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Glyphs for All Reasons

Data Analysis and Probability
Grace M. Burton
Location: unknown

Students learn a powerful way to display data, the glyph. Representation, communication, and problem solving are important parts of this lesson.

Background Information

Glyphs are an interesting way to show several pieces of data at once. They can be created in two dimensions as is done in this lesson, or in three dimensions, such as in a diorama or with clay. Making a glyph involves the logical skill of classification--a student must decide which groups he or she belongs to in order to complete the picture. Glyphs have been used as a guide to diagnosis by doctors, as a way to describe the U.S. presidents, and as an alternative to the traditional book report. In this lesson, they will be a means of presenting multiple pieces of information about the students.


To begin the lesson, give each student paper plates and crayons and inform the class that they are going to create a new way to represent data. This new way is called a glyph. Give the following directions, pausing after each one to give the students time to complete that part of the drawing.

  1. On the edge of your plate, draw a red line if you ate a total of five fruits and vegetables yesterday. If not, draw a green line. Write your name on the back of the plate.
  2. If you walk to school, draw some blueberries on your plate. If you ride the bus, draw some blackberries. If you travel some other way, draw a plum.
  3. If you like mashed potatoes, draw some on your plate. [Students may have trouble drawing mashed potatoes. They could draw a regular potato instead if that is easier for them.]
  4. If you brought your lunch today, draw some carrots. If you did not, draw corn.
  5. Draw a green pea for each brother you have. For each sister, draw a stick of celery.
  6. Draw a radish for each year of your age. [You may wish to have a picture of a radish available for students, or you may pick another vegetable not already used in the glyph.]
  7. If you will have a birthday this month, draw another line around the rim of your plate with your blue crayon.

Note: You will need to complete a glyph for yourself (either while students are completing their own, or you may have one prepared ahead of time.)


When the students are ready, encourage them to discuss the glyphs in small groups. Then call the class together, and lay the glyphs where all can see them. Ask the class what they notice about the drawings. The "Questions for Students" (below) can be used to prompt this discussion.

Next, pick one glyph at random and see whether the students can determine whose glyph it is. Repeat with other glyphs as time allows. Now display a plate that you have drawn about yourself, and ask the class what they can tell about you from the picture.

1344 plate

Alternatively, you may display the Glyph Overhead and allow students to answer the questions about the above glyph.

overhead Glyph Overhead 

Additional Information

This would be a good time to review the colors of healthy foods and ask students to show their food diary charts.

1344 mypyramid 4c 

Orange = Grains
Green = Vegetables
Red = Fruits
Yellow = Oils
Blue = Milk
Purple = Meat and Beans

Students can compare their food diary charts with a partner.

Assessment Options

1. At this stage of the unit, it is important to know whether students can do the following:
  • Create and read a glyph. 
Record student observations on the Class Notes Recording Sheet.
2. Ask students, "Is your food diary chart up-to-date?"


The glyph is such a versatile data representation tool that you will wish to have students make glyphs several times during the year. It is especially appropriate as a "getting to know you" activity during the first week of school. It is also an innovative way to review social studies data. For example, suppose you have just studied regions in your state or the characteristics of your community or of several states. A glyph that could be used in the latter case might be:

  • Pick a state. [You might assign states to students.] On your paper, draw the outline of your state. If it was one of the original colonies, draw the outline in blue. If not, draw it in red.
  • Draw a green star where the capitol is, and write the capitol's name there.
  • Draw any large rivers in blue. Draw any mountains in brown.
  • If your state is on the seacoast, draw some waves where the coast is.
  • Draw a red star where you live.
  • Draw a picture of one important crop.

Questions for Students 

1. If you want to know who walks to school, how can you tell from the glyphs the class made? How many students in the class walk to school? Ride the bus? How many is that in all? How many neither walk nor ride the bus? How can you tell?

[Students who walk to school will have blueberries on their plates. Students who ride the bus will have blackberries drawn on their plates. Students who neither ride the bus nor walk to school will have a plum drawn.]

2. How many students in our class like mashed potatoes?

[Answers will depend upon the students' responses. Count up the number of plates with potatoes drawn on them.]

3. How many students in our class have brothers? Have sisters? Have no brothers or sisters? How could you tell that from looking at the glyphs? Does anyone have two brothers? Three sisters?

[Answers will depend upon the students' responses. The number of green peas drawn indicates the number of brothers a student has. The number of sticks of celery indicates the number of sisters a student has.]

4. Could you find out from the glyph how old someone is? How?

[Yes, you can find out someone's age by looking at the number of radishes drawn.]

5. Suppose I want to find out how many students brought their lunch today. How would I do that by looking at the glyph?

[You would count the number of plates which have carrots drawn on them.]

6. How many students have a birthday this month? Can I tell how many students have a birthday in [name another month]?

[The number of students with birthdays this month will depend upon student responses. Simply count the number of plates with a blue rim. No, you cannot tell how many students have a birthday in another month.]

7. How would you help a friend read your glyph?

[Student responses will vary. Some students may suggest creating a key, similar to a pictograph, to indicate what each picture represents.]

Teacher Reflection 

  • Which students could easily classify data about themselves and draw the appropriate indicator on the glyph?
  • Which students could gather data by looking at another student's glyph?
  • Are any students still having difficulty with the objectives of this lesson? What additional instructional experiences do they need?
  • What will I do differently the next time that I teach this lesson?
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Learning Objectives

Students will:
  • Create glyphs.
  • Interpret glyphs.

NCTM Standards and Expectations

  • Represent data using tables and graphs such as line plots, bar graphs, and line graphs.