August 2010


In this lesson, students will:

  • Explore a range of issues raised by the 2010 oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico including impact, accountability, U.S. oil dependency, and energy policy.
  • Interpret political cartoons and place them in the context of political discussion about the oil disaster and U.S. energy policy.
  • Identify the techniques used by cartoonists to express opinions.


Handout: Analyzing Political Cartoons

Powerpoint of cartoons for projection

PBS NewsHour video: Report Says Oil Mostly Gone From Gulf

Additional Online Resources

The following webpages provide additional information on offshore drilling and the Gulf oil disaster, including audio, video, and interactive resources.

Al Jazeera: Oil Disaster

BBC: BP Oil Disaster

The New York Times: Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill (2010)

The New York Times: Offshore Drilling and Exploration

NPR: Gulf Oil Spill

The Wall Street Journal: Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

In the Classroom

  • Discussing the Gulf Oil Disaster
    Write the question “Why was BP drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico?” on the board. Have students brainstorm what they know about offshore drilling. Why have some people argued for offshore drilling for oil? Why have some people argued against it? Why did President Obama announce his support for it in early April? Ask students what they know about the recent Gulf oil disaster. What have been the major consequences of the catastrophe? What have been the environmental and economic impacts? How have the government and BP responded? What are the most pressing challenges today?You may wish to show your students the brief PBS NewsHour video linked above about the Gulf oil disaster.
  • Analyzing Political Cartoons
    Inform students that they are going to analyze political cartoons to identify different viewpoints about the issues related to the oil disaster. Tell students that it is not only the message of these cartoons that is important, but also how the message is conveyed. What techniques does the cartoonist use to convey his or her views? Divide the class into groups of three or four. Distribute “Analyzing Political Cartoons” to each student and tell students to read the directions carefully. You may wish to spend extra time going over with students the different techniques listed on the handout. Assign each group two cartoons. Have groups discuss their assigned cartoons and answer the questions provided.
  • Making Connections
    Ask students to report to the class on what they discussed. In each cartoon what was the cartoonist’s message? How did the cartoonist express this message? Ask students to point out the different techniques used and their significance. Why do students think the cartoonist chose these particular techniques? How did the techniques used affect the message?The cartoons convey a range of issues related to the oil disaster. Have students identify as many issues as they can. What information do the cartoons convey? Do the cartoons represent different points of view? Have students consider what policies the United States should adopt regarding offshore drilling. What might happen if the United States increased offshore drilling? What might happen if the United States decreased offshore drilling? Which of the cartoons best reflects students’ own thoughts about offshore drilling and U.S. energy policy? What should U.S. energy policy be?

Let Your Voice Be Heard

Encourage your students to express their views.

Contact Elected Officials
Students could write letters to elected officials. They can find contact information for the White House at and their U.S. senators and representatives at

Write Locally
Students could write letters to the editor of a local paper or write articles for the school or community newspaper.

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