Posts Tagged ‘visual literacy’

6 Reasons Why Editorial Cartoons Are an Essential Teaching Tool

“One strong editorial cartoon is worth a hundred solemn editorials.”
—William Zinsser, On Writing Well


CC0 Public Domain, via Pixabay

My seventh-grade social studies teacher gave extra credit to students who brought in editorial cartoons for class discussions. Luckily for me, stacks of newspapers were common in my house. My father was a printing-press operator and a newspaper addict. We got three newspapers daily and sometimes more when my father couldn’t resist a newsstand. So I got a lot of extra credit that year.

Editorial cartoons are all that I remember from that class. My newspaper monopoly aside, I remember being captivated by grown-up cartoons and wanted to understand them, which is how I became interested in current events and issues. I still get excited when I see editorial cartoons. An astute cartoon is an oasis in a wit-starved world.

To accompany our Editorial Cartoons Curriculum Guide, here are six reasons why editorial cartoons are an enduring curriculum essential.

Why do you think editorial cartoons are an essential teaching tool?

Share your thoughts with us on Twitter #ProQuest or in the comments below.

ProQuest editors are continually adding editorial cartoons to ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher. Don’t have it? Request a trial.

Developing Visual Literacy

Dadès Gorges, Morocco. April 2017. Photo by Rachel Ligairi.

When I was in Morocco this spring, I took pictures of all the usual things, like stunning geometric architecture, carefully piled spices for sale, and lines of camels walking among majestic Sahara dunes. But this image, of no great photographic value, turned out to be one of my favorites because it suggests a story.

If you “read,” or understood,  a story from this photo the first time you glanced at it, that’s probably because you’re visually literate. At some point, you developed the skill of analyzing visual clues related to subject, framing, angle, light, focus, composition, and context in order to understand an image’s purpose and perhaps even something about the place or people it represents. You have probably been using this skill long enough that you do it without thinking, but that won’t be true for someone less experienced. And according to Common Core and McRel national standards, having such strategies on hand to interpret the content and style of visual media is a must for today’s students.

So how might you guide students to help them move from a passive viewing of this photo to a well-supported reading of it? One way might be to lead them through this exercise, available from the National Archives. Let’s work through the exercise’s steps together, using the photo featured here.

  • A quick scan of the photo reveals that it’s a candid documentary type image. The caption offers the location, date, and photographer’s name.
  • An observation of the photo’s parts reveals a man dressed in traditional clothing squatting to take an action shot of a man in athletic clothing climbing a rock face. On or near the rock face itself is graffiti and some kind of cable or line.
  • In trying to make sense of the photo, students may look at the caption to see who took the photo, where it was from, and when. With a little bit of research, they would learn that I am not a native of Morocco, that the Dadès Gorges is a dramatic mountainous landscape popular among rock climbers, and that spring is a common time for climbing enthusiasts and tourists alike to visit the area.
  • Based on all of this information, students can make some inferences as to why the photo was taken and what story or stories this photo is telling. To help them make this final leap, you might ask questions like the following:
    • Where would you guess each person in this photo is from? What might their clothing tell you about them?
    • What might their relationship be?
    • Why might the man in blue be taking a photo of the man in orange?
    • Why might the photographer have chosen to frame this image to include both the climber and the man photographing him? What is the effect of giving each figure equal focus and space in the image?
    • What might this photo tell you about tourism and environmental protections in Morocco? What sources could you find that would deepen this knowledge?

Students should now be able to write a paragraph about this photo. And the story they suss out will likely be something similar—at least in broad strokes—to the one I experienced and intended in taking the photo, which might be fun to share at the end of the exercise. And if the paragraph a student wrote is not close, that’s fine too, as long as the student can muster visual and contextual evidence to support their interpretation.

Here’s my story:

The man in blue was a local Moroccan guide who had been hired to lead my small tour group through the Dadès Gorges. The area is quite dependent on tourists, both those that come to climb there and those passing through on their way to the sand dunes of Merzouga. One of the men in our group was an Austrian mountaineer. At one point, after we had passed several foreign climbers, the mountaineer started to scale one of the walls we were walking by. This delighted our tour guide, who grabbed the mountaineer’s camera and excitedly started taking several shots, despite the Austrian’s protests that the climbing he was doing was utterly basic and not worth photographing.

My purpose in taking the photo was to document this unusual moment of a Moroccan photographing a tourist, since it’s nearly always the other way around, and to explore the idea of what people choose to photograph when they are confronted with foreign people or places. All day, we tourists had been taking photos of things that were utterly ordinary to the locals, including food, clothing, and transportation methods that seemed unique compared to our home countries. And now our guide was doing the same—with the difference that his photos were not on his own camera. Delighted though he was by what to him was a rather novel sight, he was still an employee catering to the satisfaction of one of his employers, a mountaineer accustomed to the Swiss Alps, who he assumed would want a photo of himself a couple feet off the ground. So the photo is also meant to turn on its head the usual power relationship between the subject and creator of travel images. 

For more visual literacy resources, see the CultureGrams Teaching Activities and extensive Photo Gallery.

New in ProQuest SIRS Discoverer!

Just in time for back-to-school, these following features are now available in ProQuest SIRS Discoverer!


 NEW Pro/Con Leading Issues Feature


Pro/Con Leading Issues in ProQuest SIRS Discoverer


Editorially created and compiled in support of upper elementary and middle school research and ELA writing requirements:

  • Hand-selected Leading Issues and age-appropriate sources with SIRS Discoverer users in mind
  • Each Leading Issue includes: Topic Overview, Essential Question and Pro/Con Articles, Viewpoints, Visual Literacy, Critical Thinking Questions, iThink Skills Tutor, Related Links
  • 50 Pro/Con Leading Issues in first release including Animal Rights, Bullying and Junk Food


NEW Animal Facts Feature


Animal Facts in ProQuest SIRS Discoverer


Created to provide content and context for this popular research topic in elementary school:

  • Each fact page includes: scientific name, key facts, photos, and links to more information
  • Scaffolded learning with easy-to-understand language to engage younger students and links for older students to dig deeper
  • 50+ animal fact pages in first release


See more about these new features in the SIRS Discoverer 2014 Back to School update. And to fully get up to speed, sign up for free online training classes!

Meet Common Core Standards with Infographics


Created by Jeff Wyman at wordle.net

The word cloud infographic above from Wordle, which organizes keywords from this post, shows the value of presenting information visually. Infographics are powerful and persuasive visual representations of information or data. Common Core State Standards require that students be able to find, understand, evaluate, and create visual depictions. Infographics are a great way to meet these visual literacy-focused Common Core Standards.

Common Core and Visual Literacy

Here are some Common Core Standards that relate directly to visual literacy:

  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.
  • CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.

These standards seem complicated, but the concepts behind them are rooted in a long-established learning goal: visual literacy. Visual literacy includes the ability to find, understand, and evaluate information presented visually. A key challenge for educators is training students to think critically about visual representations. Enter infographics.

Infographic 1


The benefits of infographics are twofold: they help students understand data and information, and they help students learn to think critically about visual representations.

A Common Core-aligned infographics lesson should cover three major steps:

  • Finding reputable infographics on a subject of interest
  • Analyzing infographics, paying attention to layout, content, and story
  • Creating infographics to include in a report or oral presentation


Check out these helpful infographics resources:

Infographics will engage students, help them meet Common Core Standards, and help them achieve visual literacy. Three birds, one stone. Done!

Teaching with Editorial Cartoons

ProQuest SIRS Issues Researcher database is rich in graphic content, including a large collection of editorial cartoons that offer insight into key social issues of the past and present. Editorial cartoons can be valuable learning tools for young researchers. Students are naturally drawn to cartoons, and these primary source documents grab their attention, are thought-provoking, and are often quite funny. Assignments based on analyzing editorial cartoons can help students develop the visual literacy and critical thinking skills they will need as they continue their education.

Many of the 335 SIRS Issues Researcher Leading Issues highlight editorial cartoons. These cartoons can help students understand the pros and cons of the issue and encourage them to learn more about it. Here are just a few examples of Leading Issues that use editorial cartoons that may spark an interest in your students: Body Image, Business Ethics, Controversial Mascots, Cursive Writing, Helicopter Parents, Internet and Mobile Advertising and Tanning Salons.

SIRS Discoverer & Common Core

Check it out!  Visual Literacy – part of SIRS Discoverer’s special  Spotlight of the Month – directly supports Common Core Reading Standards detailed in Integration of Knowledge and Ideas category.

Visual LiteracyEvery month, a highly-visual graphic with corresponding critical thinking questions is featured.  The image, questions and corresponding article are carefully selected and crafted by SIRS Editorial staff in support of Common Core Reading Standards requiring students to:

  • Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.
  • Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).

For more information about how SIRS Discoverer aligns to Common Core Standards, view this datasheet.

SIRS Issues Researcher: Start Here for Leading Issues


Click on an icon to see related issues or hover to link to a topic overview.

SIRS Issues Researcher’s topic browse features allows students to explore topics for ideas, relationships, and context in highly-accessible designs.  Users can browse 320+ Leading Issues through four visual tools: Top 10, A-Z list, Groups list, and Visual Browse.  All browse features – including the popular Visual Browse seen here – help students to select and explore research topics in an interactive manner in support of visual literacy standards.  If your students need to identify a complex Leading Issues for research, start with SIRS Issues Researcher’s visual browse tools.