The Visual Syllabus

It’s that time of year and I couldn’t be more excited for all that’s to come!

As we prepare for a new school year, one of the things we’re often doing is modifying or updating our class syllabus and expectations.  And often, despite our best efforts, these tend to have more blocks of text than we’d like, and our students stare at it and us blankly when we review it in the beginning of the school year.

Enter the “Visual Syllabus” or what I like to call the Syllabus-Gone-Infographic.  Infographics are effective ways of presenting information largely because of their layout and visual-quality.  Bottom-line, students might find themselves reading over it simply because it looks cooler or easier to read.  Plus, you can put a QR code on it that will link them to your website.

A New Classroom Poster?

AND if you have a really rad syllabus, who’s to say you can’t use your school’s poster printer to make a large laminated copy to display in your classroom?

A Few Examples:

So here are a few examples of teachers’ visual syllabi.

Many of these were created using piktochart, a free site to make infographics (that also has a PRO Version discounted for Educators) 

visual syllabus 1

To see this full infographic, click hereenglish 9, version 2 | Piktochart Infographic Editor.

visual syllabus 2

To see this full infographic, click here: 2014-15 Syllabus | Piktochart Infographic Editor.

visual syllabus 3

To see this full infographic, click here: English III Syllabus | Piktochart Infographic Editor.

visual syllabus 4

To see this full infographic, click here.

visual syllabus 5

To see this full infographic, click here: AP Literature | Piktochart Infographic Editor.


Infographics of the Week: All About Black History Month

There were no #infographics of the week this week, so this week and next week’s will combine, and it’s all about Black History Month.

If you’ve been using infographics often in class as visual text or you’re teaching it as genre, it might be interesting to add a new question to the mix when analyzing infographics: What are the characteristics of an infographic?

It may even be beneficial to start assessing infographics, not just for their reliability (a great activity when modeling how to analyze a source for reliability and relevance to a topic), but also for their effectiveness.  What makes an infographic effective? Why are some infographics more effective than others?  In asking (and answering) questions like these, students are getting practice with analysis and evaluation of text.

Without further ado, here are this week’s infographics:

2015_black_history_timeline black history month 2 black history month black-history-month_5306b3f0d8703_w1500 civil-rights-timeline_529e4beb86eaf_w1500

#WCW: Steph’s Got a Crush on Mari Evans

Today’s #WCW guest blogger is Stephanie DeCosta. Here’s her post for her February writer-crush, Mari Evans.

I was introduced to Mari Evans in college; I read “Where Have You Gone” for the first time when I was a single, 19 year-old living at home. Instantly, I had two thoughts:

  1. I liked her simple, colloquial style and pictured her living in Chicago in some swanky apartment listening to jazz on an old record player.
  2. I had no sympathy for her—I wanted to tell her “Get over him! He’s a loser!”

My, how life experience does change one’s point of view.

Since that first reading so much “life” has happened: being completely blind-sided by someone I thought was my soul-mate, falling breathlessly in love with someone who finally treasured me, creating new life for whom I would battle bloody death to protect, hurting so badly over a loss I felt I’d have to keep my hands pressed to my chest for eternity for fear my heart would fall out.

And now I read that poem again. With new eyes…

Where Have You Gone

Where have you gone

with your confident
walk with
your crooked smile
why did you leave
when you took your
and departed
are you aware that
with you
went the sun
all light
and what few stars
there were?

where have you gone

with your confident
walk your
crooked smile the
rent money
in one pocket and
my heart
in another . . .

This time, I have two thoughts:

  1. Her style is not “simple”, but rather—sparse. She has nothing left to give. Not even her words. I picture her living in a small, rented house that she was promised would be “temporary.” Her jazz records still play, but now they skip due to the cracks that appeared over time.
  2. I ache for her. Leaving her was not just leaving her, but everything he had with her as well—children, memories, plans, responsibilities. One person can have a huge and lasting impact on another person’s life.

This is the power and beauty of poetry/literature: although the words never change, we constantly do, therefore it will always yield new reactions. This is why we need to read it.


Evans “To identify the enemy is to free the mind.”

– Mari Evans


  1. Have students write poetry responses to “Where Have You Gone” from various points of view. For example, how would a young daughter respond to this poem? What would an elderly white man say in response?
  2. Have students write an imitation poem: a poem on a topic of their choice but one that imitates the style and structure of “Where Have You Gone.”
  3. Have students find a song that connects to the poem and write a compare/contrast or expository pieces citing lines from the poem and song for support.
  4. Have students, in verbal or written format, respond to her above quote.
  5. Have students discuss the poem in Socratic Seminar
  6. Have students, in verbal or written format, respond to the painting below by Annie Lee entitled “Blue Monday” (LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS AFRICAN AMERICAN ARTIST)
  7. Have students discuss the painting in Socratic Seminar
  8. Have students use the painting as the inspiration for an original poem

Blue Monday

Infographics of the Week November 3-November 7: It’s Election Time!

Tuesday is Election Day, so this week’s infographics are all about the elections and voters in America.  Some of these would make great pieces for analysis and, of course, they could always serve as models for student versions.

If you haven’t already, you could also use the Infographics of the Week post from earlier this month on Social Media and the Election.

election buzz Electoral-College-Kids-Discover EnglishMidElectionPoster-copy1 MonetateElectionEcommerce_final Most important issues on people's minds who actually votes in america

TED Ed – Lessons Created & Curated

What I’m about to tell you about is a work of genius and a gold mine.  It can prepare kids to read, watch, and answer questions online (PARCC), it will engage them in higher-level thinking, it allows them choice in what they discover, and it invites them into a discussion with other students beyond their classroom.  It is incredible.  I’m excited.  You are warned.  🙂

So. . . I may be late to the TED-Ed game.  I’ve been familiar with TED Talks for a few years now, but this new(ish) TED-Ed resource will blow your mind.

What is TedEd?

from the website: TED-Ed is a free educational website for teachers and learners. We are a global and interdisciplinary initiative with a commitment to creating lessons worth sharing. Our approach to education is an extension of TED’s mission of spreading great ideas.

Within the growing TED-Ed video library, you will find carefully curated educational videos, many of which represent collaborations between talented educators and animators nominated through the TED-Ed platform. This platform also allows users to take any useful educational video, not just TED’s, and easily create a customized lesson around the video. Users can distribute the lessons, publicly or privately, and track their impact on the world, a class, or an individual student.

Check out the “About” tab to know more about how lessons are created and how teachers can customize lessons.


Under the lessons tab, you can filter by category (check out that list – there’s even “Literature and Language”!), content, student (you can choose high school so things are the level you want), or duration.  It’s quite user friendly.

So browsing lessons is the first great thing about TEDEd (some designed around TED talks we know and love).  They’re done in such a way that you could take students to a computer lab with headphones (they can bring them . . . they all have them) to watch, answer questions, and explore the resources in the “Dig Deeper” tab OR they could be done in home.  Students could choose which they want to learn more about (something like this might work great if you want to work on inquiry-based learning or #geniushour. . . more about that soon).

So a lesson would look something like this:

TED Ed screenshot 2

As you move through the tabs on the right, something new appears on the left.

The “Think” tab includes multiple choice and open-ended questions that usually check that students watched the video but also extend their thinking:

TED Ed screenshot 3

Each lesson was created by someone else, so the nature and number of the questions will vary.  Notice on the right-hand side that you can also choose to “customize” this lesson.  That’s pretty rad.

Can you tell I’m excited yet? It’s not even over.  Check out the “Dig Deeper” and “Discuss” tabs:

TED Ed screenshot 4

The “Dig Deeper” tab provides additional resources with links.  This would be great if the TED talk inspires a student to learn more or start an inquiry-based project.  In fact, couldn’t the product of their inquiry-based project BE a TED-Ed lesson? (featuring them in the video?! or simply created/curated by them . . . at least in this format, if not published on TEDEd . . . not sure how that works yet)

The “Discuss” tab allows students to respond to a prompt that other students already have, so they’re writing for and responding to a global community (hello CCSS technology standards!)

TED Ed screenshot 5

You can change or modify lessons or create your own based on a TED Talk!  Students could complete something you designed or go and explore something another educator/animator did.  This engages students in TED Talks in a way that simply watching it couldn’t.  And the options for TEDEd-inspired performance assessments and projects after a student-directed research assignment are exciting!

This is only the tip of the TEDEd iceberg.  Check out the site, including the “Series” and “Community” tabs. You can also subscribe to the TEDEd Newsletter here.  (I recommend you use your personal email address, as the confirmation email may never come through our Groupwise.)

I actually thinking using these as part of a student-directed research project might be just the solution for PARCC testing disturbances.  It would mean smartphone use and maybe some after school and at home work for internet access though.  But of course, you can use them anytime!

As always, if you want to brainstorm other ways to bring this to your classroom and./or want to flesh out an idea presented here, don’t hesitate to let me know.  I would love to collaborate with TedEd!

The Literary United States: Ideas for “Mapping” What Students are Reading

I stumbled across the article and visual at the end of last week, “The Literary United States: A Map of the Best Book for Every State.”

Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

Illustration by Sarah Lutkenhaus

For some quotes from the picks, check the article linked above.

So, as a lit. nerd I love this, but it also makes me wonder, “How can we make literary maps in our classrooms?”

So here are some ideas I had for mapping literary experiences individually, in groups, or as a whole class (coolest English class-created bulletin board ever?):

  • Create one just like it.  If you’re teaching American literature, this might be a really fun way to “track” what you’re reading and/or what students are reading independently.  If there are more that two works for one state you could include both or have students face-off in persuasive book-talks to sell their title as number 1!  This could grow each marking period and by marking period 4, you could be challenging students to fill in the holes and read books that take place in states not yet covered!  There could also be a general rule that for a book to be on the map, it has to be book-talked.  So you’d book-talk the whole-class books, but they can book-talk their independent reading choices. It might be kind of rad to set a goal to “Read the States” in a school year.  (I’m thinking – big empty map on a bulletin board that slowly gets filled in and/or some easily-accessible one online [google doc maybe?] that they go in and fill in.)
  • Take it to the world.  If you’re teaching world literature, you and your students could “track” what you’re reading and what they’re reading independently throughout the world (or maybe a certain country you’re focusing on that marking period/unit).  The suggestions under the first bullet fit this as well.
  • Mix location and time in Brit Lit.  I didn’t forget about the Brit Lit folks.  It might be interesting if your students/classes mapped their readings on the British Isles but maybe added a twist of history or time period.  In other words, maybe a color or font or image denotes that this book was in this time period in case there are multiple readings from similar areas.  This emphasizes, perhaps, a changing landscape of British Literature over time.
  • Bring it beyond geography. Mapping is, at its most basic state, a way to orient things and demonstrate their size, location, proximity to others, etc . . . .  So couldn’t we challenge students to map their literary experiences in any way they deem appropriate.  Of course we’d have to guide this process and scaffold it (to avoid, perhaps, a mere timeline), but I like the idea of students finding connections/patterns in what they read and determining a way to “map” it.  Maybe one student maps the themes of his books because he realized that they are all variations on a similar theme (and his theme may determine what his map looks like visually).  Tolkien created a world and gave his readers a map, why can’t our students use what they read to create a map.   The higher-level thinking skills required for this and the demand for creativity is overwhelming (in a good way).
  • Map Genres: If genre is the focus of your study or of a unit, you could have small groups of students (or individual or whole class . . . :)) map the genres they’ve studied.  Each group/person would determine a visual way to represent how the genres are connected (but what, perhaps, determines their boundary lines).  I’m still imagining this looking like a map of sorts (students will have to get creative), but with genres instead of states or rivers or countries.

If you’d be interested in doing one of the more creative maps, let me know.  I’m sure we could find some examples of “outside-the-box” maps to share with students to get those synapses firing!

And remember, any of these that require independent reading titles could be worked into a meaningful teacher’s choice assessment.

Infographics of the Week, Oct. 20-24 – Social Media & Elections

As the next election draws near and our TVs are littered with political commercials, these infographics might invite a new avenue of discussion while practicing analyzing visual text and perhaps preparing to turn research into an infographics.

As a reminder from the first post:

Here are the discussion points used by Brett Vogelsinger, a teacher in Doylestown, PA:

  • Which of these was the best infographic and why? (when looking at multiple)
  • How does the writer try to engage an audience, even an audience who may not initially care about the topic?
  • Is the text or the visual design most important in each of these? How does the use of color and white space affect your ability to focus on the main message of the infographic? How is font size used to emphasize certain facts?
  • Does the infographic make a claim or develop an argument? If so, how can you tell?

Politics and Technology social media elections social media

The Columbus Day Controversy and Seattle’s Response

There has long been a controversy over the celebration of Columbus Day, much of which can be summed humorously but poignantly up in these memes:

columbus day 1 columbus day 2 columbus day 3

Informational Text Connection: If you’d like to discuss this controversy with your students, you can easily do it with a simple article about Seattle’s recent decent to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on Columbus Day:

Here are few options:

From RT, a nonprofit new source: Seattle to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ day on Columbus Day

From Huffington Post: Columbus Day In Seattle Replaced With A New Holiday

This could work as a Socratic Seminar (which could be extended with additional text, maybe a poem by Sherman Alexie . . . see below, an article or first-person account of colonization in another part of the world, etc . . . ), a class discussion, practice with annotation and writing higher-level questions . . . anything.  If you’re taking a contemporary issues route, you could also relate this colonization in other parts of the world or illegal immigration issues in America.

And of course, this is timely for Monday, but it would work anytime with the ideas above, so if you’ve got the time and the desire, rock on. 🙂

Poetry Connection: Here’s “Evolution” by Sherman Alexie:

Buffalo Bill opens a pawn shop on the reservation
right across the border from the liquor store
and he stays open 24 hours a day,7 days a week

and the Indians come running in with jewelry
television sets, a VCR, a full-length beaded buckskin outfit
it took Inez Muse 12 years to finish. Buffalo Bill

takes everything the Indians have to offer, keeps it
all catalogues and filed in a storage room. The Indians
pawn their hands, saving the thumbs for last, they pawn

their skeletons, falling endlessly from the skin
and when the last Indian has pawned everything
but his heart, Buffalo Bill takes that for twenty bucks

closes up the pawn shop, paints a new sign over the old
charges the Indians five bucks a head to enter.

Short Story Connection: This would work well with “Poison” by Saki, which is in the freshmen textbook.

Multimedia Connection 1:This clip from a moving episode of “What Would You Do?” (on illegal immigration; takes place in New Jersey) might also be a nice tie in:

Visual Text Connection: Why Columbus Was Awful (an infographic) (From the Oatmeal, no author or sources cited FYI . . . . could be a discussion all on its own about what makes a source reliable, still valuable as one person’s belief, I suppose)

There’s plenty more you could pair this article with to get students engaged in a discussion about the deeper issues at stake for Columbus Day, including things on Italian American contributions to America (the other side of the coin, I suppose) and other relevant global issues.  But this is a great opportunity for students to practice digging deeper, thinking more globally, and understanding the implications of actions. 

If you have or find additional resources related to this issue, feel free to mention them in the comments for all to see!