Visual Literacy: Helping Kids Succeed

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Heidi at work in her home office

An editor’s job may seem to be all about the words on the page—and paying attention to the text is certainly enough to keep us busy!  But the work of an editor actually extends beyond the text.  Our real job is to ensure the author’s meaning is clear.  This, of course, includes making the text concise, accurate, and thoughtful, but it also includes looking at the design of the book.  When I review a book in production, I ask myself a series of questions that include: Do the headers guide the reader?  Are the most important pieces of text easy to find?  Do the captions detract from the body text?  Or do they get lost?  Are all the illustrations accurate?  Is there another perspective that would help readers better understand a complex idea?  Would an infographic work here or is a simple table or pie chart better suited to this concept?

Demands on the Reader

Editors pay attention to these visual elements, because readers do, too.  Today, more than ever, young readers are being asked to develop sophisticated visual literacy skills. Advertisements, graphic novels, online memes, political cartoons, maps, DIY instructions, and more, all require the ability to interpret images.

In the early grades, illustrations and photographs support reading comprehension.  As an editor, I review all our images to make sure they align with the text and clarify difficult vocabulary.  As readers become more fluent with text, our books include a variety of images, including charts, graphs, and maps.  Each image requires students to observe, interpret, and evaluate visual information.

To build visual literacy skills with your students, try this simple activity.

Artwork by Timothy Bradley

Observe

Have students study the cartoon for one minute.  Then, record students’ answers to the following questions:

  • What objects or people do you see in the image?
  • What text is included in the cartoon?

Interpret

As a class, consider the following:

  • How does the image relate to the text? Why do you think the artist paired this image with this text?  How would the meaning change if the artist wrote a different caption?
  • Are any of the images symbols? Why do you think the artist chose to use these images?
  • Which images in the cartoon appear to be most significant? What do you see that makes you say that?
  • What’s the artist’s purpose? To analyze an idea, persuade readers, express his feelings, or entertain readers?
  • Evaluate

Ask students:

  • What is the significance of this cartoon?
  • What effect does it have on readers?

Create

Whether it’s a poem or a wall of graffiti, the best art inspires us to respond, so encourage your students to respond to this cartoon.  Ask, “What would you like to tell the artist of this cartoon?”  Encourage students to draw their response, including friends, family members, and famous faces in their own cartoons.

Your Turn!

We’d love to see student work in response to this activity!  Please share it with us!


Fiedler_Heidi-headshotHeidi Fiedler is an education editor and author with specializations in visual literacy, writing, and fiction. She helped launch Teacher Created Materials’ new trade imprint, Argosy Press, which is dedicated to creating books that inspire children to read under the covers late into the night. Heidi most recently edited the acclaimed fiction series, Sci Hi, with the third book in the series, Time Jump, just published.

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