Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Kick Start Your School Year with Graphing

One of my favorite things to do at the beginning of the school year is delve right into graphing. In the past, graphing has always been one of those skills that gets slighted because it always tends to land right before our state test on our yearly scope and sequence. A few years ago, I decided to try and integrate graphing activities throughout the year to avoid providing my students with a hurried graphing unit. Here are some ideas for how to get your students graphing from the very first days of school. 
  • Create a Birthday Bar Graph with the number of birthdays in each month of the year. I typically use the one-inch graph paper on a roll that you can find at math manipulative companies, such as EAI Education. I have also used the one-inch graph paper available on a large tear-off pad from Office Max/ Office Depot. Tip: The regular 3" by 3" Post-it Notes work great on the one-inch grid paper because they line-up perfectly with the horizontal and vertical grid lines. For a variation, convert the data to a line (dot) plot using the birth month number instead of the month's name. If you choose to make both graphs, you can compare and contrast how they are alike and different with your students. 
  • Create a Distance Traveled Bar Graph (Histogram) illustrating how far students traveled over the summer. Ask students to record a city and state or country they traveled to over the summer (or at any time if your students didn't travel much). Use the Travel Math website to get the driving or flying distances. Then have students use Post-it Notes (see above) to indicate the distance they traveled on the class histogram (a bar graph with intervals instead of discrete values). This type of graph isn't generally introduced until middle school, but given the authentic situation, students should be able to understand the practicality of the intervals on the graph. 
  • Create a Learning Styles Triple Venn-Diagram showing the learning styles of the class. I often use one of the learning styles surveys that is available on the web to find out more about how my students learn best. After we get the results, we graph it! I typically use a Triple-Venn Diagram to display this data because some students have a tie for how they learn best, i.e. visual and tactile. However, you could also use a Pictograph or a Bar Graph to display the same data. Just decide in advance how to handle the students that may end up with two learning styles. 
  • Create a Scatterplot illustrating the relationship between the number of vowels in a name and the number of syllables. In Texas, our fifth graders learn about scatterplots. In order to help them understand the purpose and eventual usefulness of a scatterplot, I use this graphing experience because students should see a 1:1 ratio; however, some names will not follow this ratio exactly. The data provides several interesting discussion points.
One of my favorite ways to display the data is on a class data wall. This allows the students to refer back to the data all year long. Since I usually use large graph paper for the initial activity, I transfer it to small graph paper for the data wall. See the picture for details. 


  1. What sites do you use for finding learning styles?

    1. Thanks for your question Caitlin! I actually have one that I have tweaked over the years; however, this is a good online version: I am currently reformatting the one that I've been using so that I can make it available for teachers. It will be a part of a new pack that I am working on for getting started with interactive notebooks. Be on the look-out for it. It will have the graphs included!