Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Last year, one student was struggling to formulate her topic for her final synthesis essay (I ask students to use at least 4 texts and combine them in a larger argument about some element of being human).  She stayed after class one day and I asked her if she could somehow graph out what she wanted to say about making decisions.  We talked for almost an hour, and she drew a number of different iterations of a graph.  This was one of the final ones she designed, and it ended up in her paper:

decisions graph

What adding this graph allowed her to do was then explain how it applied to each of the four books she analyzed.  It was a remarkable moment for both of us, as we both understood how the image allow her thinking to crystalize.

This year, as students began to draft synthesis essays, after they all thought they had solid topics, I asked them to draw an image that depicted their topic. It could be a spectrum, a graph, or some other kind of image.  For a few students, it served the same purpose as my student last year: it helped crystalize their thinking.

One student realized the more characters desired something, the more insane they seemed:

Another student made a gradient for what she termed “consumption,” and whether there was an obsessive element to the consumption. This helped her decide where to place different characters (like Hamlet, Ahab, or Frankenstein)  and allowed her to craft her essay around this concept. 

Another student used a graph to show the different kinds of archetypal figures he saw in the texts we read.

While not every student used these graphs in their papers, at least 20% of them did find them useful enough to incorporate into their final paper. As a reader, I also found them useful to refer to as I read their arguments.

So the next time you ask students to write an essay, consider having them translate it into an image. The act might help clarify their thinking and improve their writing.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Using Diagrams & Infographics in Synthesis Essays

Using Infographics in the Classroom

Need to spice up your classroom activities? Try asking students to do infographics. Here’s one my students came up with: an Emojicoaster. Have them track how they feel about a book based on events as they’re reading. This alternative to a timeline of events helps them process how they feel and helps you see what they’re thinking.

Screen Shot 2015-10-06 at 9.02.29 AM

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary for PCTELA

Using Infographics in the Classroom

Friday Five: Infographics You Can Make in Your Classroom

Most people, like me, are vaguely confused about the term Infographic.  I think it is basically a fancy word for a visual version of information–like a chart or a graph.  But the internet and social media have made them more readily available and they have started to permeate our consciousness.  This year I’m trying to use them in my classroom and they seem to be working with students, who appear to be far more familiar with them than I am.

  1. By the Numbers--This is a fairly common type of infographic. Here’s an example about holidays (since I sadly just saw Christmas decorations in the store). I have found one great way for students to use these is to survey classmates and see what the general consensus is–this is a great way to start conversations.  For example, I am teaching Into the Wild and students surveyed each other about whether they admire Chris or think he’s crazy.  My students reading Light in August made some about the book and the author.
  2. Flow Chart--We used an example (should I check my email) to show students what a flow chart was.  Then, students made general flow charts, for school issues and for texts we were reading.  The one about Joe beating people up is a little disturbing, but it actually ties directly to events in the text.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 7.15.20 AMunnamed-1
  3. Timeline–we’ve done these forever, but we can mix them up. I’ve had students do timelines of just a portion of the text, or timelines of one relationship.  One group of students made a timeline and realized there were similarities between Joe Christmas and Batman and they made their poster into a Batman theme, which led to a conversation about how they could actually write a paper comparing the two seemingly different characters.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.43.28 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.44.25 PM
  4. Versus–I used to just have students do Venn Diagrams to see similarities and differences, but there are so many ways for students to visualize this.  Below are some character comparisons from Light in August.
    Screen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.48.46 PMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.48.54 PM
  5. How To–This is a nice way to have students share a skill they are good at, but they can also tie it to a text.  One group of students did a How to use Snapchat, but made it based on Into the Wild, using character names.  Another set of students merged the how to with the versus. (Just a note, it was a group of all boys who made the comparison to Elsa from Frozen.  I would have never know about their love for her had we not done this project.)
    Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 7.15.36 AMScreen Shot 2014-09-25 at 4.43.35 PM

Although I was worried about doing these in class because I hadn’t done them before, the students were familiar with these ways of sharing information and began to synthesize ideas I hadn’t thought of before.  We then talked about how some of these could actually be a type of visual organizer for a paper topic.  Some students shared afterward that it made them think differently about the texts we were reading in class.

