How to Teach Your Kids to Love Coordinate Graphing

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Have you ever had a kid say to you…”Why am I learning this? I won’t ever use it in real life.”  Well, learning about coordinate graphs is one of those skills that you’ll have the pleasure of teaching and then explaining the rationale behind it.

When I started teaching coordinate graphing to my youngest son, I knew he would need practice with the skill, but I also knew he didn’t need boring workbook pages. I wanted something hands-on, and I found a couple of board games that would help. Then I created an outdoor activity that I knew he would love. And since they helped him, I thought they would be a help to you and your kiddos.

What are Coordinate Graphs?

A coordinate graph, or a coordinate plane, is simply a grid with points on it. This skill isn’t that difficult if you understand the starting point is the x-axis (or the horizontal line) and the y-axis (the vertical line) is the end point.

However, if you struggle remembering whether to start on the x-axis or the y-axis, coordinate plotting can become your nemesis. My son had difficulty with this, so I taught him a little trick.

The Trick

In the alphabet, the letter /x/ comes before /y/, and the letter /o/ comes before /u/. If you can remember the phrase “over and up,” you will be plotting coordinate points correctly in no time!!

Go “over” (because /o/ comes first in the alphabet) and then “up” (because /u/ comes second). This is the same as remembering to start at the /x/ axis first, and then the /y/ axis.

When you break it down like that, it’s so much easier to recall!

When Will I Ever Need to Know This?

Now that we’ve reviewed what coordinate graphs actually are, we need to have answers ready for the inevitable “why do I need to know this?”  The way you answer this loaded question will either help your child learn to love this skill or just blow it off as another useless piece of information.

So, I have concocted constructed 3 quality answers that will encourage them to love coordinate graphs.

  1. Say, “If you ever get lost in the middle of a desert, you will hope and pray that the person looking for you knows and understands coordinates. If not, I hope you enjoy eating sand.”  Then you can remind them that this skill helps them understand longitude and latitude.
  2. Say, “If you ever want to live on your own or travel anywhere, you need to know how to read a map…in case your GPS quits working and you have a detour.”  Then refer to #1 for a more thorough explanation.
  3. Finally, and possibly most importantly, say, “You will want to know how the “over and up” of coordinate graphing works if you want to master Tetris.”

Trust me, they’ll understand at this point, and they can thank me later.

So, now the only question you need to ask is, how can I make learning this skill fun? I am so glad you asked!

Engaging Graphing Activities

While there are many games that use a grid pattern for play (think checkers and chess), two games are perfect for practicing the skill of coordinate graphing.

Connect 4

This game is ideal for introducing the concept of coordinate graphs. The premise is that you want to have 4 of your discs in a row before your opponent. There are seven columns and six rows for the discs to be placed in. While you don’t have a specifically labeled x-axis and y-axis, you must understand the concept of “over and up” before placing your disc to guarantee a win.

Connect 4 is a game of strategy, and neither player has an advantage over the other. However, each time a disc is placed, the game intensifies. The players must always be thinking of how each 4 in a row can come to be. It is so much fun to play, and we highly recommend it!


This may come as a surprise to you, but the game Battleship is coordinate graphing in game form. The whole point of the game is to take “shots” at your opponents’ ships in an effort to sink his fleet based on location points on a grid.

To begin, you say a letter and a number (A-2) and the other person says “Hit!” or “Miss!”  Then depending on your opponent’s answer, you plan your attack. This is such an exciting way to practice this skill, and the best part is, you are legitimately learning while playing!! Hooray for fun.

Fence Graphing Activity

This last activity is one that I came up with when looking out my window as my son was learning about coordinate planes. I was looking into our backyard, and that’s when it hit me. Fence Graphing!

Here’s how it works. You need a chain link fence and wadded up paper (tissue paper works great!). You call out coordinates and have your child place the wadded up paper into the holes in the fence. It may not sound all that exciting to you, but any time my kids have the opportunity to be outside learning, they take it.

For example, you might say the number pairs (2,5), (3,5), (4,5). Then they have a short horizontal line of wadded paper in the fence. The only thing you will need to determine before starting is where the initial (0,0) point will be on your coordinate plane (aka fence). If you want to increase the difficulty level, have them use negative numbers as well with the pole between two sheets of fencing as your y-axis.

Another alternative is to have the kids create their own design in the holes of the fence. After constructing their masterpiece, have them plot the points on a coordinate plane. Then they can simply write out the coordinates for another person to use in an effort to recreate the original. It would be a fun family activity!

Coordinate graphing can be so much fun...even if you aren't a math teacher! My kids and I have had such a good time with coordinate planes. These games and activities are all great, but the third one was our favorite! #math #graphing

So, there you have it! The definition, the answers you are going to give your learners, and three great activities that will take your hesitant “coordinate graph-ers” and turn them into masters. Well, maybe not masters, but they will certainly have a greater interest in learning this awesome skill.