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Use editorial cartoons to teach about elections past and present



Wise teachers around the United States are using news stories about the primary elections and the upcoming national election as a timely lesson in citizenship. But don't forget one other tool for teaching citizenship and critical thinking -- newspaper editorial cartoons! Bring the power of editorial cartoons -- the strength of their images and the power of their messages -- into your classroom! Included: Online resources that promote higher order thinking activities through the use of editorial cartoons.

When children look through the newspaper, what section do they gravitate to first?

The comics, of course!

Children are visual by nature, and the humor and empathy created in comic strips naturally lend themselves to a child's understanding of the world. Why not take advantage of that natural attraction to cartoons in your classroom? Bring the power of editorial cartoons -- the strength of their images and the power of their messages -- into your classroom!

Teacher Peg Cagle does just that! "Put an editorial cartoon and a newspaper article in front of kids; which one will they pick?" asks Cagle.

Kids gravitate more willingly toward editorial cartoons, and the format is often richer in political, economic, and social impact, added Cagle, who is the creator of a truly unique Internet resource -- Teacher Guide for the Professional Cartoonists Index.

Although Cagle's interest in editorial cartoons is educational, it doesn't hurt that her husband is renowned editorial cartoonist Daryl Cagle and that he is the creator of the Professional Cartoonists Index!

"Editorial cartoons cover a lot of high-level concepts: metaphor, simile, hyperbole, satire, irony -- things that are harder to convey in text," Peg Cagle told Education World. "Language isn't a barrier. It is all right there in the visual.

"In a number of states, the ability to interpret an editorial cartoon is being named as one of the basic skills, right along with map and graph reading," added Cagle.

Cagle's site -- we're talking now about Peg's site for teachers -- is loaded with valuable classroom resources. Editorial cartoons from 71 newspaper editorial cartoonists are presented with the permission and participation of the creators -- including top names in the field, such as Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Ramirez, Jeff MacNelly, Jim Borgman, Mike Luckovich, Steve Breen, Dick Locher, Jim Morin, and Mike Peters.

"We have developed lesson plans for using the editorial cartoons as a teaching tool in the social sciences, art, journalism, and English at all levels," added Cagle.


A little history lesson

Editorial cartoons have a long and "illustrious" history. Widely credited as "the father of the editorial cartoon," illustrator Thomas Nast expressed his opinions on a wide range of political and social issues during the last half of the 19th century. Many consider Nast's cartoons to be a chronicle of U.S. history during that period. His cartoons were widely influential; every presidential candidate Nast supported was elected!

Today, hundreds of cartoonists carry on the tradition of editorial satire introduced by Nast more than 150 years ago. Their cartoons provide a library of teaching tools for teachers eager to use the news to teach critical thinking and media literacy!


A tool for teaching higher-level thinking

Kids and editorial cartoons are a natural connection. The cartoons can be a terrific tool for teaching higher-level thinking skills. Students can discuss them and analyze them -- and they can even create them as original works that reflect their perceptions of current events and cultural trends.

Editorial cartoons can help develop students who are much more sophisticated interpreters of current events than students of previous generations. Today's students are ready to look beyond actual events and immerse themselves in some of the issues.

Editorial cartoons used to be the sole domain of language arts and social studies, but today, teachers of all subject areas can make use of cartoon commentaries on a wide range of topics -- including cloning, ecology, health, and space. There has never been a better time for teachers to incorporate editorial cartoons into their teaching strategies.


Editorial cartoons and the elections

No current event could be more rife with editorializing possibilities than the upcoming U.S. presidential elections. Personalities and issues are rich fodder for satire. Imagine the possibilities for creating classroom galleries of editorial cartoons from around the country about a specific candidate or a hot topic. Those cartoons have great potential for classroom debates.

Teachers might consider projects in which students create their own portfolios of editorial cartoons collected from a variety of sources. As an extension activity, challenge students to design their own editorial cartoons that counter the sentiments of the cartoons in their portfolios.


Kids as editorial cartoonists!

Tapping into students' editorial voices can be an enlightening experience that goes far beyond classroom studies. If you are looking for ways to celebrate your students' most meaningful work, you might send the best work from your class to your own local newspaper for publication on the editorial page.


Editorial cartoon resources

So where can the great editorial cartoon resources be found on the Net? Online, teachers can find dozens of excellent sources. One great place to start is the Washington Post Tom Toles: Cartoons and Videos page, where you will find links to the work of the editorial cartoonist at the Post.

Would you rather find something a little closer to home? Your local newspaper may post an editorial cartoon each day. Collecting a file of them in hard copy can take patience and planning, but what a valuable resource!

Are you looking for editorial opinion from a variety of locales? enables teachers to look up newspapers online around the country so students can catch the local sentiment about a variety of local, national, and international issues.

Just one note of caution: Because editorial cartoons tackle some controversial issues, screen materials before using them in class.

Additional online resources

A brief history of political cartoons
This page provides an overview of the political cartoon from Roman times through the American Revolution and the Civil War. This site is appropriate for upper middle school and high school students. Footnotes nicely document the information offered.

World War I cartoons
This presentation of eight editorial cartoons from the period of World War I (1914-1918) has historical background and succinct analysis to aid students in their appreciation of the cartoons' satire.

Politically correct cartoons
Jim Huber archives his weekly editorial cartoons from 1994 to the present here. The cartoons are well crafted and do not contain inappropriate content.

Cartoon of the week
This collection is updated every Thursday. It highlights editorial cartoons about world events.

Editorial cartoons
This site has editorial cartoons from some of the top cartoonists in the field, including Mike Luckovich, Chip Bok, and Herbert Block.

Editorial cartoons of Cam
This site features editorial cartoons by one of Canada's most popular editorial cartoonists, Cameron Cardow.

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