Concept Cartoons in Science Class

EDIT Dec 2018: Super old post (2012) now, but Concept Cartoons are the gift that keeps on giving and I was reminded of it from this Twitter thread. I’m not sure if Millgate House have produced these resources as online tools yet,  but if you can get a copy of them, they are worth trying.

The body text is original, except for strikethroughs. 


I wrote in my last post that I’d expand on how I use concept cartoons as a way to encourage peer instruction and interaction – mostly in my Physics and Chemistry classes* . This is still a bit of a work in progress, but the SlideShare below** outlines the main ideas, which are based on the work of Brenda Keogh and Stuart Naylor. I came across their Concept Cartoons for the first time in teacher training and got back into the idea more recently***.

Concept Cartoons are useful for:

  • Quick formative assessment (d=0.9)****. They form great ‘hinge questions‘ in a class.
  • Discussion of misconceptions, either common or raised by students in discussion
  • Peer-teaching (d=0.74) based on observations or phenomena in class
  • Grouping students by readiness, based on the formative assessment data
  • Stimulating evaluation of ideas or discussing alternate explanations, which may or may not be correct
  • Setting up or reviewing lesson content or discrepant phenomena
I like to have some blank cartoon slides at the end of my working presentation, so if an interesting student observation, misconception or idea pops up it could easily be turned into a quick plenary or group discussion. Usually students would be discussing these with whiteboards and markers.
When we carry out labs I will keep my phone handy, so that if an observation sparks discussion I can take a snap and send it straight to a Picasa webalbum (now dead, but I GooglePhotos works OK), which is open on my laptop. This makes the step of pulling the image into the presentation quick and simple.
I like this technique and often feel I should use it more frequently. It is great for uncovering student misconceptions and allows students who grasp a concept to solidify their understanding by explaining it to others. I’m not sure all students would agree, though. It’s interesting to see student reactions to this approach. Some outwardly enjoy the interaction and discussion, whereas others really don’t take to it. In some cases it is introvertion, in others a lack of comfort in having to share and defend their ideas. Again this comes back to striking the balance between teaching methods used in class, and the need to try to differentiate as well as possible for the many styles of learning in the class.
Little People, posted by OCAL to clker royalty-free clipart.
Little People, posted by OCAL to clker royalty-free clipart.


Some sources for misconceptions in science:


For a ‘live action’ alternative to Concept Cartoons, you might try some of Derek Muller’s Veritasium science videos. Here’s an example, and here’s the YouTube channel.


*Thanks to David Wees (@davidwees) for posting links to this on Twitter.

*Interestingly, I use them less frequently in the Environmental Science part of the course. This may be due to time constraints, but is more likely to be because we’re using more class time for lab reports and One World work. 

**This presentation was intended as brain-dump for why I do what I do, but ended up being featured on SlideShare’s front page on 3-4 April. 

***Although this quick idea is based on their work, their resources are far more polished and complete, including cartoons which reveal the cartoon students’ ideas and discussion of the misconceptions behind each. They are available here.

**** d values are old Hattie impacts, 2011. These have been updated since.







One response to “Concept Cartoons in Science Class”

  1. michaelberhanu Avatar

    Wow good topic

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