Standard Lesson

Analyzing the Purpose and Meaning of Political Cartoons

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Five to seven 45-minute sessions
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The decisions students make about social and political issues are often influenced by what they hear, see, and read in the news. For this reason, it is important for them to learn about the techniques used to convey political messages and attitudes. In this lesson, high school students learn to evaluate political cartoons for their meaning, message, and persuasiveness. Students first develop critical questions about political cartoons. They then access an online activity to learn about the artistic techniques cartoonists frequently use. As a final project, students work in small groups to analyze a political cartoon and determine whether they agree or disagree with the author's message.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

  • Question-finding strategies are techniques provided by the teacher, to the students, in order to further develop questions often hidden in texts. The strategies are known to assist learners with unusual or perplexing subject materials that conflict with prior knowledge.

  • Use of this inquiry strategy is designed to enhance curiosity and promote students to search for answers to gain new knowledge or a deeper understanding of controversial material. There are two pathways of questioning available to students. Convergent questioning refers to questions that lead to an ultimate solution. Divergent questioning refers to alternative questions that lead to hypotheses instead of answers.

  • Question-finding is based on the curiosity theory of psychologist Daniel Berlyne. His theory is known as the epistemic theory. The term refers to a behavior exhibited by individuals wanting additional information. Berlyne's theory is designed to encourage students to discover their own critical questions, and this skill will initiate critical thinking and inquiries throughout their lives.


Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 1. Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
  • 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

Materials and Technology

  • Computers with Internet access and printing capability

  • Several clips of recent political cartoons from a local newspaper

  • Overhead projector or computer with projection capability




1. As preparation for this lesson, you will first need to view the online learning activity at It’s No Laughing Matter: Analyzing Political Cartoons. This activity explores five techniques cartoonists frequently use to persuade their readers: symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, analogy, and irony. Students can see how the techniques are used in a few real-world political cartoons.

2. Visit The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists: Cartoons for the Classroom to find current samples of political cartoons that you may decide to use as part of the lesson. You can also spend several days clipping political cartoons from the local newspaper. Be careful to select cartoons that present a variety of opinions. Create overheads of three to four examples, one for use during the first lesson and two to three for follow-up lessons. For the first lesson, it is most effective to have an extremely interesting, controversial, or timely cartoon that will generate student interest.

3. Ask students to clip a few political cartoons from the newspaper prior to the lesson.

4. If you are planning to have students access Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonist Index as an extension activity (see Extensions), you may wish to visit this site in advance to evaluate the cartoons for their appropriateness. (Note: The political cartoons on this site frequently change to coincide with recent news, and the site has a few advertisements that may be against your school policy.)

Student Objectives

Students will

  • Develop critical question to explore the artistic techniques used in political cartoons and how these techniques impact a cartoon's message

  • Evaluate an author or artist's meaning by identifying his or her point of view

  • Identify and explain the artistic techniques used in political cartoons

  • Analyze political cartoons by using the artistic techniques and evidence from the cartoon to support their interpretations

Session 1

1. Begin by placing a political cartoon on the overhead. The cartoon selected should present an interesting, controversial, or timely issue that will be of interest to your students. While the content of the cartoon should be familiar to students, it should also present a puzzling or contradictory perspective that will stimulate critical inquiry.

2. Ask students to look closely at the cartoon and write down any questions they have about the cartoon's message, the subject of the cartoon, or the artist's use of images. These questions can be general with regard to the purpose of political cartoons or they can be specific to the cartoon they are viewing.

3. Next, have students organize their questions into the following categories:
  • Cartoon's message

  • Subject of the cartoon

  • Use of images or artistic techniques
4. Allow students to share the questions they have generated about political cartoons. Explain that you will not be giving them the answers nor are you looking for them to answer the questions at this time. Encourage students to add any interesting questions posed by their classmates to their own lists.

Session 2 (may need 2 sessions, depending on computer access)

1. Begin the second session by having students complete the online learning activity It's No Laughing Matter: Analyzing Political Cartoons. As students work through the online activity they will have the opportunity to learn about the different artistic techniques political cartoonists use and to practice identifying these techniques in some sample cartoons. By the end of the activity, students will better understand the purpose of political cartoons, as well as the persuasive techniques that are common in them.

