Legislative Branch

Lesson Plans: Constitution Scavenger Hunt with Political Cartoons

Summary

In this lesson, students will analyze 16 political cartoons drawn by Clifford and Jim Berryman during the early to mid-20th century. They will search through the Constitution and associate each cartoon with a specific clause. Through networking exercises, students will analyze all 16 cartoons and read the entire Constitution. They will learn about the outline and structure of the Constitution, as well as the content of many of its clauses.

Rationale

Understanding the Constitution is a vital element of the study of U.S. History and American government. Additionally, studying political cartoons allows students to enhance the social studies skills of understanding, applying, analyzing, and evaluating information.

Guiding Question

How are the provisions of the U.S. Constitution visually represented in popular media?

Materials

16 Political Cartoon Facsimiles

The Constitution of the United States: A Transcript

2 Worksheets

Answer Key for Worksheet 2

Recommended Grade Levels

Grades 7-12

Courses

U.S. History; U.S. Government; Civics

Topics included in this lesson

Articles of the U.S. Constitution, Congressional Powers, Congressional Rules and Procedures, Congressional Leadership, Legislative Process, the Electoral College, Presidential Power/Authority, the Supreme Court, and the Amendment Process

Featured Documents

This lesson features 16 political cartoons that highlight key constitutional principles.

The Center for Legislative Archives maintains approximately 2,400 original pen-and-ink drawings by cartoonists Clifford K. Berryman and his son, Jim Berryman, in the U.S. Senate Collection.

Clifford and Jim Berryman were among Washington's best-known and most-admired graphic political commentators from 1898 to 1965. Clifford K. Berryman drew for the Washington Post from 1890 until 1907, and then for the Evening Star from 1907 until his death in 1949. His son, Jim, joined the Evening Star in 1935 and drew for the paper until his retirement in 1965, winning a Pulitzer Prize in 1950. Berryman cartoons touched on a variety of subjects including politics, Presidential and congressional elections, both World Wars, and even Washington weather.

Time Required

Approximately 60 minutes

Learning Activities

1. Outline of the U.S. Constitution (5 minutes)

Note: Students new to the study of the Constitution may begin by completing step 1 of the lesson Teaching Six Big Ideas in the Constitution.

Direct students to work individually to annotate the transcript of the Constitution by labeling each of the seven articles of the Constitution with a statement of its main topic.

Conduct a class discussion of how the Constitution is organized and how its articles are subdivided.

2. Cartoon Analysis Worksheet and Identification of the Constitutional Principle and Clause (15 minutes)

Divide the students into two or three large groups (depending on class size) and distribute a set of the 16 political cartoon facsimiles to each large group. Every student in the group should be given enough cartoons so that all 16 are assigned, (e.g., each member of a group of 8 students should receive 2 political cartoons).

Direct students to complete Worksheet 1 individually by analyzing each of the political cartoons assigned to him or her. Note: The worksheet is differentiated to provide three levels of analysis dependent on the student’s skill.

When students have completed Worksheet 1, direct them to complete columns 1–3 of Worksheet 2 individually. Students should analyze their assigned cartoon(s) to complete columns 1 through 3. Students should then study each assigned cartoon and a transcript of the Constitution to complete column 4 individually. Column 5 will be completed in the next activity.

3. Use Networks to Discuss the Cartoons and the Constitution (30 minutes)

Direct each student to form a three-person group by joining with two partners from their group assigned in activity 2.

Allow approximately 5–7 minutes for the members of the new three-student groups to show each other their assigned cartoon(s) and share their answers in columns 1–4 of Worksheet 2. Groups should discuss and record (using additional rows of Worksheet 2) each member’s application of the cartoon to the Constitution and reach a consensus about the best match of each cartoon to a clause. Direct the students to use column 5 of Worksheet 2 at the end of the discussion to record any changes in interpretation that strengthen the match of each cartoon to the Constitution.

Once the first 5–7 minutes are up, instruct the students to find two new partners from their larger group and repeat the process. Direct the students to continue to form new three-person groupings until all 16 cartoons have been discussed.

Direct each student to circle the entry in column 5 that they feel is the best match for each cartoon they have discussed. Use the answer key to check their work.

4. Reflection (10 minutes)

Conduct a class discussion about the Constitution and the role of political cartoons in American civil life. Discussion points may include:

  • What does the relationship of the number cartoons in this lesson to articles of the Constitution suggest about the articles’ relative importance to the artists or the public at the time the cartoon was created? Was one branch of government of more interest or importance to the artists or their audience than the others? Would the Framers agree with this division of interest? Would this same division of interest be appropriate for a cartoonist drawing today?
  • How clearly do the cartoons represent the main idea of the constitutional clause each reflects? How does the portrayal of the clause in a political cartoon correspond to its phrasing in the Constitution? To what extent might viewers today agree or disagree with Berryman’s portrayal of these clauses?
  • What clues were you able to use in each cartoon to associate it with a specific clause in the Constitution?
  • Based on these examples, why are political cartoons important? What function or purpose do they serve in civic life?

5. Extend the Lesson

Assign students to study the following constitutional principles, and create, or identify through research, political cartoons depicting the principle as it applies to current issues and events:

  • Impeachment (Article 1, section 2, clause 5; Article 1, section 3, clause7; Article 2, section 4)
  • Congressional Immunities and Privileges (Article 1, section 6)
  • The Necessary and Proper Clause/Elastic Clause (Article 1, section 8, clause 18)
  • The Supremacy Clause (Article 6, section 1, clause 2)

Related Resources from the National Archives

Find more Berryman cartoons in the Center for Legislative Archives special exhibit page and in the exhibit "Running for Office."

If you have problems viewing this page, please contact legislative.archives@nara.gov.

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