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Data Gleaning From Glyphs: Math in Pictures for Kindergartners

By Allie Magnuson on September 17, 2010
  • Grades: PreK–K

You may have heard the words pictograph, pictogram, ideograph, ideogram, logogram, phonogram, grapheme, petroform, petroglyph, hieroglyph, etc. These are all forms of writing that use pictures or symbols to represent things such as sounds, letters, words, phrases, concepts, and data. A more general term is simply glyph.

You may have heard the words pictograph, pictogram, ideograph, ideogram, logogram, phonogram, grapheme, petroform, petroglyph, hieroglyph, etc. These are all forms of writing that use pictures or symbols to represent things such as sounds, letters, words, phrases, concepts, and data. A more general term is simply glyph. Any picture that represents something can be called a "glyph." And for your class, the construction and interpretation of glyphs that represent information about themselves and other topics is an interesting, useful, and engaging math lesson!


Your students can make a glyph, or picture, to record and analyze many variables about a single subject. They will love the fact that they can read stories visually and nonverbally by looking at pictorial representations of information.

Students apply many mathematical skills in this activity, including:


  • Creating and interpreting glyphs using glyph keys
  • Organizing statistical data based on attributes of a person, idea, or object
  • Number recognition
  • Counting
  • Identifying and sometimes drawing geometric shapes and ordinal numbers
  • Sequencing and making patterns
  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Positional concepts
  • Spatial relationships
  • Thinking, reasoning, and communicating mathematically

They do this by following simple directions, answering simple survey questions, and analyzing simple data. In addition, they demonstrate cooperative problem solving and fine motor skills.


ProhibitionSign Glyphs are a good way to learn about symbols, which is important because they are so prevalent in the world. To name just a few: numbers; the percent sign; the plus, minus, and equal signs; currency signs; traffic signs; way-finding signs; map symbols; warning and safety signs; abbreviations;  computer icons;  consumer symbols; religious and scientific symbols and emblems; and literary symbols and punctuation marks.


The best thing about glyphs is that they can be incorporated into any unit of study. You can make a glyph about anything. A book, plants and insects, space and planets, holidays — anything at all! In particular, they make a great "getting to know you" activity for the beginning of the year.


Making Glyphs

Only two (or fewer!) elements are needed for this activity:


  1. A set of survey questions and directions based on the answers, which also serves as the glyph key
  2. A reproducible pattern, if you are using one

There are different ways to have students construct a glyph:


  • You can ask survey questions, and then give directions based on them ("Are you a girl or a boy? If you are a girl . . . ").
  • You can just give the directions ("If you are a girl . . .").
  • You can use pictures in the directions, or no pictures. (Pictures are easier and quicker to understand.)
  • You can read questions and directions out loud to your students, or have your students read on their own.
  • You can give them a pattern to cut and paste, or you can have them cut and paste freehand. Or they can draw, color, or do any number of other things.

It is easier than you might think to draw your own patterns for students to cut and paste. You can make just about any picture using a few basic shapes: circles, ovals, squares, rectangles, triangles, arcs, lines, and teardrops. You'd be applying your own math skills! 

The Virtual Vine has some rhymes that teach kids how to draw shapes, too. Here is "The Shape Song":
The Shape Song
(Sung to "The Farmer in the Dell")

A circle's like a ball,
A circle's like a ball,
Round and round
It never stops.
A circle's like a ball!

A square is like a box,
A square is like a box,
It has four sides,
They are the same.
A square is like a box!

A triangle has three sides,
A triangle has three sides,
Up the mountain,
Down, and back.
A triangle has three sides!


A rectangle has four sides,
A rectangle has four sides,
Two are long, and
Two are short.
A rectangle has four sides!


An oval's like an egg,
An oval's like an egg.
It's like a circle,
Squished up flat.
An oval's like an egg.

A diamond's like a kite.
A diamond's like a kite.
I took two corners,
Pulled them tight.
A diamond's like a kite.

