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Survey Says...


  • Mathematics
  • Writing


  • 