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4th Grade Graphing Great Explorations 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 that you have a data-based, hands-on lesson that your students love called ​​Graphing Great Explorations from The Mailbox. In the activity learners practice looking up coordinate pairs on a map to explore locations and geologic features of North America (*note this activity requires you to sign up for a free membership). Learners are working on concepts related to Social Studies Standards related to the Key Idea  of the Colonial and Revolutionary Period AND the Math Standard of 5.G.A.1: Graph points on the coordinate plane to solve real-world and mathematical problems. Meaning it is a great activity that crosses disciplines and gets students working with data.

However, in the last unit your students seemed to be able to read locations from a map, but were struggling to understand the underlying structure of the map. Therefore, you are looking to give them more time to practice more deeply at understanding the structure of maps for their data analysis and interpretation skills than you have in the past (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the Graphing Great Explorations lesson and all your other colleagues are using it, but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your learners need to practice at this point in the year, but the content is. How can we find a happy medium?

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

Here are three examples of how we can add a few instructions and/or questions to the lesson to more directly help your current students practice that data skill – understand the structure of maps – that you know they are weaker on at this point this year.

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


First, before the students jump in to reading the coordinates and transferring location names from the map to the corresponding explorer, we can take some time to have students orient to the map. Asking them to consider the locations and whether they are a geologic feature (e.g., mountain range) or a place (e.g., city) is a great way to have them orient to what is on the map. Also, having students label the four cardinal directions helps students practice orienting to what they are looking at and grasping that the map is a visual representation of space. These instruction prompts are designed to help students engage with data in maps in a more analytic way than just to answer “look up” questions from the map in grade 4 appropriate ways. They do not add a large amount to the workload of the students, but they do provide more targeted practice of these skills. 

Purple text is suggested additional questions to add. A full copy of the revised lesson can be viewed here.


Second, even though students have engaged with the map to locate a position on a map, these questions are designed specifically to prompt students to compare these locations on the map and discuss the similarities and differences between them. This builds students skills in actively and critically thinking about what they are looking at and can learn from a map.

Purple text is suggested additional questions to add. A full copy of the revised lesson can be viewed here.


Finally, adding a question that prompts students to consider this map (coordinates by letters and numbers as they are familiar with looking at in other gridded images) and other maps that they may have seen or will be seeing (coordinates of latitude and longitude) invites them to make connections. We see maps similarly as adults who are used to looking at maps, but making these connections, or opportunities for connections, more obvious to students can be extremely helpful as they are building up their “map sense”.

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 are representing real-world events having them graphed on a coordinate plane, and interpreting coordinate values of points in the context of the situation.

Therefore, with the addition of new instructions and 3 questions, you can continue to use the tried-and-true lesson from your curriculum 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 an option 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.