Information is all around us, but very little of what we digest daily is in the form of a traditional textbook. Advertisements make use of large images designed to catch our attention followed by product information. Social networks, like Pinterest, and Instagram capitalize on our attraction to images as sources of information. My biology textbook is three times the size of old textbooks from the 70’s, and a quick scan reveals that the pages are bigger, brighter and filled with colorful images. I’m always disappointed when a class discussion reveals that many of the students aren’t even looking at these pictures.
Analyzing text structures is a major theme of the common core literacy standards. It’s more than just reading in science, it’s looking at data, charts and information presented as pictures. We are fortunate to live in a time when these types of informational graphics are easy to find, on almost any topic.
Images can be powerful and convey ideas in a brighter, bigger way than text can. How often do we scan the front of a magazine looking at the photos before we decide if there’s anything in there that would interest us enough to buy it. Time Magazine even has a section of its site dedicated to covers only, because some of their images are powerful and engage readers on many levels. Wouldn’t it be great if we could capture some of that engagement with our students?
Hopefully I didn’t already lose you to the links on infographics (it’s easy to get lost in those), some of which are technical science graphics, but others are more social or whimsical graphics, and some are a combination of both, like the shark infographic on this page. Either way, learning to follow and interpret graphics is part of scientific literacy. So, what are some ways you can use infographics in your classroom?
1) A daily or weekly infographic can be used to spark analysis and discussion. Remember that students do not always know how to deal with all the information presented on the graphic, so start by modeling the analysis. Things to consider:
a) What is the first impression of the graphic? What do you know about the topic in the first 5 seconds of looking at it?
b) What are some of the details or facts you can learn from the graphic?
c) What are details not included on the graphic? What could be added to it?
d) Is the graphic intended to make you think about an issue, take a stand, or change your behavior? If so, is it effective?
2) Have students collect their own infographics and exchange them with other members of the class. You may want to give guidelines on the topic, but allow for some creativity. If you had an Edmodo account, you can have students post their graphics to the class page and require the students to analyze at least 1-5 of the graphics posted by their peers. This is the method I would use because it doesn’t take up class time, nor does it require students to print large colorful graphics to bring with them to class.
3) Have students create their own infographics. This is probably best done after they’ve gotten the hang of analyzing graphics and likely paired with some other class activity. If you have just completed a lab on enzyme function, have them create an infographic instead of writing a traditional lab report. There are several online resources that can be used to make the graphics.
Easel.ly – starts with themes where you can add text and images
Infogr.am – similar to easel.ly, but has more tools for creating graphs
Visual.ly – the create tool is is not very robust on this one, but it has huge amounts of infographics from all topics. The shark graphic on this page came from visual.ly
Common Core Standards for Literacy in Science and Technical Subjects 6–12
5. Analyze how the text structures information or ideas into categories or hierarchies, demonstrating understanding of the information or ideas.
7. Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.