Lesson Plan: Survey Data and Graphing

Fourth grade boy works on a math problem.
Jonathan Kirn / Getty Images

Students will use a survey to collect and then represent data in a picture graph(link) and a bar graph(link).

Class: 3rd grade

Duration: 45 minutes each on two class days


  • notebook paper
  • pencil

If working with students who need some visual assistance, you may wish to use actual graph paper rather than notebook paper.

Key Vocabulary: survey, bar graph, picture graph, horizontal, vertical

Objectives: Students will use a survey to collect data. Students will choose their scale and create a picture graph and bar graph to represent their data.

Standards Met: 3.MD.3. Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories.

Lesson Introduction: Open up a discussion with the class about favorites. What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Topping? Syrup? What is your favorite fruit? Your favorite vegetable? Your favorite school subject? Book? In most third grade classrooms, this is a sure-fire way to get kids excited and sharing their opinions.

If doing a survey and graphing for the first time, it might be helpful to choose one of these favorites and do a quick survey of your students so that you have data to a model in the steps below.

Step-by-Step Procedure:

  1. Students design survey. Give your survey participants no more than 5 choices to pick from. Make predictions about the survey results.
  2. Conduct the survey. There are many things that you can do to set your students up for success here. A free-for-all survey will result in poor results and a headache for the teacher! My suggestion would be to set expectations early in the lesson and also model the correct behavior for your students.
  3. Total the results of the survey. Prepare for the next part of the lesson by having students find the range of responses - the category with the least number of people who selected that item as their favorite, and the category with the most.
  4. Set up the graph. Have students draw their horizontal axis and then the vertical axis. Ask students to write their categories (fruit choices, pizza toppings, etc.) below the horizontal axis. Make sure these categories are well-spaced so that their graph will be easily read.
  5. Now is the time to talk to students about the numbers that will go on the vertical axis. If they surveyed 20 people, they will either need to number from 1-20 or create hash marks for every two people, for every five people, etc. Model this thought process with a graph of your own so that students can make this decision.
  1. Have students complete their picture graph first. Brainstorm with students what pictures could represent their data. If they have surveyed others about ice cream flavors, they can draw one ice cream cone to represent one person (or two people, or five people, depending on what scale they have chosen in Step 4.). If surveying people about their favorite fruits, they could choose an apple to represent the number of people choosing apples, a banana for those who chose bananas, etc.
  2. When the picture graph is finished, students will have an easier time constructing their bar graph. They have already designed their scale and know how far up the vertical axis each category should go. All they need to do now is draw the bars for each category.

Homework/Assessment: Over the course of the next week, have students ask friends, family, neighbors (remembering safety issues here) to respond to their initial survey. Adding this data in with the classroom data, have them create an additional bar and picture graph.

Evaluation: After students have added their family and friends data to their initial survey data, use the results of the completed survey and their final graphs to evaluate their understanding of the lesson objectives. Some students may merely struggle with creating an appropriate scale for their vertical axis, and these students could be placed in a small group for some practice in this skill. Others may have trouble with representing their data in both types of graphs. If a considerable number of students fall into this category, plan to reteach this lesson in a few weeks. Students love surveying others, and this is an excellent way to review and practice their graphing skills.