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Active Learning Opportunities for Creating a Pictograph in 2nd Grade

Second grade teachers are always looking for active learning opportunities to make their math lessons more engaging and hands-on for their students. When teaching the skills of creating a pictograph and analyzing data, there are so many fun activities and ways to help your students practice and apply their learning.

In this blog post, I’m sharing my favorite activities to make teaching pictographs more hands-on. You’ll also find tips for teaching the definition of a pictograph along with examples of pictographs and their parts.

Definition of a pictograph anchor chart

What is the Definition of a Pictograph?

A pictograph is a type of graph that uses pictures or symbols to represent data. It’s a visual way to show information and make it easier for students to understand, remember, and use the data being presented on the graph to solve problems. Pictographs are commonly used in elementary classrooms, especially in 2nd grade.  

Want a behind the scenes look at some examples of pictographs and my favorite pictograph activities for 2nd grade? Check out my YouTube video below!

Parts of Pictographs

At the beginning of your pictograph lessons, it’s important that students first understand the parts of pictographs and the mathematical vocabulary terms that go along with them before they begin creating a pictograph of their own.

If you don’t know this about me already, I am a huge proponent of introducing new concepts like this during your whole group mini lesson using a class pictograph anchor chart. The pictograph anchor chart breaks down the parts of pictographs along with the vocabulary words students need to know in a visual, kid-friendly way. 

The key parts of a pictograph are:


The title of a pictograph is the name of the graph and describes in a clear, concise manner what data the graph is showing. 


The symbols on a pictograph are the pictures that can be used to represent the data on a pictograph. Most often, the symbol or picture will represent something related to the graph. Other times, the symbols are simple shapes, such as circles, squares, or triangles.  Each symbol represents a value that is determined by the key on the pictograph. 


A pictograph’s key explains what each symbol or picture on the graph represents. The key is located somewhere on the graph, usually at the bottom. In the example below, the key represents 1. Therefore, each cupcake represents 1 vote. Sometimes the key can be on a different scale, such as counting by 2’s, 5’s, or 10’s. 


The labels on a pictograph are placed along the axis of the graph to show exactly what data is being represented. The symbols are placed above each label to represent the value of that category on the graph.

Parts of pictographs anchor chart

Creating a Pictograph

After completing your whole group anchor chart and your students have a strong grasp on the parts of pictographs, they are ready to begin creating a pictograph and using it to solve problems and analyze data. 

As you guide students in creating a pictograph, model each step while talking through the process and using the appropriate mathematical vocabulary terms. You can even call on students to identify the different parts of the pictograph as you create it along with the purpose they serve. This will help your students put it all together. 

Steps for Reading a Pictograph

After creating a pictograph, it’s time for students to learn how to read it and interpret the data being represented. Follow these key steps when teaching this process to your students and helping them solve problems. 

Step #1: Look at the Title and Key

Students should first look at the title and key of the pictograph to see what the graph is about and what the values of the symbols on the graph represent. It’s important for students to understand that they must look at the key first, because sometimes the key represents a number on a scale larger than 1. 

Step #2: Identify the Labels 

Next, students should identify the labels or categories on the graph to see how data is being represented. In the example below, students are graphing their favorite holiday. Each label represents a different holiday on the graph. 

Step #3: Interpret the Symbols

Using the key, students will determine the amount of data each symbol on the pictograph represents. In the favorite holiday example pictograph, each symbol represents 1 student. 

Step #4: Count the Symbols

Now it’s time for students to use the key to count the symbols or pictures on the graph. After counting the symbols on the graph in all, they’ll count the number of symbols in each category on the graph to determine the total amount of data in each category. In the example below, there are 3 hearts on the graph. Since the key represents 1, that means that 3 students chose Valentine’s Day as their favorite holiday. 

Step #5: Draw Conclusions

Once students have gathered all the information from the pictograph, they will use it to draw conclusions about the data being shown. This will also help them solve problems and talk about the data collected.

Creating a pictograph with favorite holiday example

Examples of Pictographs

When students are practicing creating a pictograph and interpreting the data, I like to use several examples of pictographs on basic anchor chart paper to help students practice with different topics, symbols or pictures, and keys. 

In this whole group pictograph example, students graph their favorite emoji. This example is slightly different because some of the pictures are only half shown. By looking at the key first, students will notice that the scale represents the number 10. Therefore, each picture represents 10 votes, not 1. 

If we were interpreting the data, the laughing emojis would represent 50 and not 5. When only half of the symbol is shown, like you can see in the heart eyes category, that means that the symbol represents HALF of the number key. Since half of 10 is 5, half symbols represent 5 votes on this graph. To find the total value of heart eyes on this graph, students would skip count by 10’s and 5’s to find the total of 25.

A pictograph key can be set to any value. If the value is counting by 2’s, then each picture will represent 2 and half-pictures will represent 1. 

Examples of pictographs with emoji graph

Students can also create a pictograph using data they collect on a tally chart. In this example, students tally how many of each picture they find. Then, they create a pictograph to represent the tally chart data they collected. 

After creating a pictograph using tally chart data, I like to ask students critical thinking questions using mathematical question stems so they can apply their learning and problem-solve.

Creating a pictograph activity

Hands-on Activities for Practicing Pictographs

Just like with anything else, we want to provide students with hands-on activities to practice reading and creating pictographs. As you go through your pictograph lesson plans, you want to use examples of pictographs that increase with difficulty and include more symbols and different values on the graph’s key. 

During your graphing lesson plans, you can integrate pictographs with bar graphs as well. In this interactive notebook activity, students are given a bar graph. After reading the bar graph and analyzing the data, students will create a pictograph to match the information shown. 

In this activity, the bar graph is counting by 2’s. This will help students determine what the key should be for their pictograph. Since the number represents blue t-shirts, they would draw 4 pictures on their pictograph since each symbol represents 2.

If you look at yellow, the bar is halfway between 0 and 2.  Therefore, it represents 1. On their pictograph, they would draw half a circle to show this value. Once their pictograph is created, they will interpret the data and answer questions about it under the flip flaps in their notebook.

For more activities and tips for teaching bar graphs, check out this blog post.

Examples of pictographs with interactive notebook activity

A great way to make graphing more hands-on, engaging, and relatable is to bring in manipulatives and topics that your students enjoy, get excited about, and can relate to. What better way to do that than by graphing Skittles?! 

Using this Graphing Skittles flip book from my 2nd Grade Graphs and Data Guided Math Unit, each student is given a handful of Skittles or their own fun-size bag of skittles.

First, they will create a bar graph to show their data. Then, they’ll create a pictograph to match their results. In the flip book, the key is blank so you can easily differentiate this activity for students at different levels. After creating a pictograph to show their Skittles results, they will answer questions about their data.

Pictographs are a great way to represent data visually and in a way that students can connect to in a real-world way. Just remember to teach students to look at the key first, identify the labels, interpret the data, count the pictures, and then draw conclusions. This process will set them up for success each time!  

Pictograph Lesson Plans

If you’re looking to make your pictograph lessons more active and engaging for your students while also incorporating bar graphs and tally charts, be sure to check out my 2nd Grade Graphs and Data Guided Math Unit. You’ll find all of the anchor chart templates and activities included in this blog post plus so much more!

Pictograph lesson plans for 2nd grade

For more graphs and data activities and centers, check out these resources below in my website shop or over on TPT.

Let me know in the comments what your favorite pictograph topic is!

Feel free to pin this post to come back to it later!

Creating a pictograph with hands-on activities
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