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Using 'Concept Cartoons' to Elicit Critical Thinking Skills in the Science Classroom

Updated on August 7, 2015
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Sriparna is a passionate science educator, loves children and strongly believes and works towards inculcating 'mindful learning' in schools.

What is a concept cartoon?

Concept cartoons are cognitive images which portray ‘visual disagreements’ using cartoon characters and speech bubbles in an everyday activity, a context familiar to the children.

Since cartoon characters are more appealing to the children, these cognitive visual tools are highly effective in developing children’s ideas around any important scientific concept.

Concept cartoon portays 'visual disagreements'


Cartoons can extract critical thinking!


How concept cartoons are different from other cartoons?

I have written two hubs about how cartoons can be used as teaching tools to elicit critical thinking in the classroom. These cartoons can be pulled from any source, say news magazine or newspaper or internet and students are provided with guiding questions to start up an engaging discussion or a writing activity.

Concept cartoons on the other hand, display a debate or conflict amongst the characters and the text in the speech bubbles bring out different viewpoints.

  • At the start of any lesson, when the students see the image, their attention is arrested and they instantly start thinking which character is right and who they agree/disagree with?
  • The different viewpoints around the central concept, as depicted on the concept cartoon spark an argumentative discussion in the classroom and even the shy and withdrawn students can connect to the visual and have something to say.
  • After they decide who they agree to or partially agree to, then the teachers can probe them to reason out and prove their points of view.
  • The buzz is created in the class and everyone has an opinion which they think is worthy of sharing.
  • Not only the conceptions are probed, more crucially the misconceptions are also discussed as alternative ideas are depicted on the concept cartoons.

Discovered by education researchers, Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor in 1992, these visual tools have proven to work effectively in the science classrooms.

Concept cartoons spark up debate and educe alternative ideas!


Cartoons in teaching and learning!

Benefits of using concept cartoons:

1. Concept cartoons are easy-to-generate, flexible tools for the teachers, three to four speech bubbles and cartoon characters will make a good concept cartoon.

The following variations can be used:

  • 1 correct speech bubble + 3 incorrect speech bubbles
  • 2 correct speech bubbles + 2 incorrect speech bubbles
  • 1 correct speech bubble + 3 incorrect speech bubbles
  • all four correct speech bubbles
  • one or two partially correct speech bubbles
  • one blank speech bubble where students’ own ideas can be written.

So depending on the class level and the difficulty level of the concept to be taught, one can tailor the concept cartoon.

What do you think?


2. In a science classroom, students should be encouraged to debate around a concept for clarity in understanding. Concept cartoons are cognitive tools for conflict model of teaching, which draw out highly engaging discussions among students.

3. Teachers can teach various aspects of the curriculum using concept cartoons. For e.g. you can teach compare and contrast between two different concepts such as plant cell and animal cell; introduce a concept or recapitulate a learnt concept.

4. The minimal text in the visual captures attention of all kinds of learners in a mixed-ability group and promotes maximum participation. Children who find it difficult to think through an abstract idea can easily agree or disagree to any of the viewpoints and both right and wrong answers are encouraged in the beginning of the class, as they are treated as alternative ways of thinking as in a debate.

5. When a question is asked in class, students take time to recall the concepts learnt in the previous lessons and hence often they hesitate to answer. Concept cartoons provide pointers to develop ideas and hence it’s easier for the students to get connected with the idea and interact in class, impacting the rate of learning. It is an effective tool for constructivist approach to learning, which means taking students' ideas into the teaching plan and facilitate students to construct knowledge for themselves.

6. Alternative ideas are brought out, so the misconceptions are also discussed. The children who agree with the wrong statements in the beginning slowly understand the correct way of thinking during the course of the class discussion and in this way the misconceptions are eradicated along with clear understanding of the concepts.

7. Teachers can use this tool for formative assessment of students. This tool can be used to assess students after teaching the concepts. A blank speech bubble can be left on the concept cartoon, where students write what they think is correct and the teachers can fathom whether the students have understood the concept. Also some probing questions can be asked based on the visual debate, to infer more about the reasoning skills of the students.

8. Small group activities can be planned using concept cartoons as these images inspire dialogue. So in groups they can discuss and reason out their viewpoints and after a stipulated time, the groups discuss their viewpoints with the class. The teacher summarises the important aspects of the concept as a closure.

Sources of concept cartoons:

They have to be generated by the teachers themselves, so a lot of thinking and creativity are entailed, but that’s what teachers are good at and they are ready to go any distance to ensure true learning for their students.

If you have used concept cartoons in your classroom, please share your ideas in the comment section.


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