If you want to talk more about this, come to my session at the PCTELA conference on Friday, October 24!

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary.

A special thanks to my intern, Shannon Trozzo, without whom I would not have been able to do these!

Friday Five: Infographics You Can Make in Your Classroom

Friday Five: Five Risks I’m Taking This Year in the Classroom

This year (and last year) our principal asked us to take risks, try new things, and have fun.  I’m formalizing the risks I’m taking this year by writing about them and posting them here.  Feel free to share the risks you’ll take in your classroom this year.

  1. No desk. I moved classrooms again this year (I often do, and I’m usually teaching in two classrooms).  This year, when I moved into the room I will teach 4 of my 5 classes with, I wondered where I’d be putting my choice reading bookshelves.  The back corner was the perfect spot, but the previous teacher had a fortress of a desk.  I had nowhere to put the desk if I wanted to have my books (especially since I had to be able to fit 28 student desks in the room). The simplest solution: dump the desk.  Instead, I have a bookcase with all the materials that used to be on/in my desk.  We’ll see how I feel after a few months of this, but I feel freed, in a way.  It means I will always be among my students and there is a more democratic feel to the classroom.  Lots of elementary teachers have done this and written about it, but I’m not sure how many secondary teachers do this. Let me know if you’ve gotten rid of your desk and have any thoughts.    

  2. Infographics. Last year, I learned about memes and how to integrate them into the English classroom.  This year, I want to figure out infographics. (Here’s a cool one about how teens use social media.)  I’m the kind of person who has a hard time reading bar/pie charts, so this is a real challenge for me.  But with the increase of visual media to share information, and the amazing images out there that convey information in an engaging way, I feel like I’m doing my students a dis-service if I don’t at least try to tackle my weakness.  I’ll start by introducing them, having students interpret them, and then, hopefully, my students will create their own (in partners first, then on their own).

  3. One class without a seating chart.  I mentioned I teach in two classrooms.  For the one class I have in another room, I want to try not having a seating chart.  They’re juniors, so this isn’t a crazy idea, and it is a class of 22, so it isn’t a huge number of students, but I want to give them the opportunity to make their own decisions about where they sit. It will be interesting to see if this class has issues with seating in comparison to my other classes.

  4. New way to do vocabulary.  Aside from charts and graphs, my other Achilles heel of teaching is vocabulary.  I struggle with giving standard quizzes, since students have often shared that they cram the words in for the quiz and then immediately forget them.  I’ve been thinking all summer of ways to have meaningful vocabulary study.  Since I’m starting my juniors with Into the Wild, there are many words I’m fairly sure they won’t know.  So here’s my solution: a pretest on words.  If students earn an 85% or above, they’re done.   If they don’t, they take the quiz until they *do* achieve 85% or higher.  I’ll do this three times (split the book into 3 parts).  My plan is that they will have to learn to words, or at least look them up to do well. The bonus is that we have an online course system, so once I set the quiz up, they can just keep taking it over and over (and see the words over and over!).  Again, it will be interesting to see how this works in practice.

  5. Taking a full-year intern. This isn’t a new risk, it is one I take on every year.  Working with the Penn State Professional Development School is exciting and invigorating, but it is always a risk.  I open my classroom to a stranger every year and work with them every day for the entire school year.  I’ve done this enough times to know that this is a risk that is totally worth it–but there is always an element of trepidation in sharing your teaching space with another person.  But like most risks, in the end, it is worth it.  Over the years I have formed strong friendships with interns, and many have become close friends and colleagues.  I feel lucky to work in a school that has access to an amazing bunch of student teachers committed to working in our district for an entire year.

So happy new year to all of you out there.  And take some risks this year! Share them with us, or write about them and we’ll post your reflections here.

Posted by Kate, VP Secondary PCTELA.

Friday Five: Five Risks I’m Taking This Year in the Classroom