Thursday, October 27, 2011

Teaching Infographics - Teaching Reading

infographics classi
#1 I have to critically think in college, but your tests don’t teach me that. (20 things students want the nation to know about education)

When I was in the edtech world, a major check-point on my peer rating system was appreciation of Edwin Tufte's infographics tetralogy (Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Beautiful Evidence).  If I saw his texts on an office shelf, I was immediately hooked by that office holder. If an edtech teacher knew of Tufte's short text The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching out Corrupts Within (which demonstrates that a poor PPt presentation failed to prevent the Columbia disaster), I knew that this educator knew her stuff. These are brilliant studies of visual information across global time and place.

Not being a particularly visual learner, I knew immediately when I met Tufte's 1st book that I had much to learn. 

No, our students should not be thrown to Tufte.  But they must be thrown to his legacy. When what I taught was called Literacy, I always included a discrete infographics unit. I also included infographics in pre and post reading activities for informational text - sometimes even for fiction text (historical and international fiction, for example).

I am a fan of embedding visual text into reading standards. 

What is an infographic?  Wikipedia has the definition used by every how-to I have found: "graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge. These graphics present complex information quickly and clearly."  

Infographics belong in ELA as texts because they require that students (quotes are from CCSS ELA Reading 6-12):
  • Identify text structures and their purposes
  • Read for detail - "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it" 
  • "Determine central ideas or themes of a text"
  • "Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text"
  • "Summarize the key supporting details and ideas"
  • "Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse formats and media, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words"
  • "Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence"
  • Think critically
  • Ask questions
  • Identify purpose and audience
  • Problem-solve
I mined the net for a short video on "How to read an infographic" -  but there does not seem to be one.  This is the perfect flipped assignment for ELA. In fact, as discrete instruction goes, it is one of very few flipped lessons that will be successful or useful in an ELA classroom.

So I made my own flip-lesson video called Reading Infographics.  Find it on YouTube or look at it below.  One thing you might do with students is have them use the YouTube Annotate function to interact with the lesson and with each other.  I have embedded many activities/exercises into the resource than can be used this way or assigned for HW or classwork.

In the Middle School classroom, I made a Concept Wall containing the key concepts and vocabulary from this video.

[new: is a terrific source for infographics.  It is not in the video.]

If you want a copy of the original Keynote, contact me.


  1. I tried to play your video and it's private.

  2. I would like a copy of the original keynote--and access to the video, if I could. I teach pre-service teachers and want them to consider infographics as a viable genre they could teach their students. Thanks for your great work in this area. My email: