Young people are drawn to reading and drawing cartoons. But many young people define and restrict cartoons to the pictorial images of super heroes. This lesson is designed to draw upon the interest that young people have in cartoons, and at the same time introduce students to techniques of creating alternative styles. Based on essays and photos provided by Peace Corps Volunteers, students will create a narrative cartoon, a set of sequentially placed images that tell a story. The narrative cartoon may depict one activity or be a collage of various activities. See samples of the student art work from this lesson created by students from Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Chicago.
Six to eight 45–minute classes (length of project depends on complexity of drawing that students make)
Visual arts, language arts
9–12 (Can be modified for 5–8)
How does art convey meaning?
How are messages communicated through artistic styles?
8.5" x 11" heavy weight paper (bristol board works best)
permanent fine-tip marker
inking pen with fine tip
eraser (artgum erasers work best)
Narrative Cartoon Comparison Chart (PDF or RTF)
What's My Story? (PDF or RTF)
Evaluation Rubric for Narrative Cartoons (PDF or RTF)
(top of page)
Visual Arts 1—Understands and applies media, technique, and processes related to the visual arts
Benchmark—Applies media, techniques, and processes with sufficient skill, confidence, and sensitivity that one's intentions are carried out in artworks
Visual Arts 5: Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of others
Benchmark—Identifies intentions of those creating artworks
Language Arts 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Benchmark—Synthesizes a variety of types of visual information, including pictures and symbols, for research topics
Language Arts 5: Demonstrates competence in the general skills, and strategies for reading a variety of informational texts
Benchmark—Scans a passage to determine whether it contains relevant information.
- Collect relevant information from the Water in Africa website and create a series of images that tell a story.
- Use inking techniques to enhance the visual aspects of images.
- Use drawing styles to enhance the message of the story.
A day or two before introducing the lesson, have students bring in their favorite cartoon.
1. Before viewing examples of cartoons that the students have brought to class, have the students brainstorm the characteristics of a cartoon. Record responses on a class chart. During the brainstorming session, ask these questions:
2. Collect the cartoons the students brought in for their homework assignment. Post several of them in the classroom, and make overhead copies of one or two to use as examples. Working with the whole class, view the cartoons and compare them with the list of characteristics that were created during the brainstorming session. Discuss with students:
- What must a cartoon include to be considered a cartoon?
- Who are the characters in cartoons?
- Are the cartoons in color or black and white? (Does it make a difference?)
- What is the message of cartoons?
- Is the focus on the words or the drawing in a cartoon?
- How is a cartoon drawn? Realistically or abstractly?
- How is a cartoon organized? Are the pictures arranged in order or randomly placed?
- Are there many details in the drawings?
Because students are likely to be most familiar with the traditional super hero cartoons and cartoons found in local newspapers, begin making the transition at this point to looking at alternative examples of narrative cartoons. Non-super-hero examples may be found in alternative newspapers (often free), health center publications, and textbooks.
- How are these cartoons similar to, or different from, the characteristics listed?
- Are there additional characteristics that should be added or deleted?
3. Arrange students in groups of four. Give each group a super-hero cartoon and an alternative style narrative cartoon. A variety of alternative style narrative cartoons should be provided. Using the Narrative Cartoon Comparison Chart (PDF or RTF) have each group compare the cartoons and complete the group chart. Information may be recorded with words or illustrations.
4. Have each group record their responses on a class chart.
5. As a class, discuss similarities and differences between the two types of cartoons.
6. At this point students should have an understanding of the variety of technical styles and subject matter that may be found in cartoons.
- Cartoons can depict common daily activities and include common people.
- Images may be used to communicate the message or to enhance the written text.
- Images can be realistic or fanciful.
- Images may be as important to the cartoon as the text.
7. Review and discuss the essential questions with students before moving to the next step: "How do works of art convey meaning?" "How are messages communicated through artistic style?"
Days 2 and 3
1. Instruct students to collect information for their narrative cartoon from the photos and anecdotes provided in the Water in Africa website.
2. Have the students use the chart titled What's My Story (PDF or RTF) to record information they find interesting. They may write or draw their ideas as they search for information. The purpose of this exercise is to help students collect and organize a variety of information from which they will later choose their cartoon topic. At this point, students should not be concerned about the details of their cartoon, but only with collecting information they find interesting and feel may be enjoyable to work with.
1. Hold a class discussion that reviews the information the students collected.
Ask students what information interested them the most.
Ask what information would be the most exciting to illustrate, and if they were to get up in front of the class and tell a story from beginning to end, what information they would use.
2. Instruct the students to select information that will be used for one story idea and begin drawing a rough sketch or a rough draft of their narrative cartoon. At this point students may need to return to the Water in Africa website
to collect or refine information they've recorded.
3. Students must address the following points while creating their rough sketch.
Determine how the narrative cartoon will be told.
Determine placement of words in relation to pictures.
Determine if wording is necessary. If so, determine the type of wording (dialogue, thoughts, narration, commentary).
Panels are the individual cels or boxes that contain each image of the sequence. Determine how many panels will be needed and the size of panels.
Reminder: The narrative cartoon may contain a series of pictures highlighting a specific topic, or the cartoon may compare several topics.
1. Monitor students as they begin drawing the final copy of their narrative cartoon, using the rough sketch as a guide.
2. Instruct the students to first draw the outside borders of each panel, including a title panel. Panels may all be the same size or they may vary in size, however the number of panels drawn should fill the entire 8.5"x 11" paper.
3. After the panels have been drawn, have students begin drawing their narrative cartoons inside each panel.
Day 6 Until Complete
The last step in completing the narrative cartoon is to ink the pencil drawing. Tell students they should consider the following points when inking:
- The ink and dip pen is used for inking only the lines.
A fine tip marker is used to write the text.
After lines are inked, use ink and dip pen for adding patterns and shadows to give more depth and texture to each panel.
- Consider the entire page as a composition.
- Use correction fluid to make changes.
1. Have students complete peer evaluations by writing about the content of a classmate's narrative cartoon. To do this, have the students exchange cartoons. Then each student reads the narrative cartoon and completes the questions on the Narrative Comparison Chart (PDF or RTF) that was used at the beginning of the lesson.
2.. Using the information collected from the handout, have the students write responses to the essential questions. Students may share responses as a class or in small groups.
3. Use the Evaluation Rubric for Narrative Cartoons (PDF or RTF) to evaluate individual students' work.
Capacchione, Lucia. The Creative Journal for Children. Boston: Shambhala, 1989.
McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics. New York: Kitchen Sink Press, 1994.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus: A Survivor's Tale. New York: Random House, 1986. (This two-volume story is based on the author's father's experience as a concentration camp survivor and is an excellent example of a narrative cartoon.)
About the Author
David McKoski teaches art and Chinese at Roberto Clemente Community Academy in Chicago. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines from 1985 to 1987 and is a Peace Corps Fellows graduate from DePaul University's Urban Teacher Corps.