Posts Tagged: visuals

Posts Tagged ‘visuals’

Apr 13 2011

Strategies for Using Visuals in Writing Assignments

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Illustrating Arguments (Jean Schwind & Paula Patch) – activities and results from the Revson Digital Literacies Project (see related post)
Creating Visual Representations of Information (Jessie Moore)

  1. Students collect data and practice representing it in a visual form (table, graph, illustration, etc.). The class can compare different representations and discuss what each version emphasizes/deemphasizes, etc.
  2. Jessie’s favorite version—Colors of M&Ms
  • Provide each student/group with a package of M&Ms. Ask them to count the number of M&Ms in each color. (At this point, the whole class could create a table with “actual per packet,” “total,” and “average” information represented.)
  • Ask each student/group to create a visual representation comparing the amount of candies in each color included in their packet.
  • Give students information about the reported color break-down, as provided on the M&Ms website. (See handout)
  • Ask each student/group to create a second visual, comparing their actual color distribution with the company’s reported distribution.

Feb 10 2010

Activity Showcase: Illustrating Arguments (Paula Patch and Jean Schwind)

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Overview of Activity

This activity aims to help students understand that 21st-century “writing” often goes beyond words, sentences, and paragraphs to include visuals. Evidence to support written arguments is sometimes most effectively presented in pictures, graphs, tables, charts, maps, and other types of illustrations.

The exercise requires students to examine the role of illustration in an article recently published in the New York Times. It then asks students to produce a brief illustrated argument of their own in response to the article. They will need to (a) determine what kind of image will most effectively illustrate their response, (b) find the image, (c) insert the image into their written text, and (d) caption the image using MLA documentation style.

Connection to ENG 110 Objectives

The exercise helps students develop a more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between purpose, audience, and voice, and an awareness that writing expectations and conventions vary within the academy and in professional and public discourse.


This exercise works best mid-semester, after students have some experience in making effective rhetorical choices in written arguments. It takes about 50 minutes. (Part II can be finished as homework.) Because students tend to be careless about proper captioning and source citation, we recommend integrating illustration into subsequent classroom exercises and/or assignments to give them additional practice after they have completed this initial exercise.

Part I: Examining an Illustrated Argument (whole-class activity)

  1. Show pre- and post-make over photos of Susan Boyle, published in the April 29, 2009, issue of the New York Times, via PowerPoint. Don’t label or identify the photos as you show them; see if students can do this. Then, ask students to explain the significance of the two images.
  2. Have students read the New York Times article from which these illustrations were taken, “Yes, Looks Do Matter” by Pam Belluck <>.  Discuss the relationship between the illustrations and the argument, using the following questions as prompts:
  • How does Belluck explain the meaning of these images of Susan Boyle? How does her analysis of their significance compare with what we had to say about them?
  • Are these pictures an essential part of Belluck’s argument? Or are they superfluous and expendable? (Would a “text-only” version of this essay be as effective as the illustrated original?)

3. Have students find the article using the Newsbank database, where it appears without the illustrations. Ask students, has anything essential been lost?

Part II: Producing an Illustrated Argument (individual assignment)

Assignment: Write one or two paragraphs in which you:

  1. Describe a particular stereotype that has influenced the way you view others or the way others view you. (This stereotype can be based on race, ethnicity, gender, class, age, occupation, or other characteristics.)
  2. Explain the personal and cultural significance of this stereotype.
  3. Follow the “Guidelines for Using Illustrations” to present an image (e.g., a photo, cartoon, ad, or painting) within your paragraph(s) that vividly captures the stereotype you’re examining.

Suggested Process:
1. Show sample images of different kinds of stereotypes to get them started. (Create PowerPoint slides to show sample images.) Three that we might write about:

  • President Sarkozy of France standing on his tiptoes (because Jean is short):

  • stats from a recent article on living in retirement that illustrate stereotypes of the elderly (because Jean has parents in their 80s whom she worries about): (Peter Keating, “The New Retirement: Hanging on at Home,” SmartMoney, Aug. 2009: 38-39).

2.  Suggest good image sources other than Google: Flickr, photobucket, Artstor, and other Art/Art History databases, etc.

3.  Review “Guidelines of Illustrating Arguments” (Post to the class Blackboard account before class if you’re in a computer classroom; otherwise, distribute hard copies.)

4.  Ask a tech-savvy volunteer to demonstrate how to insert images and captions in Word. (Have the volunteer insert the publicity poster for The Ugly Truth into the “Guidelines for Illustrating Arguments” document.) Pods should collaborate and help one another do this as they work on their own mini- illustrated arguments.

