Understanding Line Plots

Helping Students Understand Line Plots

Teaching line plots to elementary students can be a deceptively complex topic.   Students often confuse the number of Xs with the number of the scale along the bottom.  One way to help students overcome this confusion is to constantly refer back to what the numbers in the line plot actually mean.  For example, if your class is plotting the number of siblings they have, make sure that they repeat "siblings" when they are talking about the scale along the bottom of the line plot.  When they talk about the number of Xs, they should say "people who have ... siblings."  The repetition will both force them to think about what the numbers and Xs represent, and will help them understand the difference.

It also helps if students can connect the Xs on a line plot with actual, concrete data.  So, if there are four students in your class who each have one sibling, then there will be four Xs above the number one on your line plot.  The students can even write in the names of the people who are represented by the Xs, to help them connect the X to the actual person in that category of "one sibling."  The tally chart should help with this, too, as students can see the connection between the tally marks they made when collecting data and the number of Xs on the line plot.  The more concrete you can make the information on the line plots, the more likely your kids are to understand and be able to problem solve or apply these concepts in the future.

Here's a free line plot template so your kids can practice working with line plot data.  
You may want to plot:
-number of letters in first or last name
-number of siblings
-number of feet you can jump from a standstill 
-number of pets

Happy Teaching (and Line Plotting!)

Christine Cadalzo

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