Thursday, December 12, 2013

I love a Good Cartoon in the Classroom

by Nina Kendall
        Cartoons are engaging and thought provoking. They are an optimal method for conveying a strong opinion to a wide and diverse audience. In the classroom, they are a great tool for getting students thinking and talking.  I look forward to incorporating them in class every year. Further analyzing cartoons is the most advanced skill social studies teachers teach.

When teaching American History, the late 19th century is a great period of history to start regularly using cartoons as a part of instruction. With 10,000 newspapers functioning during the Civil War, cartoons were a popular medium for expressing a variety of opinions. Later in this period, the newspaper wars between William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer fueled the prominence of cartoons. Thomas Nast, Richard F. Outcault, Joseph Keppler, and Homer Davenport created images that resonated with citizens and serve as great teaching tools.

Student Cartoon Analysis Work Sample
When introducing cartoons, it is a good idea to review the process.  To examine cartoons, I model to students the same process I use for analyzing all images.  The steps are look at the foreground, then look at the background, and then read the captions and all the labels. When working through these steps, we look first for what we can see. Then we examine the relationship between the items and infer meaning. This process will help students understanding any of the techniques used by the cartoonist and help you monitor their understanding of symbolism in the period. One example of symbolism that often evades students is that of exaggerated size. Students are unaware that the size of an individual in a cartoon is a reference to their wealth, status, and ability to refrain from hard work.

If you feel like you students simply need a refresher for analyzing cartoons, the Library of Congress has a great resource for you to use. “It's No Laughing Matter” is a web exhibit that identifies common cartoonist techniques and opportunities for guided practice. You could flip you classroom with this activity as a skill review before tackling the content you are currently teaching.

Once you are ready opportunities to use cartoons abound post 1860. We have compiled a few of our favorite cartoon resources here.