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Political Cartoon Interpretation Lesson

Social Studies Lessons for High School is designed for social studies teachers to use with their government and history courses. It was developed in response to a shift in education throughout our country: a move away from rote memorization and toward the critical thinking skills necessary for many of the new performance assessment programs.

Each lesson will enable teachers to teach seven specific critical thinking skills in a step-by-step process. The information has been adapted for old media and new media formats. Web sites will be provided that will allow teachers to choose the most appropriate resource for the selected activity. All selections can be copied for classroom use. Teachers may adapt activities to allow students to complete assignments via the web.

Bob Black is former Teachers Network web mentor. He is a social studies teacher at the Harbor City Learning Center, located across the street from the historic Edgar Allen Poe House  in Baltimore, MD.


A political cartoon is a type of drawing used to present opinions, comments, or criticisms of a situation, person, or event. Cartoons help us understand information by presenting it in a visual and memorable way. Cartoonists use many different techniques to achieve their goals:

  • Caricature - exaggerating one or more physical features, ex.  a large mouth to show someone who often speaks out on an issue.
  • Symbols - using a recognizable item to communicate an idea, ex.  an elephant to represent the Republican Party.
  • Caption - having the characters speak or summarizing the message in a few words above or below the cartoon.

Model for Interpretation

What is the title of this cartoon? Or, What title would you give it? 

List the objects or people that you see in the cartoon.

Which objects/people are symbols? What do you think each one means?

Are there any important clues (words, places, numbers) in the cartoon?

(Describe what is happening in the four quadrants of the cartoon, if applicable)

What is the political or social issue presented in the cartoon? What is the cartoonist's viewpoint on this issue? How do you know?

Who might agree/disagree with the cartoon? Why?

Describe how you were able to interpret this cartoon.


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