Cartoons For Critical Thinking
Why cartoons are special?
We all know that 'a picture is worth 1000 words' and we retain more information from a picture than when we read a paragraph. This is because most of us have a prominent visual learning ability dominating any other learning style. However, cartoons referred to as humorous illustrations of a figure, theme or society have much more to offer. A country's social, cultural, political and economical conditions are reflected in the cartoons. A cartoonist expresses deep thoughts and social awareness when they create cartoons for leading newspapers or magazines. The creator of cartoons has the flexibility and freedom of expression - they might caricature a political figure or a contemporary celebrity, portray a global theme or issue such as global warming or oil spill or display some political issues to raise awareness such as price inflation, economic recession etc.
Intrigued by the art form in the cartoons and being an educator, I came up with some lesson plans to use cartoons and comic strips to elicit creative and critical thinking skills in the middle school and high school children.
Cartoon ideas for teaching middle school children
1. What do you see?: Select a nice, age-appropriate cartoon and ask your children to write a short essay about what all they think about the cartoon characters and their surroundings. It could be a picture composition or a paragraph. You would be surprised that there are many hidden features in a cartoon, which the child might observe and write about.
2. What are they saying/thinking?: Select a cartoon, enlarge if necessary and put some white stickers on the speech or thought bubbles. Let the child imagine, looking at the surroundings, actions, body features and facial expressions of the characters and encourage them to think of a dialogue or a thought of their own. Then you can show them the original conversations.
3. Continue the story: Cut a cartoon strip, with 3-5 images from a newspaper or magazine and ask your child to continue with the story and add some more cartoons to complete the story.
4. Compare the cartoons: You can select two nice, illustrative cartoons featuring two different characters or events and ask your children to compare and contrast between them. Finding similarities and differences, not only superficially of the pictures but the body language, characteristics and the actions will definitely spark off a lot of thinking and imagination.
5. Create your own clipart/cartoon: Give the children a theme related to what they have learnt recently either in history, geography or science and ask them to make their own clipart, characterizing that phenomenon. For example, if they have learnt about photosynthesis, they need to transform the ideas and concepts behind the scientific phenomenon into cartoon or clipart - how the leaves of the plants are making food using sunlight and carbon dioxide etc. Also, you may ask the children to portray a historical event or figure they have learnt in the form of cartoons.
This activity will not only boost their thinking skills, also the concepts learnt will be reinforced in an enjoyable and effective manner.
Teachers can use cartoons for such activities in their classrooms to break the monotony, encourage team work through designing group activities and while doing so they'll come to know their students' latent potential - some may be excellent at drawing, some at making witty comments and creating interesting dialogues and some may have exceptional creative tendencies. Our children often think differently and are highly creative, we simply need to probe them into that direction and cartoons can be used as an effective tool for the same.
Cartoon ideas for high school students
High school students (age group 14 - 17) are no less attracted by the profound ideas depicted in the cartoons they find in the leading newspapers or other reading articles. We should tap their critical, creative and analytical thinking as well using some well designed activities.
1. Analysing the cartoons: You can select a political or social cartoon from a newspaper, conforming with current affairs and global awareness and ask the students to analyse the socioeconomic conditions, political conditions and cultural background of the country/the world based on what is depicted in the cartoon. They can also elaborate and give their views on the issues that have been covered in the cartoons and how they can be a reflection of the social, economical and political conditions. This is a higher order thinking activity and students can be assessed based on rubrics.
2. Compare the backgrounds and thought processes of two cartoonists: Select two cartoons of the same time period created by two different cartoonists and ask the student, either individually or in groups to find the similarities and differences in their social backgrounds, cultural differences or any other differences in the way the two artists think and act.
Also, to bring another angle to this activity, you can select two cartoons by different creators from two very different time periods and ask them to compare and contrast.
3. About the cartoonist: You can select several (8-10) cartoons from different sources of the same creator and ask the students to go through them carefully and analyse them from different perspectives. You can have discussions about how much can they decipher about the personality of the cartoonist from his works. Is he an optimist or pessimist? Is he able to convince and move his audience toward a particular cause? To which social and political issues is he pointing and why? You can design a regimen of questions based on the cartoons depending on what area you would like them to focus and discuss.
4. Create a cartoon on a global theme: Ask the students to rack their imagination and create cartoons to rouse global awareness, for example, climate change, technology vs environment, mans and machines, endangered species etc.
You can think of many other variations of using cartoons in your clasrooms for all levels of children or use them as fun activities or hometeaching ideas during summer vacations. I believe the cartoons, which seem to be entertaining to most of us, are an art form expressing deeper thoughts of their creators and hence can be used as an innovative tool to teach across all disciplines.