Teaching Visual Literacy through Infographics

One of the most exciting ISTE Student Standards is #6, Creative Communicator. I believe that the goal of any educator, whether in the classroom with students or supporting learning via a coaching role, is to assist students in becoming independent critical thinkers who can clearly express themselves. For this week’s project, I chose to focus on 6c: “Students communicate complex ideas clearly and effectively by creating or using a variety of digital objects such as visualizations, models, or simulations” (Iste.org, 2017).

I am a huge advocate of teaching visual literacy in addition to ‘traditional’ literacy. Images are a form of communication. Consider the emotion that can be conveyed through a group of emojis or the shared humor of a meme. For a more academic example, consider the power of World War II propaganda or the tactics used by advertisers to manipulate consumers. It’s easy to see how interpreting images is a critical part of media consumption. Science also supports the inclusion of visual literacy:

  • “When visuals and text are paired together, we have more information to rapidly decode the content and proceed with comprehension, delivery, and transmittal to others” (Johnson 2017).
  • “…[T]he effective use of visuals can decrease learning time, improve comprehension, enhance retrieval, and increase retention” (Kouyoumdjian 2012).

What better way to incorporate visual literacy into the classroom than to teach infographics?

Public domain image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Infographic Components

Infographics that are easy to understand and that communicate information clearly share the following components:

  • Text features with titles, subtitles, and information. Authors use different fonts, sizes, and colors to emphasize important points.
  • Organized ideas that follow text structures such as cause-effect, chronological, compare/contrast, problem/solution, or description.
  • Images such as symbols, charts, and graphs that help visually communicate the ideas being shared.
  • Credit given to sources.

Introducing Infographics in the Classroom

My classmate, Susan, shared an excellent Edutopia article that provided insight into how Brett Vogelsinger introduces infographics to his English class. After reviewing infographic terminology and basic layouts, he selects three different infographics and has students discuss the following:

  • Which of these was the best infographic and why?
  • How does the writer try to engage an audience, even an audience who may not initially care about the topic?
  • Is the text or the visual design most important in each of these? How do the use of color and white space affect your ability to focus on the main message of the infographic? How is font size used to emphasize certain facts?
  • Does the infographic make a claim or develop an argument? If so, how can you tell?

I would add to Vogelsinger’s list of questions: How do the images support the text? Through discussion, students decide for themselves what makes a high-quality infographic. They are then in a position to evaluate others’ infographics and create their own.

Professor Tremonte brought up an additional point when she saw my topic: When we teach infographics, how do we equip students to use the best possible graphics to support information? And likewise, how do we prevent infographics from becoming nothing more than digital posters? I think the answer to this is with careful scaffolding. Just as we close read mentor texts before asking a student to write an essay, we must perform a close read of quality infographics. Students can evaluate each graphic choice the author made in a particular infographic:

  • Is this graphic to enhance a point? Example: an e-reader image next to a quote about libraries in the 21st century.
  • Is this graphic a symbol for something? Example: the outline of a state around a statistic instead of writing the name of the state.
  • Is this graphic a representation of data? Example: a pie chart or line graph visually representing data.
  • Is this graphic explaining something? Example: a diagram of how microbeads from face wash end up in the water system.

Ideas for Using Infographics in the Classroom

  • Support nonfiction: Students can create infographics in support of nonfiction articles. Challenge them to consider what information can be represented visually and how best to do so.
  • Start a discussion: Present a controversial topic (perhaps this infographic on gender pay inequality) and have students discuss the main points and brainstorm the causes.
  • Demonstrate learning: Students can create book infographics in lieu of traditional book reports. Consider this Fahrenheit 451 infographic for inspiration.
  • Offer additional context: Instead of teaching Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech in historical isolation, why not explore how far America has come in fulfilling that dream?
  • Support arguments and research: Charts, graphs, and visual data can be easily incorporated into student presentations for added impact. Consider making visual data a required component of a presentation or research project. Check out this excellent tutorial for making charts and graphs in Google Sheets.
  • Present content: Infographics can be an engaging way to present content to students. Instead of a traditional lecture, students can independently review infographics on the topic–such as this infographic on the water cycle and conservation efforts.
  • Share passions: All students have a hobby or interest that they would like to share with others. Creating an infographic can be an engaging and creative way to share that passion while practicing visual literacy skills.

 

Piktochart: a tool for making infographics

Piktochart is one of the most popular tools for creating infographics online. It is user-friendly and offers many options for customization. Piktochart offers free and paid memberships. With a paid membership, you have access to additional images and templates. Additionally, you can create unlimited projects, download in multiple formats (not just PNG), and remove the watermark from your projects. The pricing for educators is very generous compared to their standard plans. Even if you aren’t in a position to pay for an account, you and your students can still create sharp-looking infographics. I have (happily) used both the free and paid versions. Another advantage is that Piktochart offers Single Sign-On (SSO) services which means that students can log in using their school Google accounts and not have another username and password to remember. Please watch below for a quick overview and tutorial.


 

Sources

Iste.org. (2017). ISTE Standards For Students. [online] Available at: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-students [Accessed 15 Mar. 2018].

Johnson, L. (2017). Cultivating Communication in the Classroom: Future-Ready Skills for Secondary Learners. 1st ed. Thousand Oaks: Corwin.

Kouyoumdjian, H. (2012). Learning Through Visuals. [online] Psychology Today. Available at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/get-psyched/201207/learning-through-visuals [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018].

Vogelsinger, B. (2014). Inventing Infographics: Visual Literacy Meets Written Content. [online] Edutopia. Available at: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/infographics-visual-literacy-written-content-brett-vogelsinger [Accessed 16 Mar. 2018].

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