Annette Lamb and Larry Johnson
Our young people are growing up in a visual world filled with charts, graphs, and diagrams. Infographics have become a popular way to convey complex ideas in a highly visual way.
An infographic is a graphic representation of information that helps users visualize the “big picture” of an idea that might otherwise be difficult to understand. When these innovative visuals are connected with books and other library resources, synergy occurs allowing new ways of thinking about information and ideas.
For instance, an infographic could introduce students to Steve Jobs. Youth could brainstorm questions about the facts in the infographic and access background information about their topic. Next they could read the biography Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal seeking evidence to address their questions and extend their understandings.
Let’s explore ways that infographics can kickstart student research across the curriculum.
Millions of infographics can be found online using the image search feature in popular search engines like Google and Bing.
Go to Google Images and do a search for a topic adding the term infographic such as traumatic brain injury infographic. Provide students will a few quality infographics to analyze. Ask them to brainstorm questions based on the contents of the infographic. Then, select a set of quality works of nonfiction to help youth address their questions. For instance, Traumatic Brain Injury: From Concussion to Coma by Connie Goldsmith is a concise work of nonfiction focusing on this popular topic.
A search for endangered species infographic yields dozens of high-quality infographics. Consider pairing them with nonfiction books such as
Government websites are known for quality infographics. Search the USA Government website for the word infographic to find thousands of infographics across content areas. Government agencies like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) have thousands of useful infographics on science and health topics.
Websites like virtual.ly contain hundreds of infographics on popular topics. Do a search for natural disasters for lots of examples. Pair these with DK books like Natural Disasters by Claire Watts and Trevor Day.
When selecting infographics for use by children, consider topics that lend themselves to visual representations. For instance, you might start with the book Look Up! Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard by Annette LeBlanc Cate. Then, use infographics to explore information about popular backyard birds like Hummingbirds.
Infographics can easily be overwhelming for youth, so it’s important to select examples that match the developmental level of students. The American Civil War includes a map, dates, and information about casualties without providing information overload. It could be used by children reading Civil War on Sunday by Mary Pope Osborne.
Some infographics are replicated on many websites. Try to identify the original creator by examining the resources used to create the infographic. These are often found at the bottom of the infographic. If possible, link to the original website. For instance, the How Do We Know series of infographics originates at the U.S. Census Bureau. In some cases the URL for the infographic may be very long. Use a URL shortener to provide quick access to the website for student use.
Although it’s possible to locate thousands of infographics using a Google Images search, consider enhancing your library’s physical and virtual collection with specific books and websites that incorporate infographics.
Many new series books for youth are incorporating infographics as the main approach for conveying information.
The Super Science Infographics series from Learner Publications provide many examples that students can discuss and evaluate. Books include Solar System, Weather and Climate, Energy and Waves, Forces and Motion, Life Science, and Natural Disasters. Owlkids Books has a similar series focusing on science topics such as Planet Earth and the Natural World by Jon Richards.
Animal Infographics by Chris Oxlade is one of a number of new books from Capstone’s Infographics: Read Me! series focusing on infographics for younger children.
The I See What You Mean series from Big Picture Press also weave info graphics throughout the book. Titles including Human Body and Animals.
Annick Press’s Native Americans: A Visual Exploration by S.N. Paleja provides a wonderful introduction to American Indians. This engaging book serves as a great starting point for social studies investigations.
A growing number of books are weaving infographics as one element of their informational books. Many of the books in Scholastic’s Discover More Readers series contain infographics along with opportunities for leveled reading.
Many online magazines and websites contain collections of infographics designed specifically for youth. The Kids Discover website posts infographics on topics such as Mesopotamia, simple machines, and anatomy.
Many publishers are now incorporating infographics into their publications. For instance, Scholastic’s Scope Magazine publishes infographics like The Perfect Meal to jumpstart writing activities. This subscription-based magazine is available in both then print and online form.
National Geographic is another company that is weaving infographics into their publications and websites. Change the Course explores the importance of freshwater sources. Again, both print and online versions are available of many National Geographic publications.
Use virtual infographic collections for inquiry-based learning activities. Ask students to select from the dozens of infographics available at Live-Science or History Channel . Encourage youth to generate their own questions and fact-check the information on the page.
Infographics can be woven into inquiry-based learning activities throughout the curriculum.
Social Studies Connections. From bullying to drug abuse, teens face a wide range of social issues in their everyday lives. Connect infographics with popular realistic fiction as a way to discuss these issues. For instance, tie an infographic on the topic of Bullying with realistic young adult fiction related to bullying. Ask students to create their own infographic that connects the social issue with their realistic fiction book.
Historical Connections. Infographics aren’t a new idea. Consider introducing infographics as part of primary source document activities. For instance, students reading the Sibert medal book Bomb: The Race to Build - and Steal - the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin will find infographics created during the 1940s and 1950s fascinating. In January of 1951, Mutual of Omaha produced How to Survive an Atomic Bomb . Involve youth in locating other historical infographics.
