Lesson plan

Interpreting Line Plots, Bar Graphs and Picture Graphs: Word Problems

Graphs bring data to life and help us draw conclusions about the information. In this lesson, students will engage with three different kinds of graphs by asking and answering interpretive questions.
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Students will be able to interpret and answer questions about line plots, picture graphs and bar graphs.

(5 minutes)
  • Write the following list of numbers randomly on the board: 12, 1, 8, 6, 2, 8, 6, 7, 10, and 8. Ask students for their thoughts on this data. They will naturally be confused. If they aren’t responding, invite them to ask questions.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell them that 10 American adults were asked how many hours a day they look at their devices (phone, TV, computer, etc.). Remind them that these numbers are called data. Ask them what the data tells us about how much time Americans’ look at their devices. It’s okay if they are hesitant as this is meant to prove the point that it’s difficult to make sense of a set of unorganized numbers.
  • Ask them if they have suggestions about what can they do to make sense of the data. They may suggest putting them in order from least to greatest or making a graph. Create a line plot using the data. Use student input for the title, labels, etc. Be sure to emphasize the importance of reading the title and labels.
(20 minutes)
  • Now that you have the data graphed, ask students what conclusions they can draw from the data. Ask students to turn to a neighbor and together, generate two statements about the data (e.g. Most adults look at a device five or more hours a day). Share out examples.
  • Now create a picture graph using the same data. You could use TV screens or cell phones for the symbol. Compare the two graphs and practice drawing conclusions.
  • Last, create a bar graph using the same data. Compare the three graphs and practice drawing conclusions. Ask students:
    • Based on the data, which graph do they think best represents the data?
    • If they were going to do a follow-up survey, what question might they ask to get more information about adult’s device use? For example, What device do they use most? Do they use devices more for work or fun?
  • Distribute the Interpreting Line Plots worksheet. Review directions and work through problems together until you feel students are ready to work independently.
(15 minutes)
  • Instruct students to complete the Interpreting Line Plots worksheet and when done, find a partner to compare answers. With any responses that differ, have the pair revisit that question and discuss until they agree on a solution.
  • When done, students should start on the Interpreting Picture Graphs worksheet.


  • Read questions with students as reading comprehension may be a problem.
  • Review each sheet’s graph together to familiarize struggling students with the data before independent practice.


  • Have students work on the Interpreting Bar Graphs worksheet.
  • Have students find examples of graphs in student current event periodicals, like Time for Kids, or on child-friendly news websites.
(5 minutes)
  • Google the keywords “third grade bar graph” or “picture graph” and then select “images” as the filter. Find an appropriate graph to project for a quick assessment.
  • Distribute a half sheet of paper. Have students put their names on it and then prompt with three questions (similar to the ones on the practice sheets) that require students to interpret the data in the graph you are sharing.
(5 minutes)
  • Discuss the following reflection questions with the class:
    • Why is data collected and analyzed?
    • How might people use data to influence others?
    • How can predictions be made based on data?
    • How they might determine which kind of graph to use with a certain set of data? For which kind of data is each kind of graph best used?

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