I See What You Mean

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info1Think of English class and what comes to mind? Probably topics related to literature, poetry, and writing. Probably not graphs. Those are relegated to math and science classes. But why? Students encounter graphic information, or infographics, in nonfiction texts across disciplines, in textbooks, professional articles, newspapers, magazines, and online. Most state standards and Common Core Standards both contain English standards that require students to develop visual literacy skills, to learn how to extract meaning from visual information. As English teachers we often direct students to graphic organizers while they organize their thoughts before writing. It is just as important that they learn how to read infographics, how to extract information from already organized graphics.

Infographics represent information in compact, creative ways. They are often the best way to share complex processes, thoughts, or data. ‘Infographics’ refers to everything from diagrams and maps to tables and timelines, bar graphs and line graphs to flowcharts and word clouds. Students should learn how each type is organized and how to retrieve the information each contains. Let us explore some websites that will help students do just that.

Ways to Map Information

Some students may benefit from a review of simple graphs, pie charts, and grid charts. If so, direct them to TV411’s presentation on Reading Charts and Graphs. In this interactive slideshow, students must interpret data about: home appliances in a bar graph, monthly living expenses in a pie chart, and election results in a grid chart. Make sure students know that to read the next question, they must click on the ‘next question’ button that appears at the bottom right corner of the page. This prompt appears only after they answer a question.

Of course not all visual information comes in the traditional forms of bar graphs, pie charts, or grids. Newspapers, online news sites, and news magazines often create snazzy, innovative infographics to accompany news stories. It then comes as no surprise that the Washington Post and the New York Times have resources about infographics for teachers and students.info2

To explore a range of creative graphics, turn to the Washington Post’s pdf guide: Informational Graphics: The Visual Dimension. The guide is created for teachers to use with students. Scroll down to pages three through seven for descriptions of suggested activities. These activities are independent from each other; you may choose which to use and which to skip. One possible lineup: begin by leading the whole class through the Define Infographics activity. Next, in pairs, have students read 'Meet a Graphics Editor' (pages 8 to 10) and create “an organization chart of News Art based upon information provided in the interview.” Still in pairs, have students practice identifying types of infographics by creating an Informational Graphics Collection. (This activity is outlined on the unnumbered page after page 10. It is the first of a three page handout with lines for name and date at the top. The notes on the handout provide helpful insights on each type of graphic.) Next, divide students into small teams and assign to each team one of the activities found on pages three through seven. Scroll down to find the graphics referenced in each activity. (They are on unnumbered pages 14-27.) Have a representative from each team introduce the graphic they worked with and present their work to the class. By constructing a jigsaw with the Washington Post activities, students will be introduced to a wide variety of infographics, and each team will receive feedback on their work.

In August, 2010, the New York Times Learning Network declared it Infographics Week and featured the best infographics from the New York Times and around the Internet. For the complete list of topics, visit Teaching with Infographics: Places to Start. Here you will find links to infographics on history, social studies and economics, science and health, and English, language arts, entertainment, sports, and fine arts. Guest-blogger, public school teacher, and infographic fiend, Diane Laufenberg, shares her thoughts and a model infographic project. Return to the homepage and scroll down to discover more places to start and infographic resources beyond the New York Times.

info3Perhaps you are interested in incorporating infographics into each class period. (Infographics make great openers.) can help you do that. You can find graphics on every imaginable topic: from unique tea facts to the pedestrian (Literally. South New Jersey Pedestrian Deaths, to be exact.) Scroll down and find the infographics categories along the right margin. The list includes: Animal, Health, Sports, Video, among others. There is even a category for ‘Uncategorized’. These are not simple graphics. They are eye-catching, complex, even odd. Two helpful teaching features: under each graphic is a breakdown of the information contained in it, and there is a design and information grade for each graphic.

Sometimes, words are not the best vehicles for sharing information. This is especially the case with intricate data, complex concepts, or concrete systems. Graphics might best convey sophisticated information in understandable ways. Those information graphics—or infographics—still require readers to be literate, to know how to extract information and make meaning from it. Introduce infographics into your English class. Help your students see what they mean.

Rachel Cummings

Reading/Comprehension of Informational Text/Procedural Texts. Students understand how to glean and use information in procedural texts and documents. Students are expected to:
(B) analyze factual, quantitative, or technical data presented in multiple graphical sources.

§110.31. English Language Arts and Reading, English I
(12) Reading/Media Literacy. Students use comprehension skills to analyze how words, images, graphics, and sounds work together in various forms to impact meaning. Students will continue to apply earlier standards with greater depth in increasingly more complex texts.
(A) compare and contrast how events are presented and information is communicated by visual images (e.g., graphic art, illustrations, news photographs) versus non-visual texts;
(23) Research/Organizing and Presenting Ideas. Students organize and present their ideas and information according to the purpose of the research and their audience. Students are expected to synthesize the research into a written or an oral presentation that:
(C) uses graphics and illustrations to help explain concepts where appropriate;


Infographics Showcase

New York Times Learning Network: Infographics

Washington Post: Infographics PDF$File/InformationalGraphics2.pdf

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