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Background For Teachers:
Political cartoons communicate powerful ideas often in a humorous, enlightening manner, by incorporating the events of the period into an easily understandable format most people could relate to even with limited reading abilities. Symbols, caricature, drawings and exaggerations used by the cartoonist point out themes and problems of any given time period.
This lesson can be used throughout the year. However, I introduce political cartoons with the Gilded Age and Thomas Nast. Then I continue to use cartoons with the students for the rest of the year.
Cagle.com also provides lesson plans on their website for grades 9-12.
Student Prior Knowledge:
Background knowledge about the time period is important for student understanding of political cartoons. Students need to know universal symbols, such as Uncle Sam, doves representing peace, and so on. They also need to recognize characters of the time period.
So, during the Gilded Age, one would need to recognize visual presentations of men like John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and J.P. Morgan.
After modeling several cartoons, put students into small groups. They will look at a series of cartoons and follow the steps above to interpret them.
Finally, give each student their own cartoon and ask them to individually interpret the meaning based on the time period.
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