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Designing an editorial cartoon

Although most journalists aren’t artists, they all need to be able to think artistically and help artists brainstorm thoughtful designs that go beyond the literal. This lesson helps all students develop this skill by asking students to design their own editorial cartoons and offer feedback on classmates’ cartoons. It also further develops the skills of identifying targets and satirical techniques introduced earlier in this unit.

Students will use background knowledge of satire and editorial cartoons (based on previous lessons) to develop their own editorial cartoon.

  • Students will brainstorm examples of satirical targets and consider ways those targets could be ridiculed.
  • Students will evaluate and offer feedback on their classmates’ cartoons.

Common Core State Standards



Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.


Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.


Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.


50 minutes

Materials / resources

Handout: Designing an editorial cartoon

Rubric: Editorial cartoons

Scratch paper and writing utensils

Lesson step-by-step

1. Introduction/Warm-up — 10 minutes

This lesson should come after What are editorial cartoons? which focuses on defining editorial cartoons. Do a quick recap of that lesson at beginning of class, ask students to recap the main points of the lesson, or incorporate the principles from this lesson as part of the warm-up activity below.

Distribute the handout “Designing an editorial cartoon.” As a warm-up, show students a few current editorial cartoons. (USA Today updates their cartoons daily and tends to have pretty accessible single-panel cartoons that work well for this.) Ask students to identify the target of each cartoon and the satirical techniques (see page 2 of handout) that were used to ridicule the target. Share answers. Some students might struggle with some of the traditional metaphors used in political editorial cartoons, such as donkeys and elephants. Use this as opportunity to talk about why cartoonists might use some of these metaphors–how they are a shorthand for repeating concepts/characters.

2. Finding targets — 5-10 minutes

Assign students to partners before the lesson, or allow students to choose their partners, depending on your classroom and goals for your students. Students will meet with their first assigned partner. They will brainstorm a list of eight possible targets, following Step 1 directions on the handout. Circulate and help/redirect as necessary. 

3. Ridiculing targets— 10 minutes

Students will meet with their second assigned partner. They will share their eight targets, pick three and brainstorm ways to ridicule this target, following Step 2 directions on the handout. Circulate and help/redirect as necessary.

4. Designing the cartoon — 15 minutes

Students will meet with their third assigned partner. They will share their three developed targets, pick one and design a cartoon, following Step 3 directions on the handout. Circulate and help/redirect as necessary.

5. Sharing cartoons — 10 minutes

Depending on time and size of class, ask some/all of the groups to share their cartoons with the class. If you are able to project the hand-drawn cartoons on a screen, that will work best. If not, students can describe their cartoon as they hold it up.

6. Homework

Each student designs one more stick-figure cartoon to share with the class the next day. Distribute the “Editorial cartoon rubric” and let students know which categories you will be assessing, such as Criticism and Satirical Techniques. Since all students are asked to complete this assignment, regardless of artistic skill level, do not assess Artistry for this assignment. (It is included on this rubric in case teachers would also like to use the rubric for editorial cartoons meant for publication.)


In a way, this lesson is the anti-differentiation lesson. Every student, regardless of their artistic skills, is involved in designing a cartoon. This helps reinforce the idea that modern journalists need to be members of a team, capable of helping out in multiple areas.

Extension: Editorial cartoons as weekly news quizzes

If you’re already using current events quizzes, consider adding one more question. Pick an editorial cartoon published from the week and ask students to explain what current event inspired it and what the artist is satirizing. This will keep students thinking about the intersection of art and criticism and will hopefully help them design better cartoons for their opinions section.