The Best Activities for Teaching Graphing in 1st Grade

Light blue background with words: The Best Activities for Teaching Graphing in 1st Grade. Photo shows an object graph with colored pencils.

Teaching graphing in 1st grade… It’s enough to make you pull your hair out. Sure, they get the idea of how to line things up to create a graph. And they can pick out the “winner” easily. But, how do you help first graders really understand graphing?

The best way to help graphing make sense to young learners is make it engaging and interactive. If the graphs are connected to something the students are interested in, they want to make sense of it.

Also, you need to ask questions that stretch students’ thinking. While it’s easy for them to identify which line on the graph has more “votes,” they usually need more support to compare the data in more complex ways.

Keep reading to learn about engaging and interactive graphs your students can create.

Collect and Graph Classroom Objects

Teaching graphing can be fun and motivating when you use actual objects. Choose a category, create labels from index cards then lay the objects down in an organized manner to create a graph.

Photo with index cards labels with color words. Each color word has colored pencils lined up to represent "votes" on the graph.

There are so many fun possibilities for topics:

  • favorite color with crayons
  • type of shoe (laces, slip on, velcro) with actual shoes
  • coloring with crayons or markers
  • white or chocolate milk (leftover cartons from lunch)
  • gender or age using student bodies (standing in lines)
  • apple variety or candy flavor

Pictograph Creations

Pictographs are an easy way to begin teaching graphing. They operate like a bar graph, only they use pictures to create the graph.

Ask question, such as “Do you like apples, bananas or strawberries?”

Students draw their response (the preferred fruit) on a paper square or sticky note. To incorporate authentic writing into the task, have students label their picture, too.

Organize the paper responses on a piece of chart paper or in a pocket chart. Line them up to create a bar graph.

Encourage students to discuss the data. Stretch their vocabulary by using words like most and least.

The graph you created can be displayed in the classroom or hallway to show off the data analysis your students are doing.

For topics, you can use the ones above, or branch out to include:

  • favorite pet
  • favorite season
  • preferred weather (sunny, rainy, snowy)
  • eye color
  • food preferences
  • preferred sport
  • age (write number or draw cake with candles)
  • clothing color

Learn more about using graphing questions as part of your daily routine in this blog post.

Student Surveys

In a student survey, students ask one another a question and create a graph using the responses. Student surveys are highly engaging because the data represents opinions about friends and classmates.

To create a student survey, students choose a simple questions, such as “What is your favorite color?” or “What do you like best: cookies or ice cream?”

After writing the question down, students ask their classmates to respond. Data can most easily be recorded with tally marks or as a bar graph. If students record responses with tally marks, they can later transfer the data to a bar graph.

Once the data is represented in a bar graph, discuss the results.

In addition to “Which color/food was most popular?” encourage students to discuss how many more students selected the most popular response.

The beauty of a bar graph is that the responses are lined up next to each other. Note how the responses have “partners” for a while. The responses without “partners” are what you count to know how many more.

Students surveys make a fun math center for students. They can survey 10 classmates to create their graph.

You can get a pre-made set of student surveys here. They are ready to print and use right away!

Outdoor Nature Graphs

Create a nature scavenger hunt graph. Each child can have their own page or you can create one as a class.

Create a list of items with specific attributes, like:

  • red, yellow and purple flowers
  • solid colored rocks vs. rocks with spots
  • local animals that you are likely to see
  • insect varieties
  • types of trees

Give students clipboards to record what they see on their paper. It may be easiest to tally the items as you walk, then create a bar graph back in the classroom.

Discuss why individual results may differ.

Snack Graph

Give each child an individual pack of a colorful snack, such as fruit snacks, rainbow Goldfish or Skittles.

Have each child sort their snack pieces by color and count them.

Next, give students a bar graph. They can represent data (how many snacks of each color) on their bar graph.

As students each the tasty treat, help them discuss their findings.

Encourage them to use words like “most,” “least” and “equal” in their conversation. Support them as they discuss how many more/less there were of particular colors.

Have fun teaching graphing!

Graphing and data analysis are critical life skills. We are lucky that teaching graphing in the primary grades can be so fun for students!

Because students are so interested in themselves and those around them, it’s easy to engage them in graphs the represent the opinions of their classmates.

It’s easy to make these graphs hands-on and meaningful to students by using:

  • actual objects
  • pictographs
  • student surveys
  • nature graphs
  • snack graphs

Try one of these fun graphs today to enhance your first graders’ math learning! They will have so much fun, they will forget that they are learning!

Light blue background with words: The Best Activities for Teaching Graphing in 1st Grade. Photo shows an object graph with colored pencils.

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