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The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Presentations and Activities > It's No Laughing Matter
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About This Activity

Political Cartoons: Pictures with a Point

A political cartoon is a cartoon that makes a point about a political issue or event. You can find them in any daily newspaper, but they won’t be in the comics section. Instead, look on the editorial pages – they’re right next to the editorial columns, and across from the opinion essays. You can also find them in newsmagazines and on political Web sites.

Political cartoons can be very funny, especially if you understand the issue that they’re commenting on. Their main purpose, though, is not to amuse you but to persuade you. A good political cartoon makes you think about current events, but it also tries to sway your opinion toward the cartoonist’s point of view. The best political cartoonist can change your mind on an issue without you even realizing how he or she did it.

Cartoonists’ Persuasive Techniques

Cartoonists use several methods, or techniques, to get their point across. Not every cartoon includes all of these techniques, but most political cartoons include at least a few. Some of the techniques cartoonists use the most are symbolism, exaggeration, labeling, analogy, and irony.

Once you learn to spot these techniques, you’ll be able to see the cartoonist’s point more clearly. You should also be aware of any political slant, or bias, that he or she might have. When you know where the cartoonist is coming from, it’s easier to make up your own mind.

You might also start watching out for the persuasive techniques used in other media, such as political ads and TV news programs. There are a lot of people out there trying to change your mind – it’s a good idea to be aware of how they’re doing it.

Using This Activity

How to Use the Model

In this activity, you’ll learn about cartoonists’ persuasive techniques.

The model shows a political cartoon and a list of persuasive techniques that cartoonists frequently use to make their point. Click on the technique labels on the right side of the cartoon to reveal where in the cartoon that persuasive technique was used.

How to Use the "Test Yourself!" Cartoons

In these practice activities, your task is to locate and properly label the persuasive techniques in each cartoon. Study the cartoon to decide where the cartoonist has used a persuasive technique. Then drag the label across the cartoon and drop it in the spot that correctly illustrates that persuasive technique (hint: look for the illuminated boxes). If you are correct, the label will lock into place! Keep trying until you have identified all the persuasive techniques in that cartoon. Beware… not every cartoon has every technique, and you may use only one persuasive technique label per spot.