Capturing the attention of and engaging pupils during lessons is at times challenging and frustrating. Yet this is important if pupils are to benefit from the lessons taught. One teacher used cartoons during a Science lesson and found that her pupils not only enjoyed themselves but also gained a better understanding of the concepts. So what is the appeal of cartoons?
Concept Cartoons as a Teaching Strategy
Science concepts are often abstract and difficult to grasp, especially for children. And when teachers try to explain them in as simple a manner as possible, they run the danger of oversimplifying these concepts.
It is also common for pupils to develop misconceptions about these concepts. How then can we help our pupils to fully comprehend complex science topics?
One teacher decided to use cartoons to help her Primary 4 class learn about Matter. Ms Farah Aida Rahmat, who was then teaching at Pasir Ris Primary School, also tried to observe and document its effectiveness through action research.
What are Concept Cartoons?
Ms Farah made use of “concept cartoons” in her lesson. Concept cartoons are “cartoon-style drawings presenting characters with different viewpoints around a particular situation” (Roesky & Kennepohl, 2008, p. 1355).
According to researchers Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor (1999), concept cartoons are extremely versatile as a teaching strategy. They may be employed across subjects, such as in the development of reading skills in English, or the teaching of problem solving in Math.
Concept cartoons may be also used at different stages of a lesson – as a trigger to get students to tune in, as an activity to elicit pupils’ responses and generate discussion, or as a means of summarizing the topic at the end.
Ms Farah found such cartoons particularly useful for clearing up her pupils’ misconceptions about the Science topic, Matter.
Why Use Concept Cartoons?
Clearly, there are many benefits of using concept cartoons.
- Grabs attention
Kids and adults alike like cartoons. They usually associate cartoons with fun and humour. Concept cartoons thus provide an appealing and non-threatening way to represent ideas. Pupils are more likely to be enthusiastic towards the activity to come and will then be more focused and receptive to learning.
- Generates participation
In cartoons, the ideas have to be presented succinctly. These ideas can be so thought-provoking that pupils are drawn into “participating” in the dialogue by “becoming” one of the characters, giving rise to vibrant class discussions. The lesson thus becomes more interactive and student-centred as pupils are actively involved in their learning.
- Develops skills
During discussion of the concept cartoons, pupils have to verbalize their ideas and thoughts. They are motivated to take a stand on the different ideas presented. If they disagree, they may present and defend their points of view. This process allows teachers to gain important insights into their pupils’ understanding. Participating in such discussion also lets pupils hone their communication skills.
Using Concept Cartoons
(Source: Keogh & Naylor, 1999, p. 433)
The concept cartoon above was developed to address the misconception that “some materials have the property of making things warm” (from http://www.conceptcartoons.com/). Each character in the cartoon conveys a particular idea “spoken” in the speech bubble.
The cartoon is useful as a teaching tool to invite pupils to voice out their opinions and provide reasons for their ideas. The informal nature of concept cartoons encourages pupils to present their views without fear of being judged. This opens up an opportunity for teachers to probe and clarify their pupils’ thoughts on the topic.
Visit the Concept Cartoons website to learn more about concept cartoons and how you can use them in your classroom.
Keogh, B., & Naylor, S. (1999). Concept cartoons, teaching and learning in science: An evaluation. International Journal of Science Education, 21(4), 431-446.
Keogh, B., Naylor, S., & Downing, B. (2003). Children’s interactions in the classroom: Argumentation in primary science. Paper presented at the European Science Education Research Association Conference, Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands.
Rahmat, F. A. (2009). Use of concept cartoons as a strategy to address pupils’ misconceptions in primary four science topic on matter. In A. L. Tan, H. M. Wong, & S.,
Tan (Eds.), Action research: Empowering my practice in teaching science (pp. 11-37). Singapore: National Institute of Education and Science Exploria, East Zone Centre of Excellence for Primary Science.
Roesky, H. W., & Kennepolh, D. (2008). Drawing attention with chemistry cartoons. Journal of Chemical Education, 85(10), 1355-1360.