How to Teach Students to Read Flow Charts in Primary Grades

Examples of flow charts in the classroom help students learn how to use them.
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A flow chart is a graphic organizer that's ideal for teaching primary students to follow a step-by-step process. The visual aid uses geometric shapes, which hold steps or decisions, connected by lines or arrows to show the order of events. With practice, primary students learn how to read and use flow charts.

1 Flow Chart Symbols

The shapes on a flow chart symbolize the type of information written inside. The starting point goes inside a circle or oval shape. Details that give directions or tell you what to do go inside rectangles. In some flow charts, you have more than one option for your next step. These decisions go inside diamonds. They have multiple lines or arrows extending from them, each of which represents an option. For example, the decision block might ask a question with "yes" and "no" as options. Kids make a decision and follow the corresponding line to discover the next step.

2 Sample Flow Charts

Introduce the idea of flow charts with an example that's relevant to the primary students. Plugging in the steps to a classroom process the kids understand can make the activity meaningful. You might break down the classroom arrival process into a flow chart, for example. Display the completed flow chart for the primary students. Read through the chart, showing the students how you follow the lines and arrows to the next step. After reading through the chart, have the students actually do each step so they understand that the flow chart gives directions.

3 Practice Activities

Give the primary students a chance to practice using flow charts on their own. Divide them into small groups, with each group getting a different flow chart. Include steps that students can carry out in the classroom or another area of the school. Have the students read through the steps first before actually following the directions. Another option is to have students answer questions based on a flow chart. You might ask what happens after a certain step. If the flow chart includes a decision block, you might ask what to do if the answer is yes. This gives students a chance to interact with the flow chart to fully understand the process and components.

4 Constructing Flow Charts

As students become comfortable with reading flow charts, let them create one of their own. Make a flow chart as a class to model the process. Identify the process you want to represent in the chart. Brainstorm a list of all the steps and decisions needed to complete the process. Have students decide which order the steps go in. They also need to decide if the steps go in a rectangle or diamond. Draw the flow chart based on those steps. Let the kids come up with their own flow charts using the same process either individually or in small groups.

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.