When it comes to navigating the standards and curriculum for English/Language Arts, some topics sing loudly to me as a teacher, while others murmur with obligation. It is sometimes only with trial, error, and reaching out to colleagues that I manage to find a way to enliven some curricular expectations. Research has long been one of those topics that I have had a back-and-forth dynamic of love and lethargy for when it comes to applying concepts in my classroom.
My journey as a doctoral student and professor has helped me unpack and re-envision some of this informational text, and today’s Monday Motivator features a fairly quick and visual approach to working with nonfiction texts – with links to some fiction texts, as well. This is also a “rubber meets the road” strategy I have recently tried out with high school students.
Identifying Engaging Topics
Some topics are juicier than others. They connect to human interests and are still thrumming with relevance for today. Once upon my time, my middle school students were required to write about food additives for one of their summative assessments. The choice of this topic failed to deliver on the kind of robust energy that other topics, including freedom, equity, and human rights, could have invited. While students could practice with their informational skills, there seemed to be little about this topic that was tailored for them.
Engagement and buy-in are not only possible in the topic selection phase, but in the product phase of a research process, as well. By crafting infographics, I have found that students can use digital processes, hand-drawn artwork, and written information as a linked network of expressions and representations for their products.
What is more, students can include factual information, like statistics, than can provide connections between information literacy and mathematics. Additional content area connections are made possible with particular text choices, and students may find more comfort or engagement with topics that travel across content, as well as a range of methods of composing. Using infographics can help students explore technological and artistic possibilities, and can encourage students to see research as more than writing essays.
My process of using infographics with high school students began with a unit that centered on Elie Wiesel’s Night. As a means of making the exploration of the time period more meaningful, students created one-page print or digital infographics that featured quotes, facts, and images.
An infographic approach can follow these steps:
When creating a product or text, I always recommend using modeling and mentor texts. In this case, the majority of my students have never heard of infographics. Some of my favorite examples include information presented for students about engaging with school (available at Piktochart) and infographics related to time periods as examples for presenting information on the Holocaust (available at Brittanica). Mentor texts allow me to show, rather describe, the kind of product that students can make – saving loads of time in detailed explanations.
Work with Locating Sources
From the mentor texts, I then work with students to develop information from resources that have reliable information. Sometimes I will work with students by sharing a few examples, which can be expanded; at other times, I begin with an inquiry process and invite students to find sources, and then revisit criteria for what counts as reliability, including examining the site hosts and content beyond surface-level design.
Once students have gathered information, we discuss how to present the information and co-construct a rubric, including a category for multimodal information. I encourage students to use multiple means for conveying information, including images and words, as well as graphs, charts, and statistics. The goal is to create a product that can be universally appreciated and understood by a wide range of readers.
For nonfiction young adult texts, I also recommend either the adult or young adult editions of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, and An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. These books are available in either edition and can be used to stimulate conversation and interest around contemporary topics of justice, empathy, and equality/equity.
I also recommend the anthology, Nevertheless, We Persisted: 48 Voices of Defiance, Strength, and Courage. This book features nonfiction accounts, written with a narrative sensibility, that explore intersections of identity and experience, including sexuality, activism, diverse abilities, and more. Students can launch from these books into further explorations of critical topics, gathering information to present in an accessible way for their peers.
What is more, students can engage in research related to topics that can be found in fiction texts. For example, students might examine topics like space colonization and agriculture from texts like The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera, government systems and dictatorships from texts like Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, and even topics like video game development and use from books like Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
- Educational Infographic Templates: https://www.adobe.com/express/discover/templates/infographic/educational
- Free Infographic Maker from Canva: https://www.canva.com/create/infographics/
- Dunlap, J. C., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2016). Getting graphic about infographics: design lessons learned from popular infographics. Journal of Visual Literacy, 35(1), 42-59.
- Smiciklas, M. (2012). The power of infographics: Using pictures to communicate and connect with your audiences. Que Publishing.