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5 Easy Tips to Make a Graph in Science

Do your students stress out when it’s time to make a graph in science?

Even though our students learn to create graphs in elementary school, so many students still tend to struggle when it’s time for graphing.

Here are a few of the problems I see most often when students are graphing in science:

  • They don’t understand the difference between a line and bar graph.
  • Students aren’t sure how to correctly graph the independent and dependent variables.
  • They have difficulty deciding which intervals to use.

In my experience, taking the time to explicitly teach graphing skills pays off HUGE in the long run!

graphing-in-science
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Check out these 5 tips to help students become confident in their graphing skills!

1. IS IT A BAR OR LINE GRAPH?

It’s likely that even thought this has been taught before, taking a few minutes to go over when to use bar and line graphs in science is worth it’s weight in gold.

After explaining the difference between bar and line graphs, take a few minutes to have students practice with a simple index card activity:

Have students write bar on one side and line on the other side. Then give several examples. Students will hold up the word that describes the appropriate graph.

bar and line graph practice

2. KNOWING THE INDEPENDENT AND DEPENDENT VARIABLES IS THE KEY!!!!

Picking out the IV and DV before creating the graph is key!

If they can identify the variables in the beginning, everything else flows:

  • The title
  • Setting up the graph
independent-variable-tips
For more tips to identify the IV and DV, check out this post!

3. TIPS TO TITLE A GRAPH

How many times have you had a graph turned in with a title like “My Fun Bubble Gum Activity”. It has to be an elementary school thing…. 🙂

If students get in the habit of creating titles with the IV and DV early on, their teachers will thank you later!

Explicitly teaching students to write their title takes out all the guesswork!

Having a standard format for the title makes all the difference!

  • The Effect of IV on DV
  • The Relationship Between the IV and DV

Since students already have the variables picked out, it’s pure magic!

4. TRY THIS TRICK TO LABEL THE X AND Y AXIS

“What goes on the x-axis?”

It’s the never ending question when creating a graph in science!

Sound familiar?

Here’s a “handy” tip to help your students set up graphs in science correctly: (Couldn’t resist!)

  • Have students hold up their left hand in an “L” shape.
  • Ask which is independent, the thumb or the fingers?
  • Easy answer, of course it’s the thumb!
  • Now overlay the thumb on a graph and show them how the thumb is independent and lines up with the x-axis. The independent variable always goes on the x-axis!
  • This works for the fingers too – all four are together. They’re “dependent” on each other! The dependent variable goes on the y-axis which lines up with the pointer finger.

I like to have students trace a hand in their notes and label where the independent and dependent variables go, like the pictures below!

You can find more tips to using the scientific method in this post.

graphing-independent-variables
These anchor charts can be found here.

graphing-dependent-variable
These anchor charts can be found here.

5. FINDING THE INTERVALS

Sure, you can play a game of guess and check. But if the graph is more complicated, there’s an easy formula to use!

Did you know that you can figure out the intervals in just three easy steps?

  1. Decide the largest number you need to graph.
  2. Count the boxes.
  3. Divide the largest number by the number of boxes.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy!


Help your students build confidence graphing in science!

Are your students….

  • struggling to set up bar and line graphs correctly in science
  • having difficulty interpreting graphs

Do they need a graphing refresher?

This complete graphing unit

  • includes explicit, easy to follow PowerPoint with examples
  • is packed with differentiated materials to help students become confident 
  • provides teachers a no-prep, time saving resource that can be used as a stand alone unit or graphing practice throughout the year

Here’s a peek at what’s inside!

Want to see even more? Check out the preview here!

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