September 2014


In this lesson, students will:

  • Explore the role of ISIS in the Middle East
  • Interpret political cartoons on the U.S. response to ISIS
  • Identify the techniques used by cartoonists to express political opinion
  • Monitor the news media coverage of ISIS over time


A Look at Dangers Posed by the Islamic State Group (Associated Press)

Political Cartoons

Monitoring the Situation

PowerPoint of Political Cartoons


Video: Wall Street Journal, Iraq: “ISIS Sparks a Crisis in the Middle East, Explained”
This short video provides a clear and concise overview of ISIS and its role in the region.

Video: BBC News: “Phillip Hammond Says No to IS Talks With Syria” 
This short video gives an overview of the current U.S./U.K. response to ISIS.

Note: The abbreviations ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and IS (Islamic State) are used interchangeably in the media. To avoid confusion for students, we have chosen to use ISIS because it is the most commonly used. A convincing case for using the abbreviation ISIL is made by the Associated Press.

In the Classroom

1. Introduction

Ask students if they have heard about ISIS in the news. What have they heard? Tell students that they are going to learn more about the group and the U.S. response to ISIS’s activities. Watch the videos listed above with the class and then distribute A Look at Dangers Posed by the Islamic State Group (Associated Press) to the class and give them 5-10 minutes to read. Review the reading and videos with the class. Clarify any difficult vocabulary or concepts. (For example, be sure students understand what a caliphate is.) Ask students to identify information from the videos and article that they believe is important. What information is new to them? What are ISIS’s goals? How is it trying to achieve its goals? How is the U.S. responding to ISIS? Are students aware of any controversies surrounding the U.S. response?

2. Analyzing Cartoons

Divide the class into groups of three or four each. Distribute Political Cartoons to each student. Review the introduction with your class, emphasizing the techniques cartoonists use to convey an opinion on political issues. Review the cartoon on page 2 and answer the questions with your students to model the assignment. What are the techniques being used? What is the message of the cartoon? How is this cartoon related to what the class knows about ISIS and U.S. policy?

Assign the remaining cartoons to students, two per group. Have the students discuss the cartoons and answer the questions provided. Inform students that they will be presenting their work to the class.

3. Drawing Connections

Have each group present on their political cartoons. If you have multiple groups analyzing the same cartoons, you may wish to have them present together or on different questions from the activity.

As a class, discuss how cartoonists provide perspective on political issues. Were students able to identify the message of each cartoon? If so, what were the cartoonists trying to express? What techniques are used in the cartoons that students analyzed? Which techniques did students think were most effective in getting the message across? Were certain techniques easier to identify than others? Why? How do these cartoons relate to U.S. policy regarding ISIS? Do students think that the cartoons they analyzed give favorable or unfavorable views of U.S. policy? If students were making their own cartoons on the response to ISIS, what opinions would they want to express?

4. Monitoring the Situation in the News

Distribute Monitoring the Situation. Tell students that over the course of the next month, they will be following ISIS in the news and taking note of how the situation evolves. As a starting point refer students to the list of news sources below. Encourage students to seek out other sources. Students should consult at least two or three news sources and write a short update about the crisis every week on Part I of the handout. At the end of the month, students should answer the questions listed in Part II.

After students have completed the activity, bring the class together to debrief. How has the crisis evolved? Have conditions improved or worsened? What steps has the international community taken? Have the positions of the United States and other countries changed at all? If so, how? What challenges do people of the region face? Is violence ongoing? Do students believe that an end to the conflict is within sight?

Extra Challenge

Have students create their own political cartoons that reflect their opinion on the U.S. response to ISIS.

Additional News Resources

Resources on ISIS pages

Al Jazeera

New York Times


Resources on the Middle East


New York Times


Washington Post

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