Magazine Feature

Toolkit for Behind the Shield

Critical literacy is just as important for visual texts, such as cartoons, as it is for the written word. This toolkit will help your students read Sikhtoons while thinking about the social justice implications. 

Critical literacy often is associated with reading written texts like newspaper articles and primary sources. Yet critical literacy is equally important while reading visual texts—especially since students live in a world where they are constantly barraged with images. This toolkit will help you guide your students through a series of Sikhtoons—cartoons created by Vishavjit Singh, who is interviewed in “Behind the Shield.” The toolkit includes the handout “Critically Reading a Visual Text,” which helps students develop critical literacy skills with an eye toward social justice.


Essential Questions

  1. What is critical reading?
  2. How can critical reading be applied to cartoons?
  3. How can cartoons tackle social justice issues? 



  1. Explain to your students that critical reading involves thinking beyond the big ideas behind a particular text, and considering the voices represented (and not), the perspective of the author and what audience the text is and isn’t taking into account. Ask them to share examples of times when they have read something critically, and how this process is different from other types of reading.
  1. Introduce students to the “Critically Reading a Visual Text” handout. Review the handout with them, and then ask students to share any questions they might have. Using the handout, work as a class on reading one of the Sikhtoons (A selection of Singh’s Sikhtoons can also be found in the Perspectives Text Anthology.)
  1. Break students into groups of three to four, and have each group work through another cartoon using the handout. Then, bring the groups together and have them share their findings.
  1. Ask students what critical reading means to them now. What does it mean to read a cartoon critically? How might they use this practice in the future, and why is it important?
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