5 Step Approach for Reading Charts and Graphs

Visual data is meant to be “read,” just like text on a page. Images with data often contain crucial information that isn’t available elsewhere in a text.

Ask these questions when you encounter visual data in your reading:

  1. What is the topic?
    • look for the title and reword it in your own words
  2. What is being measured?
    • look for labels to get an idea of what the graph is saying
  3. How is it being measured?
    • look for units
    • ask yourself if the units make sense with what you know about the graph so far
  4. Is color-coding use and if so, how?
    • color-coding is often used to add additional information to a graph without taking up extra space
    • check for a key that explains the color coding
  5. Can I summarize this information in my own words?
    • look for a trend or a piece of information that you find interesting and mentally form a sentence about it
    • if you are struggling with this step, don’t get frustrated or give up–start over from Step 1. Each time you investigate the graph you are building up your knowledge and understanding of the information.


Practice the 5 Steps on the Infographic below. What do you learn as a result of your evaluation of this image?

Infographic: Reducing Food Waste: What Schools Can Do Today. Image of a plate piled with clip art of food items at top. Next block: image of tractor pulling flat trailer towards wheat. USDA's Economic Research Service estimates 31% of the overall food supply at the retail and consumer level went uneaten in the U.S. in 2010. Next block: two pie charts on plates. Left: Research shows Plate Waste Now (10% of plate chart in dark brown, rest in red) = Plate waste before updated nutrition standards (also 10% dark on pie chart compared to rest in bright red). Next block: two children playing with a red ball. Scheduling recess before lunch can reduce plate waste by as much as 30%. Next block: stop watch with 20 seconds marked in bright orange, next 10 seconds in yellow, rest in white. Extending lunch periods from 20 to 30 minutes reduced plate waste by nearly one-third. Next block: Brown squares with drawings of food items surround text in middle. Smarter lunchroom strategies, such as how foods are named and where they are placed in the cafeteria, can facilitate healthy choices and increase fruit and vegetable consumption by up to 70%. Last block: Schools across the country are stepping up to the challenge with innovative new strategies, such as: Allowing students to keep a lunch or breakfast food item for consumption later in the school day. Using techniques listed on the Smarter Lunchrooms Self-Assessment Score Card to help reduce food waste. Setting up a table for kids to place items they are not going to consume (packaged or pre-portioned items). Letting kids self-serve. Composting food waste for school gardens. Collaborating with local farmers on composting or food-scrap projects. Collecting excess wholesome food after mealtimes to donate to charitable organizations. Sign up for the U.S. Food Waste Challenge to share your story on how you are reducing, recovering, or recycling food waste.