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Pat Donnelly

Monitoring and Assessment

Four Resources Guideposts

Codes of Visual Text

Self and Peer Assessment

Classroom Organisation

Learning Role Cards

Engagement: Empowering Teachers with Successful Strategies

Visual Text Analysis is a comprehension strategy that supports students when ‘reading’ visual text by providing access to and interpretation of familiar but possibly latent codes within the text.

Visual texts while often appearing natural are constructed by individuals who are both products of their environment and authors of their reality. Some level of meaning may be achieved by analysing the author’s intent through a closer examination of selected techniques, codes and conventions. Examining the author’s context through contemporary and/or complementary texts may reveal other levels of meaning also present within the text.

Engagement: Engaging Students in Purposeful Social Practices


Visual Text Analysis


A Current Selection of Political Cartoons

  • takes students beyond the text to explore the author’s use of techniques and conventions
  • encourages students to bring their background knowledge to the reading of the text
  • contextualises reading historically and politically by comparing it to a variety of contemporary and/or complementary texts
  • engages students in discussion around the text and contemporary issues
  • uses peer support to scaffold student reading of challenging texts
  • integrates the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader
  • focuses on a real world text from a daily newspaper
  • explores a topical issue
  • uses a range of textual devices, eg metaphoric imagery and humour to present a particular point of view
  • links to work in SOSE, Visual Arts and other curriculum areas
  • links to themes such as leadership, the environment, sport, international conflicts etc

Four Roles/Resources of the Reader

Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader developed by Freebody and Luke (1990), Visual Text Analysis involves students in the following repertoire of purposeful social practices:

Code breaker

Decoding the codes and conventions of written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • understands the Codes of Visual Texts such as production techniques and conventions of camera angle, lens choice, framing, proximity or closeness, and lighting
  • interprets symbolic representations of shapes, objects, setting, colour, and body language

Text user

Understanding the purposes of different written, spoken and visual texts for different cultural and social functions, eg:

  • develops an awareness of how both the cultural context and the author’s purpose shape the nature of texts, eg political cartoons, editorials, letters to the editor and news reports (TV, radio and print) may all deal with the same subject matter but have vastly different purposes
  • develops a creative response based on knowledge of how texts are used to convey meaning

Text participant

Comprehending written, spoken and visual texts, eg:

  • links the text to real life issues
  • draws on background knowledge to interpret the text
  • understands the literal and inferential meaning of the visual images used in the text

Text analyst

Understanding how texts position readers, viewers and listeners, eg:

  • examines the writer’s point of view
  • develops own position on the text
  • explores how the writer is positioning the reader
  • develops a critical response to the text

Four Resources Guideposts

Visual Text Analysis Guideposts provide a useful assessment tool.

Implementing the Strategy

Visual Text Analysis using political cartoons

Choosing a Text

The following pointers provide a guide to text selection. Select a text which:

  • reflects the main ideas and concepts covered in the unit of work
  • links to a variety of contemporary and/or complementary text types, eg editorials, letters to the editor and news reports (TV, radio and print)
  • deals with issues which challenge students beyond the literal level
  • is rich in symbolic and metaphoric language that can be interpreted at different levels


  • Maintain a current supply of newspapers.
  • Select an appropriate cartoon and transfer to an OHT.
  • Collect associated articles, headlines, editorials or letters to the editor.
  • Familiarise students with the Codes of Visual Text.

Roles of the Reader Learning Role Cards (Optional)

To scaffold an effective analysis it is helpful to take a group approach especially when the subject matter is unfamiliar, obscure, metaphoric, divergent or cryptic in some way. The answer can often be found by bouncing ideas off group members. Use Learning Role Cards for effective role demarcation.

Orientating Activities

Tell the students that you have found a political cartoon to share with them and then ask them to suggest possible topics. Good guesses will reflect some current event.

Use an OHT to show students a number of associated headlines and then ask them to guess again. Other articles appearing in the same newspaper included an editorial entitled Last Chance for Aussies, a front page headline of Is this Mark’s final stand? and a back page headline of IT’S TIME!

>> click here for headline page

>> click here for a larger image of the cartoon, or here for an Acrobat PDF version (257KB)


Show the students the cartoon. For example: At the beginning of 2002 the Australian Cricket team’s poor one-day form coupled with demonstrations of hooliganism during a number of Melbourne games inspired cartoonist Neil to come up with the following response on Sunday, 20 January 2002 in the Queensland Sunday Mail.

Enhancing Activity: Visual Text Analysis

Ask students to study the cartoon for a few minutes and then begin work on the K-W-L Chart (What I Know, What I Want to Know, What I Learned).

K-W-L Chart

(see notes below)

Title: Text Type:

What I Know

Add your own knowledge

After brainstorming choose the most appropriate Top Level Structure such as Concept Web, T Chart, Y Chart, Venn Diagram etc to organise your knowledge.