5. Students create their own illustrated paragraph(s) about a stereotype that affects the way they see or the way others see them and post it (as a Word attachment) to a forum on Discussion Board.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Ask students the review the postings of their pod members. Which of these mini-illustrated arguments is most interesting and effective? Why? Have a pod secretary answer these questions in a posted reply to the author of the best-in-pod.
  2. Have students answer this question in a posted reply to their own illustrated argument: What did you learn about visual arguments that you can use for other assignments in this class or any other classes?

Follow-up exercises and applications to build on this workshop in later classes:

  1. How to create charts, tables, and graphs using Word tools
  2. How to format illustrations (and embed them within written text) using Word;
  3. How to copy/save pictures from an article in PDF form;
  4. Require students to illustrate at least one of the arguments that they present in a paper required for the course.

Guidelines for Illustrating Written Arguments

I. Introduction

Visuals can sometimes convey or illustrate points that are central to your argument better than words. Color photographs of melting glaciers and shrinking mountain snowcaps powerfully enhance Al Gore’s presentation of the “inconvenient truth” of global warming, for example, just as the dynamic charts designed by physics professor Tony Crider dramatically demonstrate grade inflation at Elon over the last 30 years. (See .)

Internet databases (free search engines like Google and Flickr and subscription databases such as Artstor, which is accessible through Elon’s library website) make it easy to locate and reproduce images. And software enables us to produce original graphics and insert images into the text of papers or PowerPoint presentations with a few clicks of the mouse.  As you research and write about a subject, be attentive to ways in which visuals—pictures, charts, tables, maps, cartoons, and so on—might advance your argument.  Be careful to incorporate graphics into a written text only when they serve a clear and explicit purpose, however. Otherwise, they’ll simply distract readers and waste space.

II. Criteria for illustrating an argument

In deciding about whether a written argument might be enhanced by illustration, consider these aspects of your rhetorical situation:

  • Your subject: Is it visual in nature, such as an analysis of a magazine or television ad, an explanation of the difference between burqa and hijab in Islamic culture, or an interpretation of the strange Indian in Benjamin West’s painting, The Death of General Wolfe (1771)? Illustrations may help you to write effectively about subjects with strong visual dimensions.
  • Your audience: Are you presenting data (e.g., the results of a survey or observational records) that you collected in research conducted for a psychology, sociology, biology, or environmental studies class?  Research data in the natural sciences, social sciences, and other academic disciplines are often most efficiently presented in a graph, chart, diagram, or table. Visuals are less common in many kinds of writing that you’ll do in the humanities, especially interpretations of print texts.
  • The medium or form of your writing: Are you writing for a medium that typically includes visuals and/or audio components as well as written text, like the Internet? Presentational media like PowerPoint also lend themselves well to visuals.

III. Captioning and citing visual images

In academic writing, illustrations should be captioned with both numerical and descriptive labels. Captions should also cite the source of the illustration. For example, if you were to use the promotional poster for The Ugly Truth in a study of gender stereotyping in recent romantic comedies, the caption would be:

Fig. 1: Poster for The Ugly Truth (Sony Pictures, 2009).  Source: FilmOFilia. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <>.

Required parts of this caption are:

1)      Numerical label: Fig.1. Fig. (short for figure) is used to label all illustrations  (pictures, maps, graphs, charts, etc.) except tables (which are labeled Table.)

2)      Descriptive label: Poster for The Ugly Truth (Sony Pictures, 2009).

3)      Source citation: Source: FilmOFilia. Web. 12 Oct. 2009. <>.

Other rules for using illustrations in academic writing:

  • You must refer to the illustration within your text to clarify the connection between the image and your argument. In this case, for instance: “The promotional poster for The Ugly Truth (Figure 1) emphasizes the stereotypical assumption that women want love and men want sex.”
  • Place the illustration as close as possible to your first reference to it.
  • You do not need to repeat the citation for illustrations in your works-cited or references list.

If you are writing for a nonacademic audience, captions include a descriptive label and the source of the image. Using the same example, the full caption for The Ugly Truth graphic in a nonacademic piece of writing would be:

Poster for The Ugly Truth (Sony Pictures, 2009). Source: FilmOFilia <>.

Feb 14 2007

Activity Showcase: Ad Analysis (Jessie Moore)

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Materials: Collect several similar ads from different magazines (i.e., travel ads from 3 different magazines). Give students a copy of an ad and the worksheet prompts below.

Goal: Challenge students to guess what type of publication their ads appeared in based on their rhetorical analyses.


Task: Analyze your ad for clues about the readers of the publication in which the ad appears.

Your Best Guess Based on Your Analysis



Socioeconomic Traits


Types of Evidence that Would Convince these Readers

Presentation Strategies that Might Appeal to these Readers


Feb 14 2007

Assignment Showcase: Visualizing Your Writing Voice (Ashley Holmes)

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Note: This assignment was adapted from one shared by Diann Baecker at Virginia State University’s Conference on Composition (May 2005).  Dr. Baecker has her students write a more formal essay to accompany the collage activity, whereas my adaptation of the activity only asks students to create an informal list or paragraph of the rhetorical choices they made.

