Concept cartoons are a visual representation of science ideas. The simple cartoon style drawings put forward a range of viewpoints about science ideas in situations that are designed to motivate and engage students and stimulate discussion of their ideas.
They take into account constructivist views of learning and have human characters putting forward various alternatives, which invites students to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking as well as to consider others’ ideas. The purpose of the alternative ideas is for learners to experience uncertainty and cognitive conflict.
The ideas being put forward are based on research of common areas of misunderstanding in science, with the scientifically correct idea included in the alternatives.
A typical approach to using the concept cartoon:
- Provide a concept cartoon to focus on a particular situation.
- Short period of individual reflection.
- Small group discussion – ask if they can reach consensus.
- Brief feedback.
- Discussion of how the situation could be investigated to find out which alternatives are most acceptable.
- Small group investigation/inquiry.
- Share outcomes of investigation/inquiry.
- Whole-class discussion.
- Consider how relevant theory applies to the situation.
- Draw ideas together to provide explicit summary.
- Consider how learner views have changed and what has led to a change in their ideas.
Designing concept cartoons for your classroom
Although examples of concept cartoons are available online and on the Hub, consider designing your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your students, drawing on comments and prior knowledge from your class.
In addition, students can create their own concept cartoons. Direct students to write comments in the speech bubbles to reflect:
- their own thoughts
- the ideas from a video, article or graphic
- the concepts they do not understand
- questions they may have and then ask peers in the classroom to answer them
- shifts in their understanding.
Examples of concept cartoons and blank templates for your own or student use are found in the activity Using concept cartoons to explore students’ scientific thinking. The activity Climate change – challenging conversations also uses concept cartoons to explore climate change-related issues.
Keogh, B. and Naylor, S. (1999). Concept cartoons, teaching and learning in science: an evaluation. International Journal of Science Education, 21(4), 431–446.
Assessment Resource Banks (ARBs) Using concept cartoons for assessment.