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3rd Grade Graphing Activity - Tweaked

data grades 3-5 math social studies strategies tweaked lesson plans

Tweaked Lesson Plans 

This article is part of the “LP Tweaks” blog series showcasing how small adjustments to the questions, organization, and/or data moves within your existing curriculum can help align the learning to different data skills for your learners. This original lesson is strong, and the intention is not to communicate otherwise but rather to share how you could adjust things for a different desired outcome.

Written by: Naomi W




So imagine last year you were looking for a resource for your students to explore real-world data connections. You had a sense that there may be a lesson that could connect:

  • SS 3.5: Communities share cultural similarities and differences across the world, specifically 3.5a: The structure and activities of families and schools share similarities and differences across world.

  • 3.MD Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories to solve one- and two-step “how many more” and “how many less” problems using information presented in a scaled picture graph or a scaled bar graph.

Through a Google search, you discovered a great data-based lesson “Which Month First?” from Utah Education Network on understanding the connection between real-world data and its representation on a graph. Your students loved it last year and got really excited about making the human graph. 

However, based on students' performance in the last unit you are looking to give them more time in a practiced way to more deeply get at collecting data and creating data visualizations themselves, rather than you needing to tell them each step of the way, for their data graphing skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the “Which Month First?” from Utah Education Network and your students last year enjoyed it, but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your current learners need to practice at this point in the year. What do you do?

Let’s check out some easy optional tweaks to make the lesson more what you are looking for now.

Here is an example of how we can add a few questions to the lesson to more directly help your current students practice data skills we know they are weaker on (or we are more interested in taking in this specific data interaction) at this point in the year.


Black text is the original lesson and the purple text is suggested additional questions to add. A full copy of the revised lesson can be viewed here.


The questions are designed to help students to think more deeply about how to “visualize data” in grade 3 appropriate ways. These few questions, and support worksheets (Tally Chart by birthday months and FREE Birthday Bar Graph from Lee Hall on TeaherPayTeachers), give the students more targeted practice at taking the data they are looking at and converting it into tally charts and then bar graphs. So rather than just lining up in front of your birthday month in the room, going further by making tally charts and then converting them to bar graphs gives the students the extra practice they need to work more authentically in creating visual graphs.

Even though the students have learned how to group their birthdays by month on the floor and the board, these questions are designed specifically to help the students move beyond the initial visualization of the data and explore that we can work with data from multiple angles (aka, can make tally charts and then convert the data to a bar graph). The more practice they have at making bar graphs, the more they will understand the structure of these graphs and the more comfortable they will be with using them and analyzing what the data visualization represents.

Additionally, by using this lesson and these adjusted questions we are able to more deeply connect math-social studies learning all in one learning experience for our students. Students can compare and contrast the structure of their graph compared with other classes at your school. By leading students in a discussion about what they see in terms of when birthdays are across classes and a discussion about what different families do to celebrate birthdays can be an engaging way to connect data and your students lives together. Everyone has a birthday and depending on your “community” you celebrate it differently. Students could even research how different communities celebrate birthdays.

Therefore, with the addition of these new questions and 2 support worksheets, you can continue to use the tried-and-true lesson from last year while also better aligning it to your current learners needs and/or your desired focus areas for your learners to practice data skills. 

To me that feels like a win-win…using a lesson that you like with a more strategic data focus to help learners build their skills :)


Will this exact tweak work for everyone or every lesson? Absolutely not! But it is just one suggestion of a place to start.

The point is that with a better sense of what we are working towards with data skills (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the range of data skills K-12 our learners should be working to master) we can be empowered to make our existing curriculum work better for us and our learners…rather than needing to find or write all new curriculum.

Give it a try! What in your next lesson with data can you slightly adjust to make it better hit the skills you want your students to practice? Let us know how it goes.