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Professional Political Cartoon Examination and Original Political Cartoon Construction

Lesson Overview

Overview: Students examine political cartoons with focuses including but not limited to encoded messages, evident political statements, and symbolism. They will speculate-in writing- about the cartoonists' original intent, research obscure names and symbols, revisit original interpretations, and present findings to the class. They will then construct original political cartoons on a current event or historical topic using the professional cartoonists' tools.
Grade Range: 9-12
Objective: Students will:
  • Historicize primary source documents.
  • Examine primary source documents for encoded messages, evident political statements, and symbolism.
  • Speculate about cartoonists' original intent; research obscure names and symbols; revisit original interpretations; and present speculative interpretations to the class.
  • Create an original political cartoon using conventional cartoonists' tools. 
Time Required: Three class periods of 50 minutes.
Discipline/Subject: Social Studies, Language Arts, Current Events
Topic/Subject: War, Military
Era: Postwar United States, 1945-1968


Illinois Learning Standards:

Social Studies:

16.A.5b-Analyze historical and contemporary developments using methods of historical inquiry.
16.A.5b-Explain the tentative nature of historical interpretations.
16.B.5a-Describe how modern political positions are affected by differences in ideologies and viewpoints that have developed over time.
16.B.6b-Analyze how United States political history has been influenced by the nation's economic, social and environmental history.
16.B.5b-Describe how tensions in the modern world are affected by different political ideologies including democracy and totalitarianism.  


Handouts: Copies of political cartoons
Analysis Tools: Cartoon Analysis
PowerPoint Slides: Available on PDF
Library of Congress Items: Title of Source: But How to Let Go--Gracefully
  Title of Source: The other ascent into the unknown
  Title of Source: Our position hasn't changed at all
  Title of Source: You see, the reason we're in Indochina is to protect us boys in Indochina


  Day One:
1. The teacher will randomly divide primary sources among the students and present Powerpoint (PDF). Each individual student will get one political cartoon to hisoricize through observation and inferences. In doing so, the student will use"first glance" section of political cartoon analysis.
2. The student as a large class will share their general observation sand inferences. The teacher will lead this discussion.
3. The student will individually examine the primary source for encoded messages, evident political statements, and symbolism. The student will speculate about cartoonists' original intent. In doing so, they will use the "taking a closer look" section of the political cartoon analysis
4. Students will organize into groups based on who has the same political cartoon. They will share their individual interpretations, hear others' interpretations, and brainstorm confusing names, symbols and messages.
  Day Two:
1. Students will individually research obscure names and symbols.
2. Students will reorganize into groups based on political cartoons and revisit original interpretations. They will, as a group, fill out "cartoon purpose" section of political cartoon analysis
3. Students, as a group, will present speculative interpretations to the class.
  Day Three:
1. Students, individually, will create an original political cartoon using conventional cartoonists' tools and describe the tools employed to construct the cartoon.



The teacher will examine students' original political cartoons and note the use of professional cartoonist's tools. They will also read the student's reflective descriptions of the employed methods and see how accurate they were. 


Considering that this lesson is taught within a social studies education methods class context, I think the most logical extension would be to teach youngsters in a similar way. 

Author Credits:
J. Bickford
Eastern Illinois University