Interpreting Visuals: Rural America


Web Exclusive activities for What is Rural America? (page 28-31) from Teaching Tolerance No. 38.

Activity #1: Defining Key Vocabulary in Visuals

Essential Questions:

  • What is the language used in many visuals?
  • How can knowing some key terms help you interpret any visual?


  • Vocabulary of Visuals handout
  • Dictionary


Many visuals use the same key words and phrases to organize information. Knowing this important vocabulary can help you understand a visual. Work with a partner to complete the Vocabulary of Visuals handout.


Activity #2: Understanding Any Visual

Essential Questions:

  • What are some different kinds of visuals?
  • Why are some visuals better for representing certain kinds of information?
  • How do you read different kinds of visuals?



1)    There are many different kinds of visuals that can be used to structure and display facts. Use the Understanding Visuals handout to learn more about some of the different types of visuals. (Note: You may wish to have students consult their mathematics textbooks to learn more about pie charts, bar graphs, and line graphs.)

2)    Using what you’ve learned from the handout, describe at least three of the visuals included in “What is Rural America?” and “The Poorest of the Poor in Rural Education” to a partner. Every time either of you says one of the following terms, place a check mark in the box below. Encourage each other to use all the terms.

Activity #3: Drawing Conclusions about a Visual

Essential Questions:

  • How can learning more about a topic help you interpret a visual?
  • How can you draw a conclusion about a visual?
  • What kinds of inferences can you make by interpreting a visual?


  • Access to the Internet
  • Dictionaries
  • Notebooks


1)    Sometimes you may come across a visual that is challenging to interpret because you are unfamiliar with the subject matter. When this happens, you may need to do some additional research before you can really understand the impact of a visual. Look up the words “rural” and “urban” in either a print or online dictionary. Then put each definition into your own words.

2)    In small groups, use the visuals included in “What is Rural America?” and “The Poorest of the Poor in Rural Education” to complete the following statements:

  • According to the Urban and Rural America bar graph (pages 28-29), Americans living in urban and rural areas are similar because …
  • According to the Students in Rural Schools By Race pie chart (page 31), most students are …
  • According to the Poverty in Rural Public Schools pie charts, race and poverty are linked in that the richest schools ­­­___________________, while the poorest schools ­­­___________________. 

3)    Respond to one of the following prompts in your journal: 

  • How do these statistics about race and poverty make you feel?
  • Choose one statistic from any visual and explain it in your own words?
  • Examine the sources of these visuals. Do you believe these sources are trustworthy? Why or why not?
  • After understanding these visuals, what other information about this subject would you like to know?
  • How does the information you learned from the visuals relate to your school and community?


Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards: (McREL 4th-edition)


Standard 6: Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis

Language Arts

Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and interpret visual media

Benchmark 1: Uses a range of strategies to interpret visual media (e.g., draws conclusions, makes generalizations, synthesizes materials viewed, refers to images or information in visual media to support point of view, deconstructs media to determine the main idea)


Standard 11: Understands the role of diversity in American life and the importance of shared values, political beliefs, and civic beliefs in an increasingly diverse American society