Reading charts, graphs and tables

Donna Price

This article looks in to the reading strand of the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education and how to integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats. Below are examples on reading charts, graphs and tables commonly used within ELT media.

Reading comprehension involves more than reading words. Informational texts such as textbooks, manuals and newspapers often contain graphical elements, e.g., tables, illustrations, diagrams and timelines. Students who can interpret graphical elements have an advantage over those who cannot.

Here are examples of strategies for developing skills in interpreting three different graphic elements – charts, graphs, and tables. Perfect for Intermediate level students.


Pie charts are used to show proportions and how each piece relates to the whole. This example of a pie chart shows both in words and graphically what working parents spend their time on. Teachers need to explicitly teach how to interpret the structure of the chart by asking specific questions about the format. For example, “What information is in the circles? What do the different sizes and colors represent?”

Example #1 (from Ventures 3, p. 80, Exercise 1)


Bar graphs present a set of bars. Each bar stands for a specific quantity, amount or measurement. In this example, students read Fernando’s weekend activities at the bottom of the graph and discuss the amounts using the grammar of comparisons that was covered in this lesson. To teach the structure of the graph, teachers ask questions like, “What information is in the bar? What do the numbers on the left mean?”

Example #2 (from Ventures 3, p. 11, Exercise 2B)


Tables present facts or figures displayed in columns and rows. Information in the title and headings (labels) tell what the columns and rows represent. The table in this example describes the 30 fastest-growing occupations from 2010-2020. Teachers need to explicitly teach the format by asking, “What information is in the rows? What information is in the columns?”

Example #3 (from Ventures 4, p. 106, Exercise 1)

In conclusion, remind students that skilled readers don’t skip over graphics, charts and tables; they contain important information. Students should ask themselves how the information shown in the chart, graphic or table supports the material they are reading.

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