1. Using the first four web sites listed below, students should explore the history and nature of editorial and political cartoons.
2. Since the use of symbols is critical to the meaning of political cartoons, students should spend some time thinking about and discussing the role of symbols in American life. Divide students into small groups, asking each group to list a set of symbols that they encounter every day and what each symbol stands for. Examples might be the McDonald’s golden arch, team mascots, traffic signs, etc.
3. In the large group, discuss how and why symbols are used and why they are effective.
Back in their small groups, ask students to consider the meaning of the following symbols: elephant; donkey; Uncle Sam; a dove; a dollar sign ($); the Statue of Liberty; the American flag, an olive branch. How many different meanings can students come up with for each symbol. Compare these meanings in the larger group.
4. Having considered the meaning of symbols, and again in small groups, ask students to analyze cartoons about William Howard Taft (see website below) and also some contemporary cartoons about President Bush, either from the Cagle Professional Cartoonists Index (see website below) or from their own local newspapers. The following questions, taken from the Cagle website, should be useful:
- What is the event or issue that inspired the cartoon?
- Are there any real people in the cartoon? Who is portrayed in the cartoon?
- Are there symbols in the cartoon? What are they are what do they represent?
- What is the cartoonist’s opinion about the topic portrayed in the cartoon?
- Do you agree or disagree with the cartoonist’s opinion? Why?
5. Finally, compare and contrast the Taft cartoons with contemporary ones. Are there any similarities? Differences? What do you have to know about the period in which the cartoons were drawn to understand the symbolism used? To what extent do you think editorial or political cartoons are a powerful communication tool?
Editorial and Political Cartoons in U.S. History
Daryl Casey’s Professional Cartoonists’ Index
Political Cartoons of Thomas Nast
Cartoons about William Howard Taft
This lesson plan was inspired by: Mark Adams, “Political Cartoons: Introduction to Symbols” at http://www.trumanlibrary.org/whistlestop/teacher_lessons/cartoon_symbol.htm , and Teacher Guide! Grades 9 through 12/Lesson Plans, “Analyzing Editorial Cartoons” at http://www.cagle.com/teacher/high/lessonplanHS5.asp , and then adapted by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.