Magazine article Social Studies Review

Active Learning Strategies for Using Cartoons and Internet Research Assignments in Social Studies Courses

Magazine article Social Studies Review

Active Learning Strategies for Using Cartoons and Internet Research Assignments in Social Studies Courses

Article excerpt

After years of experimentation, I have finally developed an active learning teaching strategy for integrating editorial cartoons into my classes that excites both my students and me. This successful strategy is to require students (or small groups of students) to do an Internet research assignment based on an editorial cartoon and then present orally their interpretation of the cartoonplus reasons why they agree or disagree with the cartoonist's point of view on the issue.

Student presenters report that it is a fun challenge to "decipher" the elements of a cartoon (caricature, symbolism, stereotypes, exaggeration, irony, humor) because the process is so intellectually satisfying (like solving a puzzle). Student listeners are more likely to question the interpretations of student presenters and are much more likely to challenge the political opinions of their classmates than of their teachers. Thus political cartoons can be extremely useful for stimulating enthusiastic classroom discussions and debates.

As a teacher, I relish the opportunity to get out of the talking mode and play such roles as referee, questioner and provocateur (to lead students to probe the issue in greater depth or relate it to other issues). This teaching strategy also creates opportunities for the teacher to relate the cartoon to important concepts of the course. In addition, the student presentations, discussions, and debates often present productive "teachable moments" for teachers.

The two basic requirements for implementing this interest-stimulating teaching strategy are Internet sites that enable students to research cartoons easily and good sources of political cartoons about social studies content and issues. The following sections will not only provide solutions for these basic requirements but also present a cartoon interpretation checklist to help students develop this skill more effectively. In short, readers will learn everything they need to know to start having fun teachingand learning-with political cartoons.


Although the issues and events editorial cartoons focus on can be researched using traditional library resources, the Internet has transformed this activity from a tedious and frustrating task that students dread to a relatively easy and satisfying one that they enjoy. Such commonly used web sites as Yahoo! ( and Google ( are adequate for most recent cartoons. For older cartoons, the Academic Universe (LexisNexis) site ( that my university's library subscribes to is very useful.

Practice researching some issues relevant to your courses on Yahoo! and Google plus visit a library that provides access to the Academic Universe site in order to make sure your students will be able to have access to enough good information to make their cartoon research assignments useful for your classroom purposes. Once you're confident of this, you can start having fun searching for good cartoons to use, a task that is likely to become the most enjoyable part of your class preparation work.


This section will present some impressive cartoon web sites and an excellent e-mail cartoon service. They should provide more than enough cartoons to motivate you to start using them.

The site has a "World View of the Day" feature on its home page that can be addictive; its archive feature allows you to view the past four months of these cartoons. Since they are by artists from several different countries, this site often provides multiple political perspectives on important world events. Its current (Feb. ?3) "Latest Selections" section lists over fifty topics including US and Allies, Iraq Inspections, To Attack Iraq?, Iraq oil, Target: Saddam, Missile Defense, N. Korea Nuclear Threat, World Summit, India-Pakistan, War on Terror, Capitalism in China, and Globalization. …

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