Lesson Plan: Strategies for Interpreting Charts and Graphs

How to Interpret Charts and Data

Using examples, journalist Alberto Cairo talked about ways that data, charts and visualization are represented and interpreted. He discussed strategies for interpreting charts and visualizations.

Description

This lesson has students view video clips discussing examples of charts and strategies for how they should be used and interpreted. From these video clips, students will develop a list of best practices and strategies to use when reading and interpreting visualizations of data. Students will use this list to research and evaluate charts and graphs online and in newspapers.

Procedures

  • WARM-UP:

    Before beginning class, have the students answer the following warm-up question.

    • How can charts and graphs be used to represent information?
  • INTRODUCTION:

    Review the answers with the students and discuss different ways they have seen charts and graphs used.

    Begin the class by having the students provide a working definition of the following terms. These terms will be referenced throughout the videos and the lesson.

    • Bias

    • Causation

    • Correlation

    • Data

    • Horizontal Axis

    • Vertical Axis

    • Visualization
  • EXPLORATION:

    After ensuring that the students have a working definition of the vocabulary terms, have them use the handout to take notes on each video clip. Students can also use the guiding questions associated with each video clip.

    Handout: Interpreting Charts (Google Doc)

  • Video Clip 1: How to Interpret Charts and Data (7:03)

    • What does the chart on alcohol consumption show?

    • What are limitations of the data in the chart?

    • What does Mr. Cairo mean when he says that visualizations like charts "are visual arguments?"

    • What does the hurricane cone graphic show? How is the hurricane cone graphic often misinterpreted?

    • Why is it important to read the descriptions of charts?
  • Video Clip 2: Extreme Values and Clarifying Charts (2:47)

    • What is the purpose of the chart featured in the video clip? What does it appear to show?

    • How can the chart be misinterpreted?

    • How can extreme values and outliers impact how data is represented on charts?

    • What information should readers look for when viewing charts?
  • Video Clip 3: Correlation and Reading Charts (5:32)

    • What information is presented on the chart featured in the video clip? According to Mr. Cairo, what does this chart appear to show?

    • What does Mr. Cairo mean by "a chart shows only what it shows and nothing else?"

    • How can this chart be misleading?

    • What other variables and factors impact the relationship between cigarette consumption and life expectancy?

    • What are problems with using national data to make decisions at the individual level?

    • What do you think Mr. Cairo means when says "correlation is not causation" throughout the clip?
  • DEVELOPING STRATEGIES FOR INTERPRETING CHARTS AND GRAPHS:

    Using the notes from the videos, have the students make a list of strategies and best practices that they should use when reading and interpreting charts and graphs.

  • APPLICATION:

    After reviewing these strategies, students will apply these strategies to a chart or graph used in a news article. Students should find a news article that features a chart or graph and answer the questions below.

    • What is the purpose of this chart or graph?

    • What conclusions can be drawn from this data?

    • What are possible misinterpretations or misuses of the information in the chart or graph?

    • What important information is not included or hidden in this chart or graph?

    • How well does this chart or graph represent the data?
  • SUMMARY:

    As an exit slip, have the students answer the following question before they leave class.

    • What is the most important question that readers should ask when interpreting a chart or graph?
  • EXTENSION/ALTERNATIVE ACTIVITIES:

    Create a Chart or Graph- Develop a survey question on a topic that you are interested in that can be quantified. This can include anything from favorite color to number of siblings. Ask your classmates to answer the survey question. Record this information and create a chart that represents this data. After creating this chart or graph, answer the following questions.

    • What conclusions can be drawn from this data?

    • What are possible misinterpretations or misuses of the information in the chart or graph?

    • What important information is not included or hidden in this chart or graph?

    • How well does this chart or graph represent the data?
  • ADDITIONAL PROMPTS:

    • Using examples from the videos, what can be the consequences of misinterpreting data in charts?

    • In your opinion, do people trust charts and graphs more than written or verbal information?

    • Why is it important to be able to interpret and evaluated charts and graphs?

Additional Resource

Vocabulary

  • Aggregate
  • Association
  • Bias
  • Causation
  • Confirmation Bias
  • Correlation
  • Data
  • Fallacy
  • Heuristic
  • Horizontal Axis
  • Outlier
  • Variable
  • Vertical Axis

Topics

Media

Grades

High SchoolUniversity