Rationale from Diann Baecker’s presentation notes:

This lesson plan, which asks students to construct collages using abstract shapes and colors in order to “write” about voice, taps into the students’ expertise in visual rhetoric.  It works, in part, because it frees students from using the very same words that are frustrating them when they write their essays, while still requiring that they use all of the same rhetorical principles behind creating a persuasive essay/work.

Directions for Activity:

  • In preparation for class, you should have colored construction paper (whole sheets), various shapes (triangles, circles, squares, etc.) cut out of different colors of construction paper (quilting patterns work well for this), scissors, and glue.  I prepare five stations of materials around the room for students to share.
  • Students should read “Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes for homework.  You might start class by reading the poem out loud.  In this poem, Hughes describes the process and result of writing an essay for his English professor.  Hughes explains that the essay ends up being a little bit of himself as well as a little bit of his teacher (Note: you might emphasize to students that writing is a communicative act that involves a reader who takes an active part in creating the meaning of the text.)
  • You can use the questions on the “Visualizing Your Writing Voice” handout (see next page) to fuel a discussion of the poem that emphasizes the rhetorical situation and characteristics of personal writing. (I created these discussion questions, not Dr. Baecker.)
  • Then you should introduce the activity (or essay).  Ask students to think about what happens within the writing process when their voices meet the expectations of the teacher.
  • Conduct a short exercise to get students used to thinking about the properties of color and shape.  Ask students to use the shapes already cut out at their stations and to hold up the shape of “happy” (for example).  Then, ask them to hold up the color of “happy.”  Do this for a number of emotions, anger, sadness, love, etc.  Emphasize that there are no right or wrong answers, but that each person has a firm idea of what colors/shapes are appropriate for them.  Also, with each category, you might ask for a volunteer to share why they chose that particular color or shape.  This starts the whole class thinking about why they make certain choices.
  • Then, give them class time to create the collage.  Emphasize that they should consciously make a choice about what colors and shapes they use in the collage.  If they don’t understand what the collage means, their readers (group members) won’t be able to understand it either.
  • My students in later classes found it helpful to see examples.  I’m happy to lend you the examples my students have allowed me to keep.
  • After they finish, you could ask them to write a brief paragraph or bulleted list explaining the choices they made as they composed the collage.  You could also, as Diann Baecker does, ask your students to write a 2-3 page essay describing their collage.  Dr. Baecker’s essay assignment is below.

Paper Instructions: Constructing a Visual Essay

Your last paper will be an “essay” using Langston Hughes’ “Theme for English B” as a prompt.  You will create your own theme in which you consider the issues Hughes raises in his poem, such as the way his instructor affects his writing and how his writing, in turn, affects his instructor.

This paper, however, will be a little different.  Picking up on the idea of a “colored” page, you will construct your essay in visual terms.  I would like your finished product to be 8 ½” by 11”, but you may use anything you want to construct your “theme”: construction paper, photographs, pictures from magazines, words, song lyrics, etc.  Remember that a visual essay still contains all of the elements of a written essay: it must present a coherent theme, be persuasive, be original, and be interesting.  If you don’t understand what your picture means, your reader wont’ understand it either.

Also, you will write a 2-page explanation of your theme.  If you use song lyrics or poetry (or anything like that) which are not your own, you should give credit to the artists/poets in this explanation.


–       To explore and think critically about your personal writing voice and how you might represent it visually.

–       To help you identify the tenants of a personal writing style and voice, which you will also use for Project 1.

–       To use visuals combined with words to practice the rhetorical principles and choices we make as writers composing texts.

“Theme for English B” by Langston Hughes

–       What is the writer’s rhetorical situation

(Subject, writer, reader, purpose, context)

(What’s happening in the poem?)

–       What message is the writer sending the reader?

–       How does the writer describe who he is?

–       How does who the writer is impact the “page for English B” that he must write?

–       What part of the writer’s rhetorical situation is he exploring in his page?  What conclusions does he reach about this?

–       What examples of personal writing characteristics do you see in the poem? (p. 73 in A Meeting of Minds)


–       Construct a collage using abstract shapes and colors.

–       This collage should represent your writing voice.

–       You will be able to use your understanding of visuals in order construct your “voice.”

–       Once you finish constructing your collage, write on the back (or another sheet of paper) your name and an explanation of the rhetorical choices you made (colors, shapes, how you fit them together as a collage).  You should explain how your collage represents your writing voice.

–       In small groups, share with your peers the choices you made in your collage.

Theme for English B

The instructor said,

Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.

I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:

It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you:
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me NOT like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
That’s American.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.

This is my page for English B.