Author Unknown. The last two verses were written by Peggy from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

When introducing the subject of glyphs to your class, talk about how everyone's finished picture will look different depending on how they answered the questions. Show them a completed glyph, explaining how each of the elements was created in response to a question, and have them tell a story about that data by reading the glyph key (or legend). If you want, you could show pictures of hieroglyphs or petroglyphs and talk about ancient picture writing. Can you figure out what the one on the far right says? See the bottom of the post for the answer.

HieroglyphicsTable Hieroglyphics02 Hieroglyphics     Message created with The Online Hieroglyphics Translator


You might also find a rebus or two. See if you can figure this one out. It's on the trickier side:

Puzzle created with myRebus.


If you are reading the questions/directions out loud, go through them one by one, giving each student time to complete the step before moving on to the next.

Examples of Glyphs

This glyph came from the book Just-Right Glyphs for Young Learners by Pamela Chanko. I introduced it on the ELMO using my own completed glyph, and had my students cut, paste, and color the patterns from the book as I read the questions and directions out loud. They were all able to tell me why they did a certain thing; for instance, when I asked, "Why did you color your pencil orange?" they responded, "Because I take a car to school." I was impressed!

    SchoolGlyph01 SchoolGlyph03  SchoolGlyph12

SchoolGlyph05 SchoolGlyph06 SchoolGlyph07 SchoolGlyph08  SchoolGlyph09  SchoolGlyph10 SchoolGlyph14 SchoolGlyph15

This is a glyph I made myself, on the computer. Once again, the kids were able to tell me why they did what they did, and what their pictures meant.

  IntroGlyph IntroGlyph02

IntroGlyph03 IntroGlyph04 IntroGlyph05 IntroGlyph06
IntroGlyph07 IntroGlyph08  IntroGlyph09 IntroGlyph10


These are some other glyphs I made, but haven't used yet.




 Follow-Up Activities

 When everyone is finished, you can do a number of interesting things:


  • Hang the glyphs up side by side to see how everyone answered the questions, comparing each section. Interpret the data as a class by asking questions such as, "Which students . . ."; "How many students . . ."; "Which was the most/least . . ."; and "How do you know?"
  • Have volunteers tell the story of their glyphs, or have everyone write out their own stories.
  • Tell students to exchange their glyphs and read them, or hand them out randomly and make each child guess whose glyph they are reading.
  • Make a graph of specific results, like so:

Graph01 Graph02

When the graph is up, ask "What do you notice? What was the most . . . ? What was the least . . . ?  How many . . . ?  Why . . . ?"  Discuss the implications of the data. Dr. Nicki Newton, an educational consultant who works with schools on math curriculum, says "For instance, we would graph how many people are right-handed and how many people are left-handed and then we would discuss the implications. If we have two left-handed people, what does that mean? Do we have enough left-handed scissors?"

Suggested Books

There are many good books on glyphs that offer ready-made surveys and templates. In addition to Just-Right Glyphs for Young Learners, check out Great Glyphs Triple SetGlyphs II: Data Communication for Elementary Mathematicians, and Glyphs & Math: How to Collect, Interpret, and Analyze Data.

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, in their Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics, places emphasis on data analysis, and glyphs are a great way to teach it. Glyphs help children make connections between ideas, and connect ideas to their own experiences. And each glyph is a unique representation of the student who made it, which is the best kind of activity, in my opinion.

Have a picture perfect weekend!



Answer to the hieroglyphics message: This is what hieroglyphics look like

Answer to the rebus message: This is what a rebus looks like



Comments (6)

Hi Cami, It was fun to try glyphs with the little ones. I wasn't sure if they would understand but they did and they could even explain it. ~Allie

I love using glyphs. One great thing, is that you can make them as simple or intricate as you would like. The kids enjoy creating their glyphs as well.

~Lynn ~ Thanks for reading. Third Graders would indeed love glyphs. Scholastic has teacher books for creating glyphs with your kids.


Outstanding idea! It's so creative. It gives you so many different options.I can't wait to try it with my third graders.Thanks.

Kate, I can't wait to see how the weather glyphs turn out. Kids really get excited about them. Thanks for reading. I hope to hear from you again. ~Allie

Wow! I'm really excited to use this in my fourth grade classroom. We will do the weather glyph for math but also for a great team building activity! Thanks for a great idea!

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