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Although visual complexity is increasing and graphics are essential to support readers’ comprehension of disciplinary texts, visual literacy receives scant attention. Research suggests that effectively instructing students to interpret discipline-specific graphics would yield better comprehension. However, before this line of inquiry can be enacted, we must determine the characteristics of graphics in contemporary content textbooks. Therefore, this content analysis evaluated graphics within third- and fifth-grade science and social studies textbooks. We coded 3,844 graphics by type and function and compared findings between disciplines using chi-square and post hoc comparison tests. Overall, graphics were coded into 9 major types (photographs being most frequent) and 54 subtypes, indicating a diversity of graphics. When comparing disciplines, science textbooks contained more diagrams and photographs, and graphics more often functioned representationally. Social studies presented both a wider variety of graphics and more interpretationally challenging graphics. Implications for disciplinary literacy and instruction are discussed.

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This document was originally published in The Elementary School Journal by The University of Chicago Press. Copyright restrictions may apply. doi: 10.1086/700266