Say it with a graph

Say it with a graph                                                                                                             (A copy of this post is available for download in Microsoft Word format: Click Here)

Posted on by SuzieHousley


Creating and interpreting  graphs of numerical relationships can be intimidating for students. While they may not be expected to create graphs in their every day life, they will certainly be expected to understand graphs they are presented with by advertisers or on the news.

This activity is intended to demystify the graph and help students gain an understanding of the underlying numerical relationships behind them.  We will achieve this by removing the “scary part” … the numbers.

Suggested Use: The activity presented below could be used as a 5-min. warm up in class or as a creative extra-credit task.

At their core, graphs are just pictures.

Researchers gather tons of data, but the numbers don’t mean much by themselves. Spreadsheets full of numbers are overwhelming (even to scientists). We need to figure out what story these numbers are telling…enter, the graph.

So, we’ve got data- what picture are we going to paint with it?

Once data has been collected, the first thing a researcher needs to do it figure out what relationship they are trying to show. Likewise, when you are presented with a graph in the media- the type of chart chosen is your first clue about what someone is trying to show you.

Let’s try it out….and we don’t even need numbers!

A great web resource called indexed, has tons of examples of numerical relationships with NO NUMBERS! If we can understand these, we can understand any graph that is thrown at us. After-all, numbers or not, understanding the relationships is the important part.

Do you recall the types of  numerical relationships a graph can show? See if you can figure out what these graph are saying:

Direct Relationship (line graph):


Indirect (Inverse) Relationship (line graph):


 Non-Linear Relationship (Bell Curve):


Comparison (Bar Graph):


Overlap (Ven-Diagram):


Got it? Let’s try it the other way around

Can you think of a saying, song lyric, or life lesson that you could draw using a graph?

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • More Money, More Problems
  • You Win Some, You Loose Some
  • How much attention is paid to how you look by YOU vs. by OTHERS
  • How nice your outfit looks VS. How hard it’s raining outside

Think of your own!

The more you practice thinking of things this way, the better your quantitative reasoning skills will get. Before you know it, you’ll have no problem interpreting graphs (even when numbers are involved!).

So, I’ll leave you with this…

a “crazy” graph with NUMBERS! Click the image and see if you can figure out what it is saying about climate and tourism in NYC.




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