Biography Connections. An increasing number of biography infographics feature the lives of famous people. Singers like Michael Jackson, composers like John Williams, and world leaders like Gandhi are just a few examples of individuals you can find with a Google Images search. Ask youth to evaluate these infographics, then involve them in making their own biography infographic. Encourage students to begin by reading a biography that provides background information about their person of interest. The popular biography series Who Was…? would be a great place to begin. Use Who Were the Beatles? by Geoff Edgers along with the dozens of Beatles infographics available as examples.
Science Connections. The Citizen Scientist infographic shows the many ways everyday people are involved with important science projects. Students can investigate the many projects featured in the infographic such as World Water Monitoring Day, Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s science programs, and Nature’s Notebook. It’s an excellent companion to the book Citizen Scientist: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Youth Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns. Ask students to create an infographic related to a science topic of local interest such as the migration of the Monarch butterfly.
Art and Design Connections. Use the book Go: A Kidd’s Guide to Graphic Design by Chip Kidd to introduce young people to the elements of design including form, line, color, scale, typography, and other topics. Ask students to compare the ideas presented in different infographics related to design. For example, a search for color theory infographic generates dozens of interesting examples to analyze. The Psychology of Color in Logo Design explores how color is used to elicit emotions. Involve students in selecting an element and creating their own infographic.
Cross Curricular Connections. Infographics can stimulate interest across subject areas. A young adult studying celiac disease might find the infographic 84 Signs You Have Celiac Disease to be useful in understanding the symptoms of celiac disease. This may lead the student to think about the role of food in their own life. Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley is a graphic memoir that explores food in the life of a young girl who discovers her passion for food. Involve youth in creating an infographic that reflects their relationship with food.
Another effective cross curricular theme is history and the environment. Many works of fiction and nonfiction focus on the Dustbowl era. The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown is a graphic novel focusing on this environmental disaster from American history. Involve students in examining infographics associated with recent concerns about drought in the West such as Drought Grips U.S..
From natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes to human catastrophes like the crash of the Hindenburg, infographics are an effective way to visualize and analyze important world events. Pair Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkins with infographics showing details about the ship and disaster. Titanic 101: The Great Infographic History by Steve Hall is a book contains lots of infographics.
When infographics are used in conjunction with activities that require reading and critical thinking, students develop important, transferable skills. The AASL Standards for the 21st Century Learner require that students can evaluate, analyze, interpret, and apply information sources including infographics. Develop activities that engage youth in using infographics effectively.
Brainstorm Discussions. Use an infographic to jumpstart a discussion related to some aspect of digital citizenship or information inquiry. For instance, involve small groups in discussing the Wikipedia infographic. Ask them to talk about their own use of print encyclopedia and online reference resources.
Fact-Check Infographics. Provide a small group of children with biographies such as Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman and Abraham Lincoln by George Sullivan. Ask them to compare the book with the facts in the Abraham Lincoln infographic.
Trace the Origin. Teach young people the value of infographics by encouraging students to evaluate and trace the origin of an infographic on a particular subject. For instance, a class reading books about the Holocaust such as The War within These Walls by Aline Sax might search for an infographic about the Holocaust. Then, track the origin of the infographic and speculate on why a particular individual or group might create an infographic on this topic. For instance, history museums and nonprofit organizations are two group that have published infographics on this topic.
Compare Visual Presentation. Involve students in comparing multiple infographics on the same topic. For instance, search for Mars Rover infographic to identify more than a dozen different examples. Ask youth to compare the types of information found and the approaches to presenting the information visually. Finally, ask them to write about what they think should go in an effective infographic on the Mars Rover. Use the book The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity by Elizabeth Rusch for additional information.
Trace Change and Movement. Many infographics use chronology to express how something changes or evolves over time. While timelines may be an important element of this type of infographic, other types of visuals may also be used. For instance, a map may be used to trace movement of people or migration patterns of animals. The Threat of Asian Carp infographic shows the movement of this invasive species through Chicago’s waterway system. Ask students to brainstorm other types of changes or movements that would be made into infographics.
Innovate Student Products. Books such as National Geographic’s Kids United States Atlas use infographics to display information about states. Weave these ideas into a new approach to the traditional “states report” assignment. The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest—and Most Surprising—animals on Earth by Steve Jenkins weaves infographics throughout this stunning book for youth. The illustrations incorporate many different types of charts and graphics giving students lots of ideas for their own animal projects. This book is also available as an iPad app.
Explore Intellectual Freedom. Use an infographic to kickoff a reading project focusing on intellectual freedom. Explore the Top Ten Challenged Books infographic. Then, ask youth to read one of the books, write about why they think it’s controversial, and discuss whether they agree with the categories identified in the infographic.
