Political Cartoons of the American Revolution

Essential Question: To what extent are political cartoons an effective means to promote a political position or ideal?

This lesson is designed to help students understand how to break down the symbolism, deeper meaning, and most importantly perspective of a political cartoon using the American Revolution as the context. The students will be guided through six political cartoons from both Patriot and Loyalist perspectives during the American Revolution, and will attempt to distinguish the importance or meaning of (already identified and pointed out) symbolism along with how that influences their opinion on what the author’s perspective might be. Without structure and guidance from the instructor, however, the images might be too challenging for students to analyze, which is why it is important to point out important symbolism/meaning in the image and have students think critically on how to interpret a deeper meaning from the cartoons.

(I had a plan for verbally walking through the images, but for this post I will transcribe what I planned on explaining verbally into a written paragraph for each image ASAP!)

18th Century Advertisements: Then vs. Now

In this activity, students will be using the “Chronicling America” online tool from the Library of Congress to search 18th century newspapers for pages with advertisements. These are easy to locate if the students are told to search “advertisements” within an 18th century date range, and the results are quite substantial for students to choose from. The purpose of this activity would be for students to understand how trade, markets, occupations, and advertisements have changed between the 18th century and now. Instead of have students locate modern advertisements, which could be an entirely different and interesting activity, students will use only the Chronicling America newspapers to discover four different types of advertisements.

First, the students will find a worker or business that would still be relevant today. The screenshot used in this post shows an example of an advertisement from a business/worker that would still be relevant today: a Goldsmith/Jeweler. The students would be asked to screenshot the advertisement on their iPad, insert that screenshot into a pages document, and below write at least 1 sentence about the ad and 1-2 sentences on why that ad would still be relevant. After this has been completed, the students will find their second advertisement that would be a business/worker that would not still be relevant today. Students will do the same process — copy their screenshot into the document and write about 2-3 sentences similar to the last ad.

Next, the students will be doing a very similar process to the two ads for workers/businesses, but this time they will be searching for specific products being advertised. For these two advertisements, students will screenshot the ad and put it in a document as the have done before, then write a few sentences that explain what the product is. One of these product advertisements should be for a product that would still be relevant today, and the other should be for a product that is no longer relevant today.

Finally, the students will finish their document with a recap of what they interpreted from the relevant/irrelevant advertisements. This recap should summarize the student’s inference as to why the relevant businesses/products are still important or relevant today, as well as why the irrelevant businesses/products would not have a purpose today. As the last step, students will try to make a connection between the changes in advertising/products/businesses over the last 200+ years and what that might say about how American society has changed along with it. There wouldn’t necessarily be a right or wrong answer to this question, rather it would be an exercise for students to practice their critical thinking and inference skills.

Hopefully this activity would be enjoyable to the students based on how big of a role advertising has in most modern student’s lives, plus critical thinking and inference are very important abilities that students should be able to practice as often as possible.

Patriots vs. Loyalists Discussion-Based Lesson

After spending a few weeks talking about colonial America and events leading up to the Revolutionary War, I thought it would be beneficial and important to have students view the historical context from the lens of both American Patriots and British Loyalists. The discussion-based learning approaches discussed in last weeks class were a solid fit for this analysis of perspective, and I decided to use the fishbowl strategy since the class size was large and splitting the class in half would allow/encourage introverted students to be quiet while the extroverted students dominate the conversation.

As a way to “spice up” the fishbowl style discussion approach, I decided to assign 16 of 29 students to either the “Sons of Liberty” (to represent patriots) and the “Parliament” (to represent loyalists) and had 8 students in each group. These groups were actively participating in a debate in the center of the room, and the remaining 13 students were assigned as “undecided” colonists that must choose to side with either the patriots or the loyalists. The 13 “undecided” colonists were assigned to take notes during the debate, then given 10 minutes after the debate ends to write a short statement paragraph explaining which side they will take and why.

Student were not randomly assigned to groups, since I already know who are the dominant speakers and who are the introverts, and I tried to accommodate students for the option they prefer. At the end of writing summaries and deciding on which side to align with, students were asked to join the group that they chose so those in the debate could feel like there has been a competition. Patriots were expected to win, mainly because I knew their would be an American romanticism regardless of the facts, so picking a “winner” of the debate is not necessarily representative of how information was presented — I made sure to clear that up with the students before the end of class!

This seemed to be a great way of engaging students in the lesson, however I could tell that a few students tasked with taking notes and writing a summary were likely distracted doing other things on their iPad. (Students at my school regularly use the iPads to take notes and write assignments, however the notes/summary from students who used pencil and paper were significantly more detailed and “engaged” than anything I received from students using their iPads. One thing I learned by doing this lesson is that it would be smart to require students to use pen/pencil and paper when taking notes and writing their summary, even if they typically use their iPad, only because the debate requires instructor focus which makes it more difficult to ensure everyone is on task.

Reflection on “Mission US” Lesson

This mini-lesson, much like the last one, could have obviously been refined but I still felt good about how successful, engaging, and organized it was. Student engagement seemed to be a success, and although I gave no assessment it seemed like students learned at least something about the Townshend Acts, loyalists v patriots, and other Road to Revolution topics. My main goal of this lesson was to have students critically thinking about decisions that would follow either a loyalist, patriot, or neutral path, and based on the participation I think there was some understanding of which choices would favor each “path.”

I was able to sense that there is refining to be done on the organization of this activity, such as planning further ahead about which decisions to make as a class and which decisions are indifferent enough to make an executive decision on. After doing this mini-lesson and using Mission US in class again, I found that the “Plickers” option can be great for engagement but a verbal response from students is much, much more efficient. The amount of ground covered in the lesson when we used verbal response was at least twice as much as when Plickers was used, but the engagement was not quite as widespread across the class.

Timing and work flow was substantially better when working with a class of 7 as opposed to working with a class of 30. Honestly, though, I’m not entirely sure why this is the case since the amount of time collecting plicker responses from 30 students was barely more than collecting from 7. My best guess is that when I do the Mission US lessons with a full class I go into a lot more detail (or perhaps even tangents) because of questions the students have.

The most important thing I learned from doing this mini-lesson was feeling how efficient and smooth the Mission US program could be in a smaller setting. By using what I noticed and felt when doing this lesson with a small class, I feel as though I can at least somehow improve how efficiently the program can be used in my full size class setting!