Let’s Talk About: Using Cartoons to Empower Student Voice

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The history of cartoons in American newsprint began on May 9th, 1754.  Benjamin Franklin had an idea about the need to unite the colonies.  A cartoon accompanied his editorial – a single panel image meant to persuade the colonies to work together against common enemies. The picture underscored the message and communicated it differently for those who could not read.  

Quickly grasped by a wide range of people, cartoons continue to be a powerfully evocative method of communication. The infused humor allows for the expression of ideas that might be less acceptable without it. Also, a dissenting voice shared via a cartoon can help us to understand a concept from a different point of view. 

Elizabeth Montague, contributing cartoonist to the New Yorker, is a great example to share with students.  Montague made history as the first known female African-American cartoonist in the iconic magazine.  In a recent interview, she shared empowering messages that can encourage every student to express their perspectives and opinions. When asked, Montague discussed the cost of the inaccurate portrayal of things. She explained that typically only those whose cultural perspectives are missing could relate the missing point of view. We can use her words to encourage our students by telling them that “no one can share your point of view better than you can.” 

Using cartoons in the classroom is a great strategy to encourage Deep Learning. Students can practice communication, creativity, and citizenship at the same time. Working on these types of projects gives students a safe place to practice getting a message out to a specific audience in a way that respects others and yet demonstrates their thought leadership. Here are a few resources for using cartoons in the classroom:

How do you use cartoons in your classroom? Do you allow students to discuss their differing points of view when using them? Please share your lesson ideas in the comments below.

About the author: Ruth Okoye

Dr. Ruth Okoye is the Director of K12 Initiatives at The Source for Learning. As a long-time technology coach, Ruth shares ideas and strategies for professional learning and thoughts on how to motivate yourself to “dig deeper” into educational technologies.

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