Understanding Pictures and Graphics in a Textbook

Understanding Pictures and Graphics          By Patti Hutchison

You have probably heard the saying, "A picture is worth a thousand words." This means that a picture is much easier to understand than a wordy explanation. Textbooks often use many different kinds of pictures and graphics in order to help you, the reader, to understand the concepts being presented. It is helpful to know how to read and interpret these important aids.

Photographs are real-life images. They are used to illustrate an important point or concept. An explanation of the picture usually goes along with it. This may be above, beside, or underneath it. The picture is often referred to in the text. It is important to take a moment to study the picture closely. Read the explanation. This will give you visual clues to help you to understand and remember the concept you are studying.

Textbooks are also full of diagrams. A diagram is a picture that is drawn rather than photographed. Like photographs, diagrams may also have explanations next to them. There might also be words or phrases within the diagram. These are usually labels that help you to understand what the diagram is showing. Carefully read all the information in and surrounding the diagram.

Charts and tables present information in an organized way. They can provide a summary of information. They also give main ideas in a more concise way. Tables help you to compare traits easily. For example, the periodic table arranges the elements in a way that is easy to understand. The reader is able to easily compare atomic numbers and masses among the different elements. Much information is given in a small amount of space.

A graph is a special kind of chart. The two major types of graphs are line and bar graphs. They contain at least four elements. These include a title, a vertical axis, a horizontal axis, and at least one bar or line. Each axis is labeled to tell the reader what the numbers represent. They are marked off according to a numeric scale. Examine the bars or lines to compare values. Graphs can make data clearer and easier to understand.

Social studies textbooks are full of a special kind of diagram called a timeline. A timeline arranges events in the order in which they took place. The scale is marked according to time, for example, days, years, or decades. Events are marked next to the dates they occurred. To read a timeline, find the date you are interested in, and then read the event that took place at that time. Or you may read it the opposite way; find the event and then look at the date on which it happened. Timelines can show the events of a long period of history in a small amount of space.

Maps are another type of graphic feature that are often included in social studies textbooks. A map represents a given location. To understand a map, first read the title. This will tell you what location is being represented. Each map should include a key or legend. This will tell you what each symbol on the map stands for. For example, a large star often shows the location of a state capital. A wavy blue line may represent a river. They key will give you this information. Maps can help you learn about the features of the world or just a small part of it.

Information is often better understood and remembered if it is represented visually. Graphics included in textbooks emphasize main points. They give a lot of information in a way that is easier to understand. They summarize and help us to remember what is important. So, when you come across a picture or table as you are reading the text, pay attention to it. You will definitely learn something from it.