Apply an Infographic. Ask students to apply something they’ve learned from an infographic. For instance, the Get More Out of Google infographic shares lots of ideas for using Google more effectively. Ask students to try out some of the ideas, learn more about Google, then create their own “Google Tips” infographic to share search strategies.
Compare Ideas. Infographics are an effective way to make comparisons. Search for comparison infographic in Google Images. You’ll find comparisons of Mac versus PC, how cars versus people burn fuel, and eating meat versus fish. Examine a comparison of George Orwell versus Aldous Huxley . Ask youth to think about other authors and works that could be compared.
Ask students to compare two individuals. For instance, you can locate an infographic comparing Kobe Bryant with Michael Jordan. Books like Black & White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene ‘Bull’ Connor by Larry Dane Brimner and Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman could get some ideas flowing.
Making “then and now” comparisons is another effective approach. For instance, The March on Washington at 50 infographic compares the life of black Americans in 1963 with 2013. Do a search for then and now infographic for lots of examples that compare then past with the present.
From bulletin boards and displays to handouts and posters, think about how you can use the power of infographics in your school library for marketing and promotion.
The Goodreads website is producing some great infographics related to books and reading like Dystopian Books Again Seize Power. Create a display with the infographic along with the books mentioned in the visual. Check out other Goodreads infographic.
Promote reading and encourage youth to explore new genre by integrating infographics into library bulletin boards. For instance, steampunk is hot. Set up a display with new book titles like Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger along with recent favorites like Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld. Include the IBM Steampunk infographic that predicts the popularity of steampunk. Incorporate a survey asking youth whether they think steampunk is “hot” or “not”.
Use an infographic to provide choice in reading. Identify an infographic on different types of music. For instance, begin with the Hip Hop Infographic . Then, share a set of books related to the topic such as When the Beat Was Born: DJ Kool Herc and the Creation of Hip Hop by Laban Carrick Hill. These infographics and book sets could kick off literature circle activities.
Connect books and infographics with hands-on activities. For instance, Legos are popular with youth. Books like The Lego Ideas Book and LEGO Play Book by Daniel Lipkowitz provide children with lots of ideas. The Learning Power of Lego infographic provides background information about Legos. Combine the book and infographic with hands-on Lego activities.
Think about topics that appeal to young adults. For instance, teen boys are often interested in facial hair. Combine The Facial Hair Handbook by Jack Passion with the infographic All You Need to Know About Facial Hair in a display promoting informational books and leisure reading.
Beyond the walls of your library, post infographics related to library and reading in the lunchroom, hallways, and teacher’s lounge. For instance, Libraries Are Forever: Ebooks and Print Books Can Coexist explores books, reading, and libraries. Most Loved Children’s Books is another infographic that promotes an interest in books and reading.
Young people often seek books that are similar to ones they have enjoyed in the past.
Think about infographics you could create yourself based on the books in your collection. Consider how you could expand the read-alike idea to create a flowchart. For instance, NPR’s Fantasy vs SciFi infographic provides a guide to navigating top books. Think about how a flowchart like this could be used to help youth locate a book of interest. You might focus on a type such as narrative nonfiction or a genre such as realistic fiction. How could this type of approach could be used as part of your readers' advisory program?
The Find Your Next Book infographic helps children and their parents find good books. Involve classes at different grade levels in creating their own flowcharts based on books at their reading levels.
The EpicReads website takes a slightly different approach to the read-alike poster. These Like, Try, Why read-alike posters would be easy to replicate for a variety of genre.
The Lawrence Public Library has a series of “read-alike” flowcharts that help young adults pick good books. These flowcharts could be created in a basic software program such as Microsoft Word.
Get young people involved in creating infographics to share in the library. For instance, students could create an infographic for their favorite book. Use some online examples for ideas such as the Harry Potter infographic.
Young people love to do research on pets. Rather than a general report on a pet, ask students to focus on a specific aspect of pet care. Use the Brush Up! Dog Dental Care infographic to get youth thinking about the options. Hold a pet show in the library where youth can share their infographic and the books they read. Invite a speaker to talk about pet care.
Get your students involved with creating their own infographics. Unfortunately, youth can easily become overwhelmed when faced with this type of assignment. Help them focus on the purpose of their infographic and reasons for creating an infographic.
Talk with students about the purpose of their infographic. Who is their audience? What question do they wish to address or what information do they want to provide?
Organize ideas. Some infographics are used to arrange many ideas in a useful way. For instance, rather than paragraphs of information about World War II, an infographic can organize the key ideas by bringing together a number of charts, graphs, and maps to provide a cohesive look at this event.
Show complex relationships. It’s often difficult to explain connections among ideas when writing a traditional term paper. An infographic helps students describe complex relationships in a visual way. Clusters of images and phrases, along with shapes, lines, and arrows can help show connections. Life cycles, chains of events, and flowcharts are useful components in these types of infographics.
Compare information. Whether visualizing life “then and now” or showing how animals are alike and different, infographics are effective in making comparisons.
Make data meaningful. Infographics can help put sets of data in a useful context. The use of analogies, examples, and themes can help transform data into information.
Tell a story. Visual narratives are an exciting way to tell a story. Rather than using words, pictures are used to convey the ideas.
Once youth have identified their purpose, it’s time to explore the types of visuals they’ll weave into their infographic. Discuss different ways that information can be visualized. In some cases, a particular type of visual such as a timeline will be serve as the central element of the infographic. Conduct a search for history of shoes infographic or history of automobile infographic for examples. Other infographics incorporate a wide range of visuals including graphs, diagrams, and maps.
In Graphic Inquiry, Lamb and Callison (2012) described seven categories of visual elements. Ask students to identify these elements in infographics and think about which might be useful in their project.
Charts & Graphs. From survey results to population statistics, numeric data is often represented using charts and graphs. Tools such as Create a Graph can be used to generate bar, line, area, pie, and XY graphs that can be incorporated into a larger infographic. Text data can be expressed in charts, matrices, and tables. These are usually expressed in rows and columns. It’s important to remember that all charts and graphs should include a descriptive title, range of data, axis titles, and a legend.
Diagrams. Diagrams are useful in showing a simplified visual representation of an idea, object, or concept. From the anatomy of an insect to the operation of a machine, diagrams work well for showing relationships such as parts and wholes. Cross sections, graphical projections, and exploded views are examples of more complex diagrams, while life cycles, flowcharts, and timelines are easier to create.
Illustrations. Cartoons, sketches, and technical drawings are just a few of the illustrations that youth can incorporate into their infographics. Combining an illustration with a few key words can produce a memorable message.
Maps. To show relationships in space, a map is useful. Topographical, thematic, relief, military, political, and pictorial maps are just a few of the options. It’s important that map makers provide a key or legend to help users use and understand the map.
Organizers. Concept maps, cause/effect organizers, and Venn Diagrams are just a few examples of organizers that can be incorporated into infographics. Organizers are effective for showing relationships among data connections, chronologies of events, and comparisons. Shapes, lines, and arrows are often used in organizers to show the interconnection of information.
Images. Many devices can be used to capture an image. Historical photographs and satellite images are a couple examples of images that can be woven into an infographics. While radar images might be used in a weather project, macro photography or microscopy imaging might be used in an insect project.
Symbols. From traffic signs to music notation, symbols are visuals used to represent ideas, concepts, or other abstractions. These simple visuals are popular in infographics. Avatars might be used to represent people and pictographs are sometimes incorporated into other visuals such as charts and maps.
Once the types of graphics have been identified, youth are ready to consider the design elements of their project.
Keep it Simple. Be concise. Encourage students to focus on one concept or central question. Begin with a descriptive title. Then, add key ideas and data that establish a context for information exploration. For instance, a student might focus on a theme, comparison, or other scheme.
Limit words. Although it’s important to use good grammar and mechanics, paragraphs of information can distract from an effective infographic. Instead, use short passages. Or, use phrases in labels, boxes, or speech bubbles. Stick to the main idea and eliminate unnecessary detail. Use words in interesting ways. For instance, apply Wordle or Tagxedo to create a word cloud.
Think variety. Incorporate different approaches to visualize the data. Rather than using a bunch of bar charts, think of alternative ways to display the data.
Apply Principles of Design. Use line, color, shape, texture, space, form, and other elements effectively. The idea of simplicity applies to design as well as content. Stick to a few colors, fonts, and lines. Then, use these elements consistently.
Provide citations. After viewing an infographic, users may want to learn more. Be sure to provide a list of resources used and places to go for additional information.
Many tools can be used to create infographics.
Productivity Tool Software. You don’t need fancy software to create basic infographics. Microsoft Word works fine. You can also create an infographic as a slide in Microsoft PowerPoint. Use the page setup to establish this width and height needed. The SmartArt Graphics option can be used to create a wide range of interesting visual elements including charts, graphs, and diagrams.
Adapt Existing Software. Many popular poster and comic tools can be used to create infographics. For instance, Comic Life can easily be adapted for creating infographics.
Professional Design Tools. If you have access and skills in using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop, these professional design tools are very effective for the creation of infographics. In a middle or high school setting, consider working with a classroom teacher who is already teaching the use of these software packages. An infographics project would allow students to apply many of their software skills within the context of a meaningful project.
Speciality Tools. There are lots of free, online tools for creating infographics. A few examples are listed below:
Lamb, Annette & Callison, Daniel (2012). Graphic Inquiry. Libraries Unlimited.