Interpreting Distance Time Graphs


On the 3rd day with a new group of students, I had visitors from some other districts in our classroom.  I was nervous – I really didn’t know these students yet and they certainly didn’t know me.  I had chosen Interpreting Distance Time Graphs lesson from MARS to begin our semester.  Although this is listed under 8th grade, it leads to some great discussions and uncovering of ideas and misconceptions.   The Keeley & Tobey book also lists “Every Graph has a Story” in the Formative Assessment Strategies.  This was the ideal lesson to introduce our first unit on functions, while trying to be intentional with planning FAs.



Telling students it is only for feedback, not for a grade seems to drive most of them to really share their thinking.  After reading their responses, I had some ideas of how I wanted to change the lesson up a bit from times past.  The first time I ever used this lesson was around 2011-2012.

Let the Lesson Begin

We began our actual lesson with only the graph in this picture.  I asked students to jot down 3 things they noticed about the graph.   Pair share.  I called on students randomly with my popsicle sticks, then allowed for a volunteers (this was something @druinok and I had read in EFA2, which allows everyone to be heard).    We then read the scenarios aloud and at the table groups, they discussed which story was model by the graph.

tom intro

Next I took one of the scenarios we didn’t choose and asked them to sketch a graph on their whiteboards to model it.  We had about 5 different overall graphs – I drew on the board and let them discuss at their tables which they agreed/disagreed with.  Then we shared our thinking.  Some very good sketches and great discussions.

Open Card Sort

Many years ago, a colleague shared the idea of open sorts, something she had learned from a John Antonetti training.   I instructed students to remove only the purple graphs from their ziploc bags.  (Side note suggestion- use different colors of cardstock and this allows them to quickly grab the cards they need, ie the purple graphs, green scenarios OR blue tables.  I used to have all the same color and we wasted a lot of time sorting through which cards we needed).  In pairs, they were sort the graphs any way they wished, the only requirement, was they must be able to explain why they sorted them as they did.  Again, sharing whole class led to seeing some details we had initially noticed.  If you’ve never done an Open Sort – let go and let them show you their thinking.  You might will be amazed and wonder why you’ve never done this before.  They love to think.  We should let them.

List 3 Things

A couple of years ago, I began asking students to list 3 things they noticed or knew about their graphs – anytime we were interacting with a graph.  IF you ask them to do this enough, it eventually becomes habit.  I also like this approach because it gives them a chance to survey the information in the graph before they start worrying about / answering questions.  Today, I asked pairs to label their whiteboards A – J and I set the timer.  They had to share/discuss/jot down 3 things about each graph.  Once again, I used popsicle sticks to randomly call on a few students.

Graph & Scenario Matching

Using the “rules” listed in the lessons powerpoint, students were then given time to discuss and match graphs to the scenario.  This went so much quicker than times I’ve done this lesson before.  I believe it was because they had already interacted with the graphs twice…they were not “new” to them.  I will definitely use the Open Sort and Name 3 Things before matching tasks in the future.

I gave them a chart to record their matches.  We then shared out our matches.  Each time, I neither confirmed or disputed their matches, but rather would call on a couple of other students to agree/disagree.  After some discussions, I came back to the original student to see if they agreed / disagreed with their original match.

One of my favorite graphs is this one –

not possible graph

And our final sorts…  And again – Scenario 2 is always up for some debate.  It reads: Opposite Tom’s house is a hill.  Tom climbed slowly up the hill, walked across the top and then ran down the other side.


Though every student did not get every match exact, there were several a-ha’s during the lesson and questions asked.  I look forward to reading their post assessment.

I’ve used this lesson as written many times with much success.  However, just making some adjustments prior to the matching made a vast difference in the amount of time students needed to complete the task.

Let me know how this lesson has gone / goes for you if you use it.


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