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Interpreting Visual Aids


This activity is designed to help students to recognize and strategically use the visual aids present in most textbooks and many articles in subjects such as math, science, history, social science, and art history. It structures and standardizes students’ examination and analysis of visual aids.

Learning Strategies 

  • Connecting
  • Inferring
  • Predicting
  • Visualizing
Interacting with the Text

Lesson Plan Stages 

  • Building Background
  • Investigation
  • Launching Into New Content

Common Core Instructional Shifts 

  • Balancing Informative and Literary Texts
  • Text-Based Answers


  • Choose a text for students to focus on. It should include plentiful visual aids such as maps, graphs, timelines, charts, and diagrams.
  • Create a chart with the following column headings: Page Number, Name of Visual Aid, Type of Aid, What It Tells Us.
Activity Steps 
  1. Teacher reviews concept of visual aids. Teacher leads students in brainstorming activity in which students list visual aids they might see in a text. Teacher briefly leads discussion of why an author might include a visual aid.

    The visual aids that are most relevant to your class will depend on your subject area. You will want to review the types of visual aids that are likely to appear in your class’s text, and ensure that students have the background knowledge to interpret them. This may take a series of lessons prior to this one to ensure students know how to interpret maps, graphs, and photographs.

  2. Teacher distributes the text and the blank chart. Teacher reviews the columns of the chart.

    Students can prepare to read the text individually, as a class, or in groups. If this is the first time students are completing this task, you will want to model filling out the chart.

  3. Students scan through the text, and identify the visual charts. They fill in the page numbers and the visual aid names on their charts.

    Some students may prefer to fill in all the information about a given visual aid before going on to the next one, whereas others may prefer to fill in the page numbers and visual aid names first, and then interpret them afterwards.

  4. Students determine the category of each visual aid, and fill in the third column of the chart.

    It may be useful to provide students with a list and possibly examples of the visual aids they are likely to see.

  5. Students interpret the main meaning or interpretation of each aid, and fill in the fourth column.

    During this stage you will want to circulate among students and ensure that students understand how to interpret and draw meaning from the visual aids.

  6. Alone or in groups, in writing or in conversation, students reflect on their learning process.

    Students respond to questions such as: · How do visual aids contribute to the meaning of this text? · Why do authors choose to include them? · How does this activity help you to find meaning in the visual aids? · In what other class might this strategy be useful to you?

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