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June 2005 - Issue No. #57 (p. 10)

Intercultural Communication through Political Cartoons

by Joan Kelly

Fox Chapel Area High School, Pittsburgh, USA

Political cartoons grab the essence of the world's events. Readers can only interpret the cartoonist's intent by sharing his cultural perspective and by keeping current on world, national and local news. ESL teachers can clarify and use international political cartoons to advance intercultural awareness, communication and competency among their students, their students' families and the school community.

Keeping informed on issues and events is a responsibility of citizenship. Many secondary school students and young adults, however, have only a nascent interesting in political issues and world events. Various classroom activities, such as listening competitions, guessing dialogs, or playing the roles of the cartoon figures can spark students' interest in current events. International students may enjoy listening as their ESL teacher presents, simplifies and interprets American political cartoons. For example, a complicated cartoon is simplified by displaying it in stages, with overlays added to a transparency of the basic cartoon.

ESL students become more engaged as they search the Internet for political cartoons from their own cultures. Online newspapers such as The Bombay Times, La Folha and Saigon Giai Phong, for example, display cartoons from India, Brazil and Vietnam. ESL teachers can draw upon the families of their students for cultural interpretation of these cartoons to prepare for the students' own intercultural discussions with classmates. In addition, students can present their native cartoons to cultural geography classes and display them where students gather. As new cultural experts, ESL students share the teaching and the learning roles with their instructor, which increases the cultural competency of all.

Resources for Political Cartoons

  • Brooks, C. (2005) Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year 2005. US: Pelican.

  • Cagle, D. (2004) Best Political Cartoons of the Year (2005 Ed.). US: Que.

  • Mankoff, R. (2000) New Yorker Book of Political Cartoons. US: Bloomberg.

  • Regan, C. (1994) Thin Black Lines Rides Again: Political Cartoons & Development Education. ISBN 0 948838 30 2.
    Order on-line at:
    * (click Catalog, then Development)
    * (search Catalog)

This article is based on a presentation given by the author at the TESOL 2005 Conference in San Antonio, Texas.

Joan Kelly (ESL Teacher), Fox Chapel Area High School, 611 Field Club Road, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15238 USA
E-mail: Joan Kelly Joan


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