The Far Side

The cartoons created by Gary Larson in The Far Side define outside-the-box thinking.  That's why they are a perfect resource to stretch the minds of gifted kids.  Larson's creations force students to make connections across multiple levels to truly understand the joke.  Obviously due to copyright laws, I can't reproduce any of his cartoons as examples of the activities that are profiled.  The activities that I use with The Far Side are as follows:

Cartoon Analysis - Using teacher-selected cartoons from any Far Side book or calendar, the students analyze the humor in each. We do this using a document camera to provide an enlarged projection that all can see.  This can be done as an entire class discussion or in small, cooperative groups.

First, I ask students to make concrete observations about what they see in the cartoon. (ie- "I see two men on an island with a telephone booth.")

Next, students are asked to make inferences about what they think is going on in the cartoon. (ie- "The two men look like they are stranded on the island.").

Then, I ask the students to use their concrete observations to back up their inferences.  (ie- "I can tell the men are stranded because their clothing is tattered and that they have beards.")

Last, students explain why the cartoon is humorous.  If there is a caption, we talk about how it adds humor to the situation.  If there  is no caption, we discuss how the scenario presented is odd, unusual, and just plain funny.  Often, the discussion leads to how the cartoon is connected to prerequisite knowledge.  (ie- "It's funny because you would never find a telephone booth on a deserted island.  And, when he asks for a quarter again, it's the only thing they need to get help.  That one guy never seems to lose hope, even though he knows his buddy doesn't have a quarter.")

Cartoon to Caption Matching - Using a Far Side daily tear-away calendar, separate the daily cartoons into sets of 20.  Cut the captions of off each.  Shuffle and place the cartoons and corresponding captions in individual baggies.  In my classroom, I place eight baggies as stations around the classroom.  In small groups, students move around the room to match the captions back to the cartoons.  Students are asked to justify their solutions using concrete observations, inferences, and analysis of the humor.

Creating Original Captions - This activity demands a variety of Far Side books.  To introduce the activity, I use a document camera to project a selected cartoon to the entire class, making sure that the caption is not visible.  We follow the same process as when we analyzed the cartoons.  We first make concrete observations, then infer what we think is happening.  Then, the entire group is asked to create at least two captions that they think would add humor to the situation.  Students share their ideas in small groups and are asked to nominate their favorite classmate's captions to be shared with the entire class. 

Then, using selected individual cartoons from various Far Side books, I cover each caption with a 3x5 card and some tape.  The books are placed around the room in stations with a pile of sticky notes available at each station.  Students rotate around the stations and write their captions on the sticky notes and attach them to the page in the book.  We then rotate around again to read the captions that our classmates created.  We come back together as a class to discuss our favorite student-created captions, and discover what Gary Larson originally wrote.