Analyzing the Stylistic Choices of Political Cartoonists
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Students learn terminology that describes comics and political (or editorial) cartoons and discuss how the cartoonists' choices influence the messages that they communicate. Students first identify and define the various parts of a cartoon, including layout and design, angles, and text terms. After discussing several cartoons as a full class, each student analyzes the techniques that the same cartoonist uses in five or more cartoons. Students compare the techniques in the group of cartoons and draw conclusions about why the cartoonist chose the specific techniques to communicate their messages. This lesson points to contemporary political cartoons but can also be completed with historical political cartoons.
From Theory to Practice
Students are surrounded by texts, print and nonprint, that take advantage of the increasing options for combining words, images, sounds, and other media to create a publication. As these options increase, the capabilities that students must develop to be knowledgeable members of their literacy communities also increase. As the 1975 NCTE Resolution on Promoting Media Literacy states, "new critical abilities ‘in reading, listening, viewing, and thinking'...enable students to deal constructively with complex new modes of delivering information, new multisensory tactics for persuasion, and new technology-based art forms." Political cartoons provide an opportunity to explore these critical abilities in the classroom. By asking students to explore the ways that cartoons combine words and images to communicate their messages, this lesson plan asks students to develop and hone the multimodal literacy skills that ultimately help them participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
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.
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.
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 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.
- 11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information).
Materials and Technology
- Political cartoons for demonstration
- Five or more political cartoons by a single cartoonist
- Political Cartoon Analysis Sheet
- Political Cartoon Analysis Assignment
- Political Cartoon Comparison Sheet
- Political Cartoon Analysis Rubric
- Political Cartoon Analysis Peer Review
- Comic Vocabulary Definitions and Examples: Text Containers
- Comic Vocabulary Definitions and Examples: Layout & Design
- Comic Vocabulary Definitions and Examples: Angles
- Arrange for political cartoons for the class to examine:
- You will need several cartoons for the full class to analyze.
- Students will need five to ten cartoons by a single editorial cartoonist. The cartoons do not need to be consecutive, simply by the same cartoonist.
- Students may all work on the same group of cartoons, or you may allow students to choose their own cartoons.
- You may want to choose the cartoons yourself to ensure that the pieces are all appropriate for the classroom.
- Your students can search for cartoons in newspapers archived in the library or search online at Daryl Cagle's Pro Cartoonists Index, Newseum, Herblock's History, and The Political Dr. Seuss.
- You will need several cartoons for the full class to analyze.
- If students will search library archives for the cartoons, arrange for Session Two to take place in the library. If students will search for cartoons on the Internet, arrange for computer lab access and ensure that any site filters will not block the political cartoons students will need for their work.
- Decide the amount of detail to discuss in your exploration of comic book style. You may choose to include Text, Layout and Design, and Angles; or you may limit your discussion with the class to one or two of the areas. The handouts duplicate the information available in the Comic Vocabulary Interactive. Use the option which is best for your class.
- If necessary, adapt the Political Cartoon Analysis Assignment to fit your class and available resources.
- Make copies of the Political Cartoon Analysis Assignment, Political Cartoon Analysis Sheet, Political Cartoon Comparison Sheet, Political Cartoon Analysis Peer Review, and Political Cartoon Analysis Rubric. If photocopying is possible, make a copy of the Political Cartoon Analysis Sheet for each cartoon that each student will analyze. Otherwise, students can reproduce the chart on notebook paper or in their journals. Make an overhead transparency of the chart and display it for students to copy.
- Test the Comic Vocabulary Interactive and Analyzing a Political Cartoon: "Settin' on a Rail" on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.
- explore basic information about political cartoonists' techniques.
- analyze a cartoonists' techniques.
- write guidelines that explain how to analyze a cartoonists' work.
- participate in peer review of one another's guidelines.
- revise and polish drafts of their work.
- Display a political cartoon that you have chosen as a class example using an overhead projector or pass out copies of the cartoon. Alternatively, use the Analyzing a Political Cartoon: "Settin' on a Rail" to explore an historical political cartoon with the class.
- Ask students to respond to the cartoon, noting anything that stands out and any questions that they have.
- Explain that the class will be exploring political cartoons in more detail.
- Use the Comic Vocabulary Interactive to identify the parts of cartoons, or allow students to explore the interactive independently. If computers are not available, use the Comic Vocabulary Definitions sheets on Text, Layout and Design, and Angles.
- Begin with the Text Vocabulary, and have students apply the vocabulary from the interactive or definition sheets to the political cartoon that the class has been exploring. Ask students to expand the list as necessary to include any additional ways that the cartoonist has used text in the example cartoon.
- Move to the Layout and Design terms and the Angles terms, and encourage students to consider why the cartoonists have used the techniques that they have and how the different elements work together to communicate a message.
- To give students additional practice, arrange the class in small groups and give each group one or more additional political cartoons.
- To organize students’ analysis, pass out the Political Cartoon Analysis Sheet, and have groups take notes on the different characteristics of the cartoon(s) they are analyzing. Encourage groups to discuss why the cartoonists have used the techniques that they have in the cartoons that they are analyzing.
