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Cartoon Analysis


This activity helps students to develop a deeper understanding of a controversial topic, and to gain skill in literary and artistic analysis. It is useful in an ELA classroom, since it develops analysis skills in a visual and textual format that is accessible and unintimidating. It can also help to build background knowledge about historical periods before reading a novel. In a social studies or history classroom, this activity can help students to understand important current or historical topics.  


Catherine Ullman-Shade

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Inferring

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Investigation

Content Areas 

  • ELA

Learning Strands 

  • Reading

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Building Knowledge in the Discipline
  • Text-Based Answers


  • Select three or four sample cartoons that are easy to interpret, and that are tied to a topic or time period of study.

  • Annotate one or two cartoons with the identified craft elements.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher provides a brief introduction to political cartoons, including several examples.

    Examples should be related to a familiar topic and easy to interpret.

  2. As a class, students discuss the meaning of the cartoons and craft techniques they notice.
    • They look for characteristics the cartoons have in common.
    • You can also think aloud about what you’re noticing, guiding students towards the identified craft techniques.
  3. Class develops an anchor chart of characteristics of political cartoons. Teacher adds to anchor chart and displays chart.
    • Final chart should include:
    • Symbolism, Exaggeration, Labeling, Analogy, and Irony. The final chart should include Symbolism, Exaggeration, Labeling, Analogy, and Irony, but can also include other techniques if the class agrees they are central to political cartoons. ​
    • This website can be used as reference:   https://goo.gl/rCVamz
  4. Teacher models analyzing a political cartoon, identifies craft elements, and interprets meaning.

    Think aloud as you analyze the cartoon, narrating your process of analysis.

  5. Students get into pairs. Teacher distributes a political cartoon and small sticky notes to each pair.

    You can differentiate instruction easily by providing more complex cartoons to more advanced students.

  6. Students use sticky notes to identify political cartoon craft elements in the cartoon.

    You can circulate among students as they work, conferring with them briefly. Ask them what they are noticing, and guide them to further their thinking.

  7. In pairs, students discuss what the cartoon means and how the different craft elements of the cartoon contribute to its meaning.
    • Students write a paragraph explaining the meaning of the cartoon.  
    • As you circulate among the students, ask them to articulate their analysis of the cartoon.


  8. Each student pairs up with someone new, and new pairs discuss their interpretation and analysis of the cartoon.
    • Students compare and contrast the craft elements they identified in their original pairs.
    • This is called “jigsaw,” and is a good way to allow students to share ideas with each other, and to act as both a teacher and a student.
  9. Class discusses the meaning of the cartoon as a whole.

    Lead a whole-class discussion, interpreting the cartoon, and placing it in the larger historical context. Discuss what an opposing view could be, and what kind of cartoon someone on the other side might create.

  10. In writing, students answer questions such as:


    • What message was the cartoonist trying to convey?

    • Why did the cartoonist think it was important to convey this message?

    • What craft techniques did the cartoonist use to convey the message?



    • What strategies did you use to make meaning of this cartoon?

    • How can analyzing a cartoon help you to understand a political issue in a different way?

    • As a writer and an artist, what strategies could you use to create a persuasive political cartoon?
Downloadable Resources 
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