Draw the structure selected on a separate page

What I Want to Know

Thin Questions Fat Questions



Add your own thin questions



Add your own fat questions

Vocabulary (What do the following words mean?)




Add your own list of words

What I Learned

Write it in your own words or in your own way – translate, innovate or transform




Choose one response only

>> click here to download the K-W-L Chart as a Word document

Notes on the K-W-L Chart

K-What I know

In Learning Role (optional) brainstorm all the things the cartoon suggests to you. Once you have listed your ideas you can organise them using a Top Level Structure Graphic Organiser such as a Concept Web. You will need a separate page as the graphic organisers won’t fit on the K-W-L chart.

W-What I Want to Know

Record as many questions as you can, drawn from your examination of the cartoon. Thin questions require short answers while fat questions require long or extended answers.

  • Examples of thin questions include: who, what, when and where type questions.
  • Examples of fat questions include: how, why and will type questions.
  • Defining vocabulary is another form of answering questions.
  • Use the Learning Role Cards (optional) to scaffold the discussion.

If possible continue to add ideas to your brainstorm and Top Level Structure Graphic Organiser as you find answers to each level of questioning.

L-What I Learned

Translate: Translating involves either duplicating or explaining. When duplicating you could draw your own cartoon depicting the events. This gives you some idea about how difficult political cartooning is. Alternatively you could describe the cartoon in detail as in the example below.

If you are comfortable with the Codes of Visual Text, you could revise your interpretation using words and phrases from the Codes.

Innovate: When innovating the genre remains constant while the content changes. For example, block out the speech bubbles and add your own text.

Transform: Transforming requires that the content remains unchanged while the genre changes. You could write a poem or a newspaper report or a headline that may have appeared on the back or front page the day the cartoon was published.

Synthesising Activity

  • Write the text in your own words or in your own way, eg write it as a news report (Transform).
  • Write what you would do if you were one of the officials (Transform).
  • Draw a cartoon entitled What happened next (Innovate).

Example of a K-W-L Chart

Title: One Day Cricket Comment Text Type: Political Cartoon

What I Know

Aussies losing
ACB: Australian Cricket Board
angry fans

Add your own knowledge

After brainstorming choose the most appropriate Top Level Structure such as Concept Web, T Chart, Y Chart, Venn Diagram etc to organise your knowledge.

Draw the structure selected on a new page

What I Want to Know

Thin Questions Fat Questions

Who are the men in black?
Where is it set?
Why is there rubbish on the ground?

Add your own thin questions

Who is the sarcasm in the text aimed at?
How will the problems be resolved?
Can officials really make a difference?

Add your own fat questions

Vocabulary (What do the following words mean?)


Add your own list of words

What I Learned

Write it in your own words or in your own way – translate, innovate or transform.


Two officials of the ACB stand in the middle of the MCG discussing two problems. One official is concerned about hooligans while the other is concerned about the form of the Australian team. The cartoonist may be suggesting that if Australia’s form improved than there would be less trouble with hooligans. Alternatively he may be suggesting that he doesn’t care about hooliganism as much as he does about poor form.

Or using the Codes of Visual Text
The cartoon set at a cricket ground shows three characters who by their style of clothing represent two members of the ACB and a groundsman. The high camera angle places the central characters in a pressure situation, under the spotlight as it were.


ACB Official 1: Well the hooligan idea didn’t work!
ACB Official 2: Right, now we’ll have to sack Steve Waugh!


Hooliganism Heats Up While Aussies Fail to Fire

Examples of Top Level Structure Graphic Organisers

Concept Web (description)

concept web

T Chart (cause and effect)

Cause Effect
Hooligans are throwing rubbish onto the pitch Upset Australian cricket officials
The Australian cricket team is doing poorly

T Chart (problem/solution)

Problem Solution
Hooligans Should be strung up
Poor performance of the Australian cricket team Should be strung up

Venn Diagram (comparison)

Venn diagram


Students need to be constantly engaged in developing ways of making group work more effective. Ask students to complete the Feedback: Two Pluses and a Wish proforma in which each student collaboratively gives each group member two positive comments about their involvement and one area where they may be able to improve, ie two pluses and a wish. Students can then reflect on their own effectiveness as a group member.


Department of Education Queensland. (1993). Using visual texts in primary and secondary English classrooms.

Department of Education Queensland. (1994). Media Curriculum Guide for Years 1 to 10 – Constructing Realities.

McKee, A. (2001). A Beginner’s Guide to Textual Analysis. Metro, 127/128, p138-149.

Neil. (January 20, 2002). Cartoon in Sunday Mail. Queensland: News Limited.

Travers, D. (1996). Teaching Viewing in the Classroom. Adelaide: ALEA.

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