- Once groups have completed their analysis, gather the class and have each group present their observations to the class.
- If desired, have students read Cartoon Analysis Guide for additional background information.
- Briefly review the comic terms from the previous class and, if students read the piece, discuss Cartoon Analysis Guide and how the information applies to the political cartoons analyzed in the previous session.
- Pass out and explain the Political Cartoon Analysis Assignment that students will complete independently and the Political Cartoon Analysis Rubric, which outlines the expectations for the project.
- Detail the technology and resources that the class will use as they work on the project:
If students will be working with cartoons from printed newspapers If students will be working with cartoons from online cartoon archives Explain what newspapers students can use and where the newspapers can be accessed. Explain what online sites and cartoonists students can use. Discuss how students can make copies of the cartoons that they will be studying (e.g., photocopies, scanning). Demonstrate how to save a copy of the image files or take a screen shot of the images. Emphasize the importance of backup copies, as well as copies to trim and use as illustrations for the guidelines. If students are working with scanned copies, talk about the save-as command (see right column). Emphasize the importance of backup file copies and paper copies of the images and how to use the Save-As command to ensure that students do not overwrite the original image files when creating illustrations.
- Discuss copyright and documentation issues, going over the importance of including complete citations for all cartoons that are used in the’ analysis guidelines that students write.
- Point to the details on documenting cartoons in your class textbook, or use the details and examples from Comic Art in Scholarly Writing: A Citation Guide.
- If there are any guidelines that students should use while searching for their cartoons (e.g., topics that are inappropriate for the classroom), discuss these issues and explain what students should do if they happen upon such materials accidentally.
- Pass out additional copies of the Political Cartoon Analysis Assignment and copies of the Political Cartoon Comparison Sheet for students to use as they analyze the work of the cartoonists that they have chosen.
- Give students the remainder of the class session to find and begin analyzing cartoons.
- Draw the class together with approximately five minutes remaining, and invite students to share any observations they have made so far. If students are hesitant to share, ask some leading questions about the techniques that political cartoonists use. For instance, “which design and layout techniques seem most relevant to the cartoons that you have found?”---because most political cartoons today are only one panel, gutter and splash panels are irrelevant. However students can still look for use of borders and open panels in these works.
- Review the Political Cartoon Analysis Assignment and Rubric. Answer any questions that students have about the project.
- Allow students to work independently on their analysis during the session.
- Provide mini-lessons as needed on analytical (e.g., how to determine the difference between close-up and extreme close-up) and/or technical topics (e.g., how to insert an image file in a Microsoft Word file).
- Ask students to have a complete draft of their guidelines and copies of their political cartoons for peer review during the next class session. Students can continue work on their guidelines for homework if necessary.
- Explain that since the class will be doing peer review of one another’s guidelines, students will exchange one cartoon and the guidelines. Each student will read the guidelines and consider how well those details help them analyze the cartoon. After this process, students will complete the questions on the Political Cartoon Analysis Peer Review. This process may be slightly different from the typical peer review that the class completes, so ensure that students understand the process before students exchange their work.
- Organize the exchange of cartoons and guidelines, and ask students to use the guidelines to analyze the cartoon. If desired, students can take notes on their analysis to return to the author of the guidelines as well.
- As students complete their reading and analysis, give them copies of the Political Cartoon Analysis Peer Review. Students can complete this process at their own pace, picking up the peer review form once their analysis is complete.
- Circulate through the classroom as students work, providing support and feedback.
- As students complete their peer review sheets, have them return the guidelines to the author. Students can work on their own revisions until the entire class has completed the peer review process.
- Once the class has completed peer review, draw attention to the relationship between the questions on the Peer Review form and the Rubric. Point to the underlined words on questions 2 through 5 and their connection to the headings on the Rubric.
- Answer any questions that students have about revising their guidelines, and allow students to work on their revisions during any remaining class time.
- Ask students to have polished copies of their guidelines and the cartoons ready to submit at the beginning of the next session.
- If desired, ask students to choose at least one cartoon to discuss and share with other in class.
Session Five (optional)
- Arrange students in small groups.
- Ask each student to share at least one cartoon and describe the techniques that the cartoonist uses.
- Circulate among students as they work, providing support and feedback.
- Ask each group to choose one cartoon to share with the whole class.
- Gather students together and ask each group to present their choice.
- Encourage students to compare the techniques that the different cartoonists use.
- If time allows, students can complete a final proofreading of their guidelines, or have students exchange papers and proofread each other’s work. Ask students to make any corrections.
- Collect the guidelines and related cartoons.
- Rather than focusing on political cartoons, complete a similar exploration and analysis of graphic novels or comic strips.
- For an in-depth study of a particular political cartoon and its historical and geographical context, complete the ReadWriteThink lesson plan Analyzing the Purpose and Meaning of Political Cartoons or the ArtsEdge lesson plan Drawing Political Cartoons.
Student Assessment / Reflections
Review the work that students complete during this lesson on an on-going basis for the thoroughness and completeness. While students are working on these projects, talk to the students and observe their work and the connections they make to the political cartoons. Grade polished drafts with the Political Cartoon Analysis Rubric.