Critical Thinking Activity For Political Cartoon 1789

1. To begin this lesson, it is important to first discuss each of the Vocabulary words for analysis. You can use the examples given or come up with your own as you see fit. If your students have never seen some of the vocabulary words, this step will probably take a little longer, yet for students who are already familiar with the terms, this exercise will work as a refresher.

2. Next, go over with the students the vocabulary for historical context. These are people or terms that will show up in the political cartoons. Therefore, students should at least know the bare minimum in order to apply their background knowledge to the picture.

3. Now explore the Common Symbolisms worksheet with students. This will help them grasp common themes that will pop up in political cartoons, such as donkeys representing the Democratic Party, elephants representing the Republican Party, and rats representing dirt or filth, etc.

4. Once the students have sufficient background knowledge, you can begin to use the political cartoons listed under Primary Sources. While examining the illustrations, fill out the Political Cartoons Analysis worksheet. Make sure to walk students through the first cartoon pointing out how each of the vocabulary terms is represented by in the cartoon.

5. As you walk through the cartoons, by cartoon two or three, begin to let students work more independently, writing out on their own the symbolism, irony, point of view, exaggeration, and analogy.

6. As a final objective, ask students, individually or in pairs, to create a cartoon of their own which expresses their point of view on a specific topic. Ask them how they would use symbolism to show things in their everyday life, such as “Cleaning their room,”  “Lunchtime at school,” or “Snow Day,” just to give a couple of topic examples. 


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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.

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It’s No Laughing Matter: Analyzing Political Cartoons: This interactive activity has students explore the different persuasive techniques political cartoonists use and includes guidelines for analysis.

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Ciardiello, A.V. (2003). "To wander and wonder": Pathways to literacy and inquiry through question-finding. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 47(3), 228–239.

  • 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.

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