Infographics for ELT: Content Knowledge and Language Development

Gabriela KleckovaA Guest Post by Gabriela Kleckova
Gabriela Kleckova, chair of the Department of English at the Faculty of Education, University of West Bohemia in Plzen, the Czech Republic, is a university professor, language teacher, teacher trainer, researcher, consultant, and materials developer. She is interested in the effectiveness and utility of visual design of ELT materials, materials development, content and language integrated learning (CLIL), and teacher education. She is a past member of the TESOL Board of Directors (2012–2015).

Like everybody who plans for an engaging lesson, I always look for various types of materials to bring to my classes. About 2 years ago, I discovered infographics as a new resource that could enrich my teaching and tap into the students’ needs as well as experiences with visuals. You may not be familiar with the term infographics, but I am sure you have seen infographics everywhere.

They appear in print media and the online world on a regular basis. They come in a variety forms and colors. They are still but they are also in motion, and they can be simple or complex. They capture our attention, provide and communicate information on a wide range of topics, and bring together visual and verbal elements to convey information or data in a concise and mostly uncomplicated and digestible way. To me, they present interesting facts in a visually appealing way that is memorable and engaging and thus suitable for any educational context.

I have recently used an infographic with intermediate level students in a lesson focusing on password security on the Internet. The infographic I used had various information on characteristics of weak and strong passwords. I divided the infographic into four different parts and used it in a typical jigsaw activity instead of a text.

It was the first time I used such a medium with these particular students, and I could tell that it took them some time to decode the visual and textual codes in the infographic and share their bit of information; however, they also seemed to enjoy the new medium and be engaged with it. The content information was presented to them in a format that was easy to process without an extreme language overload yet in a way that required cognitive involvement with the material.

After reading and examining the infographic, students had content to share, discuss, and consequently write about. During group work, students responded to both visual and verbal parts of the infographic, expressing themselves as best they could to the visual bits while also integrating language provided with the infographic. Everybody had an opportunity to interact despite their various language skills, which is something I like to see in my classes.

I believe infographics offer many possibilities for language classes. Students develop their English skills around materials that are visually engaging and motivating and that, at the same time, provide meaningful, interesting, and authentic content. In addition, students develop critical thinking skills, visual literacy skills, and content knowledge.

I suggest that you put the topic you are about to teach in a search engine along with the word infographic and see what images you can find. I am convinced that you will be impressed by the possibilities. I would be happy to see your ideas about infographics in the comments section below.

P.S. If you wish to learn more about data visualization, I recommend a TED talk by David McCandless.

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