Forced Perspective

Standard Met: McREL Visual Arts Standard 1 (Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to visual arts)

What You Need: Digital camera, samples of photos using forced perspective, props (optional)

What to Do: Katie Malone-Smith, a middle school visual arts teacher in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, loves teaching students about photography using forced perspective and illusions. She begins by showing students how to identify forced perspective—where objects appear larger or smaller, closer or farther away—and explains that photographers do this by controlling  distance and vantage point. (Check out the science and math behind it here.) Students then look at examples and answer questions like “How are the objects arranged?” and “How might the photographer have adjusted the lens or framed the shot to create the desired effect?”

Next, students outline ideas for their own photos, considering how they can use setting or props to create a desired image. For example, they may try to make small objects look larger (e.g., a stuffed animal to create an image in which a person is tiny in comparison). Then, they set to work taking photos. After they’ve finished, display their images and have them view one another’s work. To conclude, they’ll write a reaction to one or more images using the guiding questions, and then discuss as a class.

Comic Headlines

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.6.3

What You Need: List of poorly worded headlines

What to Do: April Fools’ Day is the perfect time to teach the importance of clear communication!

Maurice J. Elias, director of the Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab at Rutgers University in New Jersey, finds that “in an age of Twitter, emojis, and auto-correcting iPhones, it is too easy to make serious errors.” He recommends looking to unintentionally humorous news headlines to learn how to write more clearly.

Begin by sharing one or two funny, and real, headlines from this article, written by Elias. Discuss the discrepancy between what the headline actually says and what the intended message is. Then, as a class, come up with a few alternate options. For example, one headline reads “Panda Lectures This Week at National Zoo,” implying that pandas are giving lectures! Students may suggest alternatives like “Lectures About Pandas to Be Held at National Zoo” or “National Zoo Presents Lectures About Pandas.”

Have students work in pairs or small groups to examine some of the remaining headlines. They should record their thoughts on what the headline communicates versus what it was intended to communicate and come up with alternatives. As an extension, have students write their own articles to go with the miscommunicated headlines.

Social Studies Funnies

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.6-8.6; RL.8.4

What You Need: Copies of political cartoons (free online here and here)

What to Do: Prepare copies of cartoons from the suggested websites—one or two for modeling and two or three for each small group of students. Provide each group with at least one cartoon from the past and one from the present. Then, show an example of a political cartoon and discuss the most common strategies used in these types of cartoons. Hyperbole: gross exaggeration in language. Caricature: gross exaggeration in image (e.g., facial features). Irony: use of language that normally signifies the opposite. Allusion: reference designed to call something to mind without explicit mention. Symbolism: use of symbols or images to represent qualities or items (pigs representing greed, elephants representing Republicans, etc.)

Display a political cartoon and review which techniques are used. As a class, discuss and record the events that are depicted and background knowledge required to understand the cartoon; any symbolism used; why the cartoonist used the techniques; key vocabulary for the topic; and the message the cartoonist is sending.

Finally, ask students to analyze cartoons in their small groups and make notes for discussion. Extension: Have them come up with their own cartoon based on a current event. 


Photos: Courtesy of Katie Malone-Smith

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