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
- 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.
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.
Only two (or fewer!) elements are needed for this activity:
- A set of survey questions and directions based on the answers, which also serves as the glyph key
- 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 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.
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.
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!
These are some other glyphs I made, but haven't used yet.
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:
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?"
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 Set, Glyphs 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