2. Once students have completed the online activity, have them return to the questions they generated in the previous session. Ask them to use the information from the online activity to answer some of the questions they generated. For example, if a student asked, "Why did the artist make George Bush's ears so big in this cartoon?", they should be able to realize that the artist is using exaggeration to express an idea.

3. At this time, explain to students that there are two areas to look at when evaluating political cartoons, the subject and the artistic techniques. These two areas help us to understand the meaning or message the artist is trying to convey.

Sessions 3 and 4

1. Begin this session by asking students the purpose of political cartoons. Facilitate a discussion around the students' ideas based on what they have learned from the online learning activity in the previous session. Ask students the following questions:
  • How are political cartoons different from other cartoons in the newspaper?

  • How are these cartoons different from news articles?

  • Based on what you have learned, why might it be important to be able to evaluate these cartoons?
2. Return to the political cartoon from Session 1. Ask students to use the information they have learned about political cartoons to identify the author's point of view or message. The author's message is the main point that he or she is trying to get across to the reader or viewer. Remind student to look at the subject and the artistic techniques (i.e., symbolism, irony, exaggeration, labeling and analogy) to help them identify the author's message. Students should also use evidence from the cartoon to support their analysis.

3. Display an overhead of another political cartoon (as prepared in advance), and ask students to describe what they see.
  • Are there any images of famous places or famous people? If not, what images are present?

  • Are any of the images being used as a symbol to stand for a larger concept or idea? If so, what is the meaning of the symbol?

  • Is the cartoonist using any other artistic techniques (e.g., irony or exaggeration) to express his or her opinion on an issue?

  • Does the writer label anything in the cartoon? If so, what is the importance of the label?

  • What message is the author trying to convey in this cartoon?

  • What evidence in the cartoon supports your opinion?
4. Tell students that they will be evaluating several clips of political cartoons. Students will work in small groups to complete this activity.

5. Distribute the Editorial Cartoon Analysis sheet and a sampling of political cartoons. (For this activity, students can also use the political cartoons they brought to class.)

6. Explain to students that when they are finished, they will be using the cartoon analysis sheet to create a two- to three-minute presentation to share their findings with the class. As part of the presentation, students will need to present their political cartoon, identify the persuasive techniques used by the cartoonist, explain the author's message or point of view, and share whether they agree or disagree with this message. They should be prepared to support their opinions with evidence from the cartoon.

7. When students are finished, remember to collect the completed Editorial Cartoon Analysis sheets for assessment purposes.

Session 5

1. Invite students to give their class presentations, allowing the class to also comment on each cartoon's message and use of artistic techniques. The Presentation Evaluation Rubric may be used as a general framework for assessment of the presentations.

2. End by having students reflect in writing on what they have learned about political cartoons. Ask them to:
  • Explain how their understanding of the artistic techniques used to create political cartoons helps them to understand the author's message.

  • Evaluate the ways in which an artist uses artistic forms of figurative language (e.g., irony, symbolism, exaggeration) to persuade or manipulate the viewer.


  • Daryl Cagle's Professional Cartoonist Index and The Association of American Editorial Cartoonists: Cartoons for the Classroom both provide additional lesson plans and activities for using political cartoons as a teaching tool. Students can also access these online political cartoons for additional practice in evaluating their meaning, message, and persuasiveness.

  • Students can create their own political cartoons, making sure to incorporate a few of the artistic techniques learned in this lesson. Give students an opportunity to share their cartoons with the class, and invite classmates to analyze the cartoonist's message and voice their own opinions about the issue.

  • This lesson can be a launching activity for several units: a newspaper unit, a unit on writing persuasive essays, or a unit on evaluating various types of propaganda. The ReadWriteThink lesson "Propaganda Techniques in Literature and Online Political Ads" may be of interest.

Student Assessment / Reflections

Assessment for this lesson is based on the following components:

  • The students' involvement in generating critical questions about political cartoons in Lesson 1, and then using what they have learned from an online activity to answer these questions in Lesson 2.

  • Class and group discussions in which students practice identifying the techniques used in political cartoons and how these techniques can help them to identify an author's message.

  • The students' responses to the self-reflection questions in Lesson 4, whereby they demonstrate an understanding of the purpose of political cartoons and the artistic techniques used to persuade a viewer.

  • The final class presentation in which students demonstrate an ability to identify the artistic techniques used in political cartoons, to interpret an author's message, and to support their interpretation with specific details from the cartoon. The Presentation Evaluation Rubric provides a general framework for this assessment.