1-310-390-0131 - Outside U.S.
“Experts often possess more data than judgement”
– Colin Powell, American politician (1937-)
By Samantha Jungheim and Eric H. Roth
The Covid Context
During the COVID-19 era, English teachers and English Language Learners (ELLs) have frequently sought factual information to better understand the evolving news. General confusion about the state of the world plagues many of us; we must go beyond headlines to better understand the confusing situation. As educators and citizens, we often read maps, graphs, and charts to see data and detail trends.
Yet ELLs often struggle to evaluate this complicated information. We can help students decipher the information inside infographics about our constantly changing world. Current events and our students’ professional and academic learning needs dictate that we guide students in understanding this data hidden in plain sight.
Beginning Our Workshop
Our CATESOL 2020 Annual Conference virtual workshop, titled “Connecting the Dots: Teaching Students to Describe Infographics” reviewed a variety of methods to discuss statistical information. The online audience included CATESOL members, California educators, English teachers, community college instructors, and other ESL professionals. The CATESOL 2020 presentation emphasized four simple steps to creating data commentaries:
- Introduce the infographic
- Identify significant data
- Compare related statistics
- Critically comment on the data
Strengthening Our Students’ Writing
We also discussed key aspects of style and grammar in writing data commentaries and presenting infographics. Comparatives, superlatives, and hedging language are paramount in writing a strong data commentary. While many English students at the graduate level are familiar with these concepts, many students still need practice employing this knowledge. We believe many students – including high school, community college, and university levels can benefit from writing data commentaries too. Writing data commentaries allows students to better identify significant trends, analyze past events, and discuss future possibilities. Students also learn how to better evaluate and express the levels of certainty in writing data commentaries.
Consequently, English students will improve their critical thinking skills, place information in specific contexts, and avoid common communication mistakes. Working with primarily graduate students at the University of Southern California, we have observed many “good mistakes” English learners make in writing data commentaries. We’ve seen students omit the context of data or write generalized statements that are not qualified with numbers. Depending on your student’s needs, you can emphasize some of these writing skills throughout your data commentary lessons. Further, this activity – which we consider an essential academic skill – also emphasizes the importance of citing and identifying sources (i.e. ourworldindata.org) in telling fact-based stories.
We planned a highly interactive, 75-minute workshop where participants could select, summarize, and evaluate an infographic from Google Images to share in breakout rooms. However, we learned that the conference would take place virtually using InEvent without breakout rooms. Therefore, we modified our presentation.
Unfortunately, the CATESOL 2020 conference still encountered technical difficulties during our early morning presentation. After an awkward 30-minute delay, we gave a shortened 45-minute version to a smaller audience. We also answered some audience questions and received very positive feedback on our presentation and gratitude for the reproducible handouts that we shared.
Concluding Our Workshop
After participating in our CATESOL 2020 workshop, educators should better understand how to teach ELLs how to write data commentaries and present infographics for both academic and professional purposes. English teachers can also more easily integrate authentic, contemporary infographics into their classrooms. 2020 has enforced the value of teaching relevant fact-based English lessons. You can download our CATESOL 2020 Powerpoint here and our collection of reproducible handouts here and here. We hope you find the material as helpful as the CATESOL 2020 workshop participants.
For more details on other ESL conference presentations Eric has given, click here.
How do you use infographics in your classes? What kind of data do your students use in their papers? Does teaching data commentaries make sense in your teaching context? Why?