Drawing Political Cartoons

The purpose of using political cartoons is to develop both factual knowledge and interpretive skills.


Key Staff

This lesson can be taught by the classroom teacher, though support from an art teacher would certainly enhance the lesson.

Key Skills

Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture


Political cartoons provide an important record of the times. They reflect the values, conflicts and important issues in a society. Analyzing political cartoons will allow students to develop both factual knowledge and interpretive skills. It is easiest to teach this skill using a current event with which students are familiar. Once the students have mastered the analysis of current events, they should able to approach similar tasks with historical cartoons and drawings.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Analyze visual and language clues to determine the meaning of contemporary and historical political cartoons
  • Create a political cartoon based on a current event

Teaching Approach

  • Thematic
  • Project-Based Learning
  • Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Discovery Learning
  • Discussion
  • Experiential Learning
  • Reflection

Assessment Type

Determined by Teacher


What You'll Need

Required Technology
  • Projector
  • 1 Computer per Classroom
  • 1 Computer per Learner
  • 1 Computer per Small Group
Technology Notes

This lesson can be executed using political cartoons from newspapers and magazines or from the internet. As indicated, a projector and computer with internet access are necessary if using cartoons from the internet.

Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

Students must have background information before they can analyze a political cartoon or drawing, so it is easiest to teach this skill using a current event. Once the students have mastered the analysis of current events, they should able to approach similar tasks with historical cartoons and drawings.

Some students will have better working knowledge of current events and political issues than others. Teachers may choose to download a list of current news items from the internet or bring in the day’s newspaper in order to bring all students up to speed.

Teachers will need to find a variety of political cartoons, preferably displaying opposing sides of an issue. Many of these can also be found online.

Prior Student Knowledge

Familiarity with current events.

Ability to analyze and interpret current and historic events.

Physical Space



  • Large Group Instruction
  • Small Group Instruction


Display a variety of cartoons about a current event that the students are familiar with as an introduction. Be sure that the cartoons represent opposing positions about the same topic.

Accessibility Notes

Students with physical disabilities may need modified movements.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


1. Display a variety of cartoons about a current event that the students are familiar with as an introduction. Be sure that the cartoons represent opposing positions about the same topic. Explain to the students that political cartoons are prejudiced and biased because they represent the artist's point of view, as does an editorial. They are intended to be controversial and characterized in nature. Their meaning is conveyed by both visual and verbal clues.

2. Read the following quote to the class:

"A cartoonist is a writer and artist, philosopher, and punster, cynic and community conscience. He seldom tells a joke, and often tells the truth, which is funnier. In addition, the cartoonist is more than a social critic who tries to amuse, infuriate, or educate. He is also, unconsciously, a reporter and historian. Cartoons of the past leave records of their times that reveal how people lived, what they thought, how they dressed and acted, what their amusements and prejudices were, and what the issues of the day were." (Ruff and Nelson, p. 75; see teacher references below).

3. Tell students that they will be analyzing political cartoons and then creating one of their own based on a current event. Students will create a variety of political cartoons displaying contrasting view points.

Build Knowledge

1. Distribute the Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel and talk about some of the elements present in the cartoons: caption, caricature, symbolism, proportional size of objects and people, and personification. Help students identify the personalities in the cartoons you have displayed and ask them what issue or event they think the cartoon is about. Ask the students what clues they used to determine their answer.


1. Divide students into small groups. Distribute a political cartoon to each group. Ask them to identify the elements in, and context for, the cartoon. Ask each group to share their drawings and their findings with the larger group.

2. The following are suggestions for analyzing cartoons:

  • Every cartoon should be placed in a historical and geographical context (i.e., time and place).
  • All personalities represented in a cartoon should be identified.
  • Cartoon analysis should finish with a description of the overall message of the cartoon.
  • Students must be taught how to interpret symbols, the visual clues sent out from the cartoon, as well as how to interpret captions, the verbal clues sent out from the cartoon.
  • Students need to pay attention to size and placement of people, objects, symbols, and writing on the cartoon.
  • Teachers should select cartoons according to the students' knowledge and ability level.
  • Teachers should get the class to brainstorm ideas to evoke different responses. Divergent answers should be accepted. Interpretation must be open-ended.

3. Explain to the class the following project assignment: Students will research a current event issue of their choice and create a political cartoon over the next week. Students should brainstorm possible issues using an editorial section from a newspaper or magazine. Ask students to identify other sources for material: television, Internet, etc. Have students use these resources to help them with their research:


1. One student from each group will summarize the group’s findings about the political cartoons they have been interpreting. The rest of the class should have an opportunity to weigh in about whether or not they agree with the group’s analysis of the cartoon.


1. Following the completion of the lesson, students will be given an assignment to create their own political cartoon depicting their opinion about a current issue.

After the completion of the project assignment, students will share their cartoon with the class, briefly describe the issue involved, and identify the key elements.

  • In each completed cartoon, is there visual evidence that the cartoon is based on viewpoint about a current issue?
  • In the oral presentation, was the student able to articulate both the issue and elements involved in his/her creation?

2. Assess the student's work using the Assessment Rubric located within the Resource Carousel.

Extend the Learning

For homework or to lead off class discussion, students could read The Cartoon by Herb Block, one cartoonist’s take on the role played by political cartoons. Guide questions could be established such as:

  • Why would Lucy, the character from Peanuts, have made a good cartoonist according to Block?
  • What does Block mean when he says that the political cartoon is a means for “puncturing pomposity?”
  • How do political cartoonists help “the good guys?”
  • How do political cartoonists’ relationships with their newspapers differ?
  • What does Block say about the “fairness” of political cartoons? What different opinions about this are held?


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

ArtsEdge Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.

Common Core/State Standards

Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.

National Standards For Arts Education
National Standards in Other Subjects



Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Diane Dotson
Original Writer

Email Print Share


- +
Email a link to this page
Share This Page

Kennedy Center arts education resources have a new home!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  

ArtsEdge is an education program of

The Kennedy Center 

with the support of

The US Department of Education 

ARTSEDGE, part of the Rubenstein Arts Access Program, is generously funded by David Rubenstein.

Additional support is provided by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kennedy Center education and related artistic programming is made possible through the generosity of the National Committee
for the Performing Arts and the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts.

The contents of this Web site were developed under a grant from the U.S. Department of Education. However, those contents do not
necessarily represent the policy of the U.S. Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal government.
Unless otherwise stated, ArtsEdge materials may be copied, modified and otherwise utilized for non-commercial educational purposes
provided that ArtsEdge and any authors listed in the materials are credited and provided that you permit others to use them in the same manner.

Change Background:

Connect with us!    EMAIL US | YouTube | Facebook | iTunes | MORE!

© 1996-2019 John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts  
    Privacy Policy
| Terms and Conditions


You are now leaving the ArtsEdge website. Thank you for visiting!

If you are not automatically transferred, please click the link below:

ArtsEdge and The Kennedy Center are in no way responsible for the content of the destination site, its ongoing availability, links to other site or the legality or accuracy of information on the site or its resources.