Lesson 6E: Political Cartoons about Progressivism/Conservation Debate

Lesson 6E: Political Cartoons about Progressivism/Conservation Debate     Grade: 7-10     Time: 1-3 class periods

Cross Curricular/Cross Lesson: 1C: Historical Context of Conservation; 2A: Influence; 3A: The Progressives; 3B: Conservationists, Preservationists and Capitalists; 3C: Government Power; 4A: Conservation vs Preservation; 4B: Influence of the Arts on Policy; 6D: That’s a Wrap

PDE Academic Standards: 1.6.8/11; 4.8.7-12; 7.1.9; 7.4.9; 8.3.9; 9.2.8/11; 9.3.8/12



–Students will trace the change in attitude of environmental issues over time through the use of media

–Students will gain an understanding of how events can be interpreted by media

–Students will analyze how the media uses certain tactics to make a point about a certain event or person



Seeking the Greatest Good

Political Cartoon Powerpoint (polcar2)

Political cartoon analysis worksheet (Appendix E)

Library of Congress American Memory Project: http://memory.loc.gov/learn///features/political_cartoon/index.html


Anticipatory Set:  (2min)      “Moment of Zen”       Discuss the quote as it relates to both students and the topic.

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.”

                                                                                                                        –Elbert Hartford


–View Seeking the Greatest Good in its entirety

Analyzing the Document  (Taken from the Library of Congress.  This step can be skipped if students have experience analyzing political cartoons)

–Share a current political cartoon with younger students to introduce the ideas of symbolism, humor, exaggeration, and caricature in editorial cartoons. Begin by assigning the same cartoon, to each group. In addition to the worksheet, use the questions below to aid students in delving deeper into the art of editorial cartoons. Lead a whole-class discussion of the cartoon.


1. Symbols are used in cartoons to visually present abstract ideas. Many such as Uncle Sam are widely recognized. What symbols are used in this cartoon? Can you think of any other symbols you have seen pictured in editorial cartoons?

2. Cartoonists employ humor to make powerful statements in an effective, less heavy-handed manner. Does this cartoon use humor to make its point? If so, how? Is it sarcastic? Ironic? Ridiculing?

3. Exaggeration is what sets editorial cartoons apart; they must grab the reader and deliver a message in a few seconds. What is exaggerated in this cartoon, and what purpose does it serve? Caricature exaggerates or distorts a person’s prominent feature(s) to allow the viewer to identify him or her quickly. How is caricature used in this cartoon?


The Conservation Debate through Cartoons

Use the rest of the power point to show the students several cartoons, divided into Eras – The 1890s-1920s; the 1950s-1970s; 2000-2012.  Have the students record the characteristics of cartoons and give a brief explanation of what the cartoonist is trying to say.

–Break the students into 3 groups and assign them one of the 3 Eras.  Have them revisit the cartoons in their era and record more detailed descriptions on their worksheets.  Have each group share out the general characteristics and methods used in the cartoons as well as the general argument the cartoons were trying to make.

–As a class, answer the following questions:

1.  How has cartoon technique changed in the last 100 years? Do they still use the features of irony, exaggeration, caricature, symbols, emotions, humor, ridicule and sarcasm?

2.  Are the themes in the cartoon similar or different for each era?  What can you say about the        conservation movement now as opposed to then?  Is it more forceful, more lax, more impatient, more                    patient?


Fine Art Extension: Creating Cartoons

After analyzing the four featured documents, make a list of the issues that were most important during the debates on conservation, such as the midnight forests, government land use control, Gifford Pinchot tenure as Chief Forester, The Taft Administration’s backroll of many efforts, the Hetch Hetchy Controversy and the Mining and RR interests as revealed in the documents and as described in the students’ textbooks.  If during an election year, match the topics with the appropriate candidates. Instruct students to create their own political cartoons and to accompany each with a written explanation of the cartoon’s main idea and the techniques used to convey that idea. Provide the following advice: Start with a single, clear idea. Avoid cluttering the cartoon with too many elements (unless central to its meaning). Use words and visual elements to make a single point. Be sure that the most important visual element stands out. Exaggerate for a reason, and don’t overdo it. Avoid using too many words, and make sure the ones you use are legible.


Extension: Connecting to the Newspaper

Organize students into small groups and direct them to brainstorm current environmental issues being debated at the local, state, national and global levels. Record their results on four lists and display the lists where the entire class can view them. As a whole class, identify those issues that could be considered reform ideas. Assign students the task of looking through newspapers and periodicals for political cartoons relating to these issues. Instruct them to mark the source and date on each cartoon. Encourage them to add to the list as they encounter cartoons about issues not previously identified. Collect and post the cartoons on a bulletin board and at the end of the designated period, discuss their findings and how they might relate to the issues of the Progressive Era.


Closure/Summary:            (3min)

Students should answer the Key Question:

Describe the nation’s attitude toward conservation in the years before Pinchot and the years after Pinchot.


Students will be evaluated on their responses and projects/presentations

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