Friday, November 29, 2013

Using Cartoons to Persuade

Using Cartoons to Persuade
by Susan Stephenson,

You may remember that at my website, I offer free PDFs to help parents, teachers and librarians - or anyone interested in children's literacy/learning. One is Using Comic Editors with Kids, a free PDF booklet with lots of ideas and resources to get kids started with comic editors. Further to the ideas I listed in that booklet under the heading, Ideas for Using Comics at Home and School, today I want to discuss encouraging kids to use cartoons to persuade others about something.

Persuasive text creation is a very important part of the Australian Curriculum, and I know it's a priority in US schools too. Creating a cartoon to persuade is a nice bite-sized activity that helps kids explore the basics, without daunting them with too much writing.

When we use persuasion in communication, we try to convince readers/viewers of an opinion or belief. We may want them to support a cause we're passionate about, or change their minds about something. Often we use humour to do that, or try to evoke emotion in our audience.

Using a cartoon to persuade is just like any other kind of communication. To be effective, kids must think of their audience, their purpose, and how they intend achieving that purpose. Let's look at some examples of cartoons I made for the purposes of this post, and my own process in creating them.

First of all, I cast around for ideas of subjects I care enough about to try to persuade others to think my way. Luckily, I found some! For quickness, I decided to use ToonDoo for all my cartoons.

Library Cuts
In the cartoon above, Library Cuts, I anticipated my audience would be anyone who reads my blog - mostly parents (Voters!), teachers and librarians. I decided my purpose was to make a point about something I deplore: budget cuts to public and school libraries. I wanted to be light-hearted but with an underlying edge of seriousness. I thought about the way school libraries would end up if politicians continue to slash budgets, and "skeleton staffs" popped into my mind. I realised I could play on the word "skeleton" and make a visual impact with real skeletons. ToonDoo had skeletons and it only took me a minute to find a desk, books and child via their VERY handy search feature. To underline the austerity of libraries without the beating heart, the librarians, I removed the colour from the image too. I decided my text would sound better if written in the very jargon political edicts prefer, and came up with what you see above. Hopefully, viewers of my cartoon will think about the fact that libraries need money to survive, and will support their local and school libraries and staffs.

In my next cartoon, Marvin, my audience was the same. My purpose was to persuade others that if we want kids to LOVE reading, restricting them to books branded with their reading age or chronological age may not be the best course. I created a cartoon that simply had an authority figure telling Marvin to quit reading the book he was engrossed in, and go choose a Grade 2 book. I'm not sure it's persuasive. There's no call to action or explanation. But maybe it will provoke thought about an issue I find concerning.

Read to Kids
Again, I envisaged the same audience for my third cartoon, Read to Kids. (Children may also find that the audience for their creations is the same - classmates perhaps, or family members. But they need to understand that when audience does change, lots of things like tone, vocabulary choice etc may need to change too.) My purpose was to have parents think about how much time they spend actually reading to their kids. I played word association with "read" and came up with "read the riot act". Sadly, I remember days as a teacher and a parent when I put lots of energy into reading the riot act, and approached read-alouds with less enthusiasm. So my audience for Read to Kids is other parents and teachers who may need a timely reminder.

Newspaper cartoonists have been using their creations to persuade, provoke thought, stimulate discussion and make political and social commentary for years. Sharing selected such cartoons with kids will give them great models to discuss and learn from. While I don't think students under 12 necessarily need to understand the use of irony and symbolism by cartoonists, many children will have an instinctive understanding of the use of humour generally. Discussing techniques cartoonists use will help them not only create their own cartoons, but develop a better understanding of the cartoons they see. I like this list of 10 Things to Look for in Cartoons from VCE Study Guides. Mark Anderson's Andertoons is a good place to browse cartoons online (using parental/teacher guidance as always). Look out for books of cartoons too.

If you're interested in articles about children's own writing, you might like: Biff! Zap! Pow! Using Comic Editors for Education, Tips and Prompts for Young WritersFast and Fun Writing with Kids,  Get Kids Writing with Lists,  Helpful Resources for Young WritersStart Kids Writing with Fun Image Editors  and Quick Writing Online.

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