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)

    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)

    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)

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

    View Resource


  • Bliss, J.; Morrison, I. and Ogborn, J. () A longitudinal study of dynamics concepts. International Journal of Science Education, 10 (1), 99-110.

    Asking students to analyse images from comic strips, rather than the more common force diagrams used in lessons, can be useful in establishing students understanding of forces. The approach also helps to identify misconceptions, based on students ‘common sense’ when they give their descriptions. These ideas are often resilient to change and need to be explicitly challenged in teaching and learning activities.

    Paper digest

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