What should students look for to help them interpret a graph? (Process for Teaching with Data, Phase 2)

What should students look for to help them interpret a graph?

 Great, so our students have been “introduced” to the graph by thinking about what they notice and what they wonder about now we need to help them get ready to interpret the visualization.

Think of this stage as gathering all of your ingredients and equipment before you cook. As an expert cook you may be able to skip this step, but if you are new to cooking or making something for the first time gathering all of the ingredients and equipment ahead of time makes it a lot easier for you to be successful.

Our students are still novices with using data, so supporting them through this process and teaching them how to do it themselves will go a long way to setting your students up for success in interpreting and analyzing the data.

So how can we teach our students to do what we do when we look at visualizations?

By explicitly walking them through a few steps of the getting ready stage…

  • What kind of data are used in this visualization?
    • Where are the data from and who collected it?
    • If it wasn’t you, can you find that out by looking on and around the visualization?
  • What kind of graph/chart/map are you looking at?
    • Is it one that you recognize/know the name of?
    • Or is this a new kind of graph/chart/map for you?
  • What are the parts of the graph? If you were to describe this graph to someone over the phone (and you can’t videochat :)) how would you describe it so they could picture the layout in their mind?
    • What is plotted on the x-axis? Is it a number or a category? What is the first value? What is the last value?
    • What is plotted on the y-axis? Is it a number or a category? What is the first value? What is the last value?
    • Are there multiple things on the graph/chart/map (for example, multiple bars, lines, colors of dots, etc.)? If so, how are they different from each other?

If it is early in the year, or if you are working with a new kind of visualization, or if you are in a new content unit it can be helpful to talk through these steps to role model your thinking before asking students to answer these questions themselves. As your students gain comfort in doing this step themselves, you can move to more prompting questions on the board or on their activity sheets.

Regardless of how or where you do this, remember getting ready to read a visualization is an important step that our students need to practice over and over and over again until it becomes habitat for them.

Once they have read the graph to get ready to interpret the graph it is go time!

See “Strategies for Teaching with Data, Part 3” for effective strategies for helping students interpret data successfully and thoroughly.

Also, if you are interested in specific prompts by graph type check out our resources on:

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