Some students are unable to translate between verbal and graphical descriptions of an object's motion

Forces and Motion


Given a distance-time graph or a speed-time graph of an object in motion, students struggle to translate this into a description, in words, of that object's motion. Similarly, given a verbal description of motion, students struggle to translate this into an appropriate graphical representation.

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.

Q17-24 all deal with distance-time graphs. The key idea probed is that the slope of a distance-time graph is an indication of speed.

Resources to Address This

  • Graphical stories of motion (14-16)

    Source - SPT/ Fm02TA05

    This resource focuses on students "walking-out" target graphs, and so obtain a real understanding of the story behind the graph.

    View Resource
  • Timing a trolley on a slope (11-16)

    Source - Practical Physics/ Force and Motion/ Time, distance and speed/ ...

    This resource outlines a class practical where students measure time, speed and velocity. Graphical presentation of data helps to build concepts. 

    View Resource
  • Ticker-timers for investigating speed (11 - 16)

    Source - Practical Physics/ Force and Motion/ Time, distance and speed/ ...

    This resource outlines a class activity where making ticker-timer charts can develop an understanding of speed-time graphs. 

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Bliss, J.; Morrison, I. and Ogborn, J. () A longitudinal study of dynamics concepts. International Journal of Science Education, 10 (1),


    This longitudinal study examined the concepts that students across a range of year groups held on the topic of motion. The sample consisted of two groups of students: one group of students aged 12-14 and one group of students aged 14-16. 26 students were from middle school, 28 were from upper school, 33 were from secondary school. The study took place in the UK. The concepts were examined using tests and follow-up verbal interviews.
    Review sheet

2023 IOP Awards

Teachers of Physics Awards

Recognising and celebrating outstanding contributions to the field of physics education.

Learn more