Read Picture Graphs

15 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT analyze and compare data shown in a picture graph where each symbol represents one.

Big Idea

A picture is worth a thousand words! In this lesson, students will learn to read a picture graph.

Activating Strategy

10 minutes

In this lesson, children analyze data that has been recorded in a picture graph. A picture graph uses pictures or symbols to represent data, and each symbol may stand for a set number of things.

The way I approach this measurement and data standard (MD.C.4) is by thinking about the most common stumbling block that I anticipate my students coming across, those how many more or how many fewer questions about the data in the graph. These questions are hard because they are so abstract and complex: students are looking at a representation already, and now they have to interpret two or more parts of the graph at the same time. The way I help scaffold for students is by helping them see these data as concrete models. I usually use unifix cubes and have them model out the data. This gives them a good entry point into this complex kind of question about the information being presented by the graph (MP1).

I start the lesson by reading the book “Miss B's Class Makes Tables and Graphs.  This is a great story to begin the introduction to reading graphs.  It begins with gathering information and turning the information into tally marks, then converting it to a graph. 

If this book isn't available, then any book that is related to charts and graphs will suffice.  The idea is to get the students engaged and curious about charts and graphs.

I then show them a group of 10 green connecting cubes and 8 blue connecting cubes (I put them in a basket or bowl so that they are all mixed up).  I ask the students:

  • Can you tell which group of connecting cubes has more? Explain. (Possible answer: No. I cannot tell which group has more because they are all mixed up.)

I then connect the cubes together by color and ask the students:

  • Now is it easier to tell which group has more? Explain(Yes. I can look at both rows and compare the connecting cubes one-to-one to see which group has more.)


Teaching Strategies

15 minutes

I then read the following problem aloud to the class.

There are 2 green cubes and 4 blue cubes. How many more blue cubes are there than green cubes?

  • What do you need to find? (how many more blue cubes there are than green cubes)
  • How can you use connecting cubes to help you solve the problem? (I can use 4 blue cubes to show the blue cubes and 2 green cubes to show the green cubes.)

Have children model the problem using blue and green connecting cubes. Encourage children to line up each set of connecting cubes so that they can compare them one-to-one.  Guide the discussion:

  • How can you draw pictures to show the cubes? (Possible answer: I can draw squares for each blue cube and green cube.)
  • How many more blue cubes are there than green cubes? (2 blue cubes)

Then, using the PowerPoint (Read Picture Graphs.pptx), I point out the picture graph at the top of the page, and guide children through the model with the following questions.

  • What does each stick figure mean? (Each stick figure stands for one child on the playground.)
  • How can you find the number of children on the slide? (Possible answer: I can count the number of stick figures in that row. There are 2, so there are 2 children on the slide.)
  • How do you know that there are more children on the swings than on the slide? (4 is greater than 2, so more children are on the swings.)

I go through the same type of questioning for the second slide.  This slide is the same as the first problem on the independent practice worksheet.  Before starting the independent practice, I make sure children read the sentence below the picture graph to reinforce that each stick figure stands for one child’s choice of whether he or she prefers to see animals or go on rides at the fair.

Independent Practice

30 minutes

I distribute Read Picture Graphs_worksheet.docx for the independent practice portion of this lesson. 

In this video, a student is using subtraction to determine which column has more or less on her picture graph.


For struggling students, draw the following picture graph on the board:


Ask the students:

  • What does each circle stand for? (Each circle stands for 1 item.)
  • How many pencils are there? (9 pencils)
  • How many rulers are there? (4 rulers)
  • Are there more rulers or pencils? (There are 9 pencils and 4 rulers, so there are more pencils.)



5 minutes

To close out this lesson, I hand out a post-it note to each student, and have them write their name on their post-it.  We will use this information to create a class graph about our favorite thing about Spring.  Students then talk to their shoulder partner and tell them something about the information on the graph.