Data graphing is a mathematical skill rigorously taught to students today and for very good reason. The ability to construct or interpret graphs is a necessary foundation for developing more sophisticated data literacy, but graphs help students learn long before they are introduced to statistics by allowing them to visualize information.

Common Core State Standards dictate that students begin answering questions about data even in kindergarten. By the end of first grade, students need to be able to organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories. Graphs that students need to be able to create by the end of second grade include bar graphs, line plots, and pictographs or picture graphs, so it is especially important that they are working with these types often.

## Graphing in School

Before students can begin to graph, they need to first begin to interpret data. One opportunity for exposure to this concept is calendar time. Students in lower elementary grades can begin to analyze graphs when talking about the daily calendar, a routine shared by many classrooms. They can look at trends in the weather and answer questions about weather frequency.

Graphing skills need to be cultivated in students as early as possible through age-appropriate subject matter, and surveys are a great opportunity for this in any grade. The "I do, we do, you do" teaching model lends itself well to teaching graphs, especially in the beginning, and teachers can use surveys to begin instruction.

## Survey Ideas for Students to Graph and Analyze

When students are more familiar with surveys, they can conduct their own and graph their results. Before doing this, though, it is important that teachers stress the importance of categories. Surveys conducted need to have predetermined answer options to keep the data set manageable and the experience meaningful. Otherwise, some surveys would result in far too many answers to study.

Below is a list of survey topics for students to conduct with their classmates and practice graphing. Establish clear categories for these with your class before beginning.

**Survey:**

- Favorite book genre
- Favorite sport
- Favorite color
- Favorite type of animal to have as a pet
- The weather (temperature and precipitation)
- Favorite TV show or movie
- Favorite snack foods, soda, ice cream flavors, etc.
- Height or arm length of classmates
- Favorite subject in school
- Number of siblings
- Typical bedtime
- Height or distance a person can jump
- Shirt color
- Favorite book in a series read as a class
- Favorite informational book topic

Once students can conduct surveys independently, they will probably start generating more topics for surveys on their own. Encourage their enthusiasm by allowing many opportunities for data collection. Teachers can even incorporate surveys into the daily routine to keep students thinking about graphs and practicing these skills.

## Graphing and Analyzing Survey Data

After a survey is complete, teachers should work with their students to decide how best to organize the data they collected, then gradually release the responsibility until students are able to make these decisions independently. Some trial and error with organizing data into different graph types is beneficial for students to see the best uses for each type of graph. For example, picture graphs or pictographs are great for surveys that are more visual and easy to create symbols or pictures for, such as shirt color, but responses are much more difficult to represent with a picture graph for surveys such as average bedtime.

After the data has been graphed, the class should talk about the data. Students need to eventually be able to calculate the range, mean, median, and mode, but they can talk about these ideas much more simply to start. They should also be able to reason with the data to discuss why they think one category has fewer responses than another or why it makes sense that some surveys will be more varied than others.

## Learning How to Graph

Through frequent and structured practice graphing and analyzing data, students will understand many mathematical concepts. They will be able to use graphs to think about data in new ways and visualize concepts they could not before. Because children tend to enjoy being polled or asked their opinion, surveys are the perfect way to help students begin to develop their graphing skills. Practice is key to cultivating graphing skills.