STEM Tuesday – Ecosystem Recovery
Visual information is everywhere we look. Think about the bright red, octagonal stop sign the traffic guard holds. Everyone knows at a glance that means stop! Or, look at a set of assembly instructions for a desk or a LEGO set. They rely on pictures and few if any words to explain how to put things together.
Graphics are an important part of informational writing. Sometimes a graphic (a picture only or a combination of words and pictures) is a better choice than words alone.
This month, we’ll focus on reading, understanding, and creating info graphics, using mentor texts from this month’s book list. As they say, sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words.
First, let’s look at the Burmese Python Diet info graphic from Kate Messner’s TRACKING PYTHONS. The graphic itself uses hardly any words. Yet you can immediately see the devastating effect this non-native animal has on native species in Florida. Just look at all that it eats! That’s one hungry python.
Now imagine if Messner had chosen instead to convey this information using only words: 72 mice, 30 cotton rats, 15 rabbits, etc. It doesn’t have nearly the impact. Plus, it’s boring to read. In situations like these, graphics are a great choice.
Trying to explain ocean acidification? What about how telemetry works? You can use graphics to break down complicated step-by-step processes. We have two great examples from this month’s book list: an ocean acidification graphic from Patricia Newman’s PLANET OCEAN and the telemetry graphic from Messner’s PYTHONS.
Unlike the previous, wordless graphic, these use a combination of words and pictures to help us understand what’s going on.
To understand the impact of the pictures, cover them up, and look only at the words. Or you could even try typing them out into a document. How well do you understand what’s going on? Now uncover the pictures and “read” them. How do the images aid your understanding?
If you are explaining a step-by-step process in your writing, consider whether a graphic could help.
Like the step-by-step graphics above, labeled diagrams combine text and images. Let’s study this adorable otter graphic from Patricia Newman’s SEA OTTER HEROES.
What information do the text boxes provide on their own? Imagine if there was no picture of the otter at all, and this information was conveyed in writing only. Would it work? How does the image of the otter add to your understanding of how the otter is built to hunt?
If a reader isn’t familiar with an otter, it would be difficult for them to call to mind what an otter’s ears or whiskers look like. And even if they had seen an otter, their memory might be inaccurate. A picture ensures the reader gets all the information they need, both what the otter’s features look like and how they are used to hunt.
Now it’s time to put what we’ve learned into practice. Have students read through a piece of their own informational writing and identify an area where a graphic might help their audience gain a better understanding. It might be a comparison, a step-by-step process, a description like the otter, or something else.
Next, have them create the infographic. They can draw something by hand or use online tools like Google Slides to arrange photos, clip art, arrows, text boxes, or more.
Finally, have students inert their graphic, and then revise their text accordingly.
Kirsten W. Larson used to work with rocket scientists at NASA and now writes about women in science and much more. Her books include the WOOD, WIRE, WINGS: Emma Lilian Todd Invents an Airplane, illus. Tracy Subisak and A TRUE WONDER: The Comic Book Hero Who Changed Everything, illus. Katy Wu. Learn more at kirsten-w-larson.com.