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Teaching children to present data

In this step, I will outline some of the key concepts associated with presenting data and what you need to know to introduce these concepts to your students.

In this step, I will outline some of the key concepts associated with presenting data and what you need to know to introduce these concepts to your students. I have chosen to exemplify these using activities involving pictograms as they are a typical entry point into presenting data graphically for younger learners – in England, they fit into the maths and computing curricula around the ages of 6–7.


When you teach young learners to work with data, it is important that you pick an age-appropriate format. Pictograms are appropriate for 6 to 7-year-old pupils because they use pictures to represent data. The pictogram below shows that there are five ladybirds, one bee, two snails, zero caterpillars and one fly. Your learners can interpret this by counting the pictures, without needing to read, recognise numbers, or interpret axis labels.

Collecting data

To give learners greater ownership of their presenting data task, you should show your learners simple strategies for collecting data. You could ask learners to count toy animals, different coloured sweets or ask classmates about their favourite sports. You can vary the topic or lesson in which your learners gather data so that they can repeatedly practice this skill within different contexts and embed what they have learnt.

I will exemplify the activities in this step by guiding you through a counting-based task. To start, ask learners to count the number of animals of each type on a worksheet. Initially, learners will present their data by saying out loud how many of a particular animal there are or by writing a number on a dry-wipe board. This approach is realistic when you have structured the pictures in a way that makes them easy to count, as I have in the diagram below.

Tally charts

Cartoon animals arranged randomly. There are 6 cows, 12 pigs, 7 chickens, and 5 sheep.

To help your learners record their data more systematically, which is useful if the images are less structured, a tally chart is useful. Simply counting the animals would be less effective, as it would be easy for learners to lose track of the animals they have and have not counted. Rather than simply counting ‘how many’, as they have already done, learners will now make a mark in a box to show that they have spotted an instance of that animal.

Once you have asked learners to record each instance of the animal on their tally chart, you should encourage them to count how many lines are in each tally box and record the total on their worksheet. By teaching learners to group the data into fives you will encourage them to be more efficient when calculating totals, especially when there is a large amount of data. However, you may find some learners struggle with tally charts as they need to understand the gate system and be able to count in fives to use them effectively. To help address this, you could begin with smaller numbers of objects or provide a template that learners could overwrite.

A filled in worksheet where the number of cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep from one of the images above have been tallied, and a numeric total added.

When their table is complete, you can encourage your learners to ask and answer questions based on the data gathered, such as “Which animal appeared the fewest amount of times?” This will allow them to make comparisons using the tally chart.

Creating pictograms

Before you ask your learners to move from a tally chart to a pictogram, make sure you can confidently create your own pictogram. You can create a pictogram using a website such as J2e pictogram. To add the images you require to your pictogram, choose an animal by clicking on the left and right arrows. Click on the animal and then on one of the empty rectangles on the bottom of the pictogram. To represent the number of each animal in the pictogram, click on the + sign above the animal to increase the number of that animal by one. To save your pictogram, click on the print button (near the top left of the screen) and select the destination to be Save as PDF.

Image showing a pictogram made in the J2e pictogram program, showing columns of 6 cows, 12 pigs, 7 chickens, and 5 sheep.

Pictograms also allow your learners to make visual comparisons more easily than they can with a table or a tally chart. Once your learners have created their own pictograms, you could ask them questions about the data, such as:

  • How many sheep are recorded?
  • Which animal is there most of?
  • How many more chickens are there than cows?

Finally, you can ask your learners to explain which method of presentation they prefer and why.

This article is from the free online

Teaching Data and Information to 5- to 11-year-olds

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FutureLearn - Learning For Life

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