How to Make a Pictograph

Photographs laying on a table.
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Pictographs use pictures or symbols to graphically convey statistical data. They are especially useful for helping young students make a connection between the numbers on a graph and what those numbers represent. The most difficult part of constructing a pictograph is drawing the pictures if you are working with paper and pencil rather than a computer.

1 Collecting the Data

Before you can create any type of graph, you need to collect the information that it will show. Most often, your scientific, historical or other hypothesis will dictate the method you use to assemble data. You might measure a response to stimuli, count occurrences of a specific event or collect answers to survey questions or polls, for example. A pictograph might display how many books you read each week, how many cookies you sold at a bake sale, how many minutes you watch television each day or which color is the favorite of classmates.

2 Organizing the Data

Raw data need to be organized into a usable form. You might have asked 20 people to share their favorite color. The next step would be to combine similar answers, so that you know how many people like red or how many prefer blue. A table with a column for each possible response is one way to organize your information. For example, to organize the cookie sales, you could make a chart with one column for each flavor of cookies and a line for each hour of the bake sale, so you know how many chocolate chip or oatmeal raisins were sold during each period.

3 Choosing the Symbols

Next, you need to select pictures or symbols to represent the data. You might draw cookies for the bake sale pictograph or books to show your reading progress. You also need to decide the value represented by each picture. If the numbers involved are small, each picture could represent one sample: one picture of a book for each book you’ve read. On the other hand, you probably don’t want to draw 500 cookies for the bake sale pictograph, so you could set the scale so that each cookie picture represents 10, 50 or even 100 real cookies.

4 Drawing the Graph

Keeping the picture aligned can be a challenge when creating a hand-drawn graph, so start your graph by lightly penciling a grid on the paper, making columns and rows for all the possible entries. Next, print the data names neatly, one on each row. For example, you might have a row for chocolate chip cookies, one for brownies, one for oatmeal raisin cookies, and so on. Next, carefully draw the appropriate number of pictures or symbols next to each name, using the scale to determine how many you need. If your scale is one cookie picture per 10 cookies sold and you sold 100 oatmeal cookies, you need to draw 10 cookie pictures next to “oatmeal raisin.” Put the scale key and a title on your pictograph, so readers will know what each symbol stands for and what the whole graph is about.

Pamela Martin has been writing since 1979. She has written newsletter articles and curricula-related materials. She also writes about teaching and crafts. Martin was an American Society of Newspaper Editors High School Journalism Fellow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Teaching in elementary education from Sam Houston State University and a Master of Arts in curriculum/instruction from the University of Missouri.