Strategies That Work! Reading Essentials, Grades 6 & Up

Teaching Tip of the Month

This month's Teaching Tip comes from Strategies That Work! Reading Essentials, Grades 6 & Up.

Understanding Graphs and Tables


Writers often use graphs and tables to present large amounts of information within a small space. While graphs and tables can be helpful, they can be difficult to follow.

Most graphs are organized on a horizontal and a vertical axis. Some graphs are organized differently (e g , pie graphs), but these are usually easier to read.

Tables are also organized on a horizontal and a vertical axis; in general, you will use the same skills and strategies to read them.


To understand most graphs and tables, it is a good idea to do the following:

  • Look over the whole graph or table to get a general idea of what it is about. Pay special attention to headings and labels.
  • Look along the horizontal axis and the vertical axis to find out what kind of information is included. For example, in a graph showing average heights during childhood, you might find ages on one axis and heights on the other.
  • Use your fingers as much as you need, to help you follow lines, bars, columns, or rows from the two axes to points on the graph or table.
  • Focus on one bit at a time instead of trying to understand the whole graph or table. Put your finger on one place in the graph or table. Then use two fingers to work back to the horizontal and vertical axis.
  • Think about what the results mean overall and how they relate to your own knowledge. Ask yourself if they seem reasonable.
  • Take your time. Most people find graphs and tables a little difficult to read. Most people need their fingers at least some of the time!


If there is a graph or table in a text, you will generally need to pay some attention to it. Of course, you may not need to understand every detail. But, if you don’t understand its overall structure and layout, you won’t understand anything.

Graphs and tables are very commonly used in information texts on all kinds of subjects, so it is important that you try to understand them. They give you important details about the main ideas in the texts and help you to see the similarities and differences between different items and groups.

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