Toons help you learn more easily

25th January 2008 at 00:00

Political cartoons can be a challenge for GCSE history pupils - deconstructing and explaining the meaning of different parts in their context is no mean feat.

After struggling to dryly teach the technique to a non-enthusiastic class, I finally gave Year 10 pupils a crash course in the basic techniques of drawing a cartoon - context, caption, caricature, personification, placement, symbolism and sizing.

This can be done with other year groups, too. Year 8 pupils can use political cartoons to illustrate the "real" reason Henry VIII broke with Rome or the nature of Oliver Cromwell's rule; Year 9 pupils can use cartoons to illuminate Sir Douglas Haig's role in the Battle of the Somme or the impact of industrialisation.

It is fun and motivational for pupils who understand the historical context but who struggle to articulate their ideas in writing. Cartooning also helps pupils understand the nature of interpretation. When studying Cromwell's rule, for example, the cartoons can be drawn from his perspective.

If the artist's identity is kept secret, the class can discuss how useful or reliable the drawings are. This helps pupils understand sources as evidence, rather than just information. They can also effectively explain their ideas, leading to an explosion in peer teaching.

Cartoons are also a valuable mnemonic revision aid for visual learners. Meanwhile, complex historical periods can be summarised without losing the subtleties, which can happen when topics are reduced to key words and cards.

Anna Jordan is head of history at Derby High School.

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