? Who is portrayed in the cartoon?
3.) Are there symbols in the cartoon? What are they and what do they 
4.) What is the cartoonist's opinion about the topic portrayed in the cartoon?
5.) Do you agree or disagree with the cartoonist's opinion? Why?

•	Put process for analyzing cartoons in different formats – linear, flowchart. 
Perhaps they just need a way to organize it that suits their strengths.

•	Connect cartoons that have a historical context to current events. What 
historical figures could be replaced with political figures today and the 
cartoon still make sense?

•	Integrate other “subjects” to the cartoon, or use the cartoon to segue into 
something else.

•	Ask learners to identify the skills they learned and how that skill can help 
them with other areas.

•	Use a transparency quadrant overlay as a visual guide in analyzing the 

•	Use graphic organizers to help learners analyze the context and/or the 
message being conveyed in political cartoons: fishbone, cause/effect sunburst.

*Follow Up Activities*
•	Ask students to create their own drawings and interpretations of political 
events (helps to inform context and evolve understanding).

•	Use quotes, either from newspapers or quotes of their choosing and make an 
editorial cartoon from it.

Ex: "When a whole nation is roaring 'Patriotism' at the top of its voice, I am 
fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart." - Ralph 
Waldo Emerson, Journals 1824

•	Use a direct quote from a political figure, and draw a political cartoon.

•	Use cartoons to initiate class discussion, dialogue, debate, journal and 
essay writing.

•	Ask the students to visit each others' cartoons and see if they can decipher 
meaning.  Maybe some students are naturally better at it and maybe some 
students are naturally better at drawing the cartoons themselves.

•	Role play is one possible venue - having learners act out potential 

*Additional Considerations*
Be prepared to facilitate discussions that may lend themselves well for 
debate.  Try not to convey your own position – strive for neutrality of the 

Daryl Cagle’s site, packed with editorial cartoons:

The Teachers Guide to Political Cartoonists

The National Archives has worksheets for analyzing cartoons, pictures, and 
more. Visit:

The Montana LINCS Pilot 
Project( has a section 
devoted to political cartoons:

Newsweek Education website has some very good material on political cartoons 
which can be down loaded free. Go to <>
Scroll down to "2004, The Year in Cartoons"

Another good source of political cartoons is Tom Tomorrow's site,

Tom Tomorrow’s cartoon archive:

A commercial site that offers a repository and information about political 

The Steck-Vaughn's GED Social Studies (ISBN 0-7398-2834-7) book has a chapter 
(#10) on Recognizing Unstated Assumptions in Political cartoons.

Blackline masters of graphic organizers from the North Carolina State 
University website:

Progress for Adult Education and Literacy in America, Volume 15 No. 1
Using Graphic Organizers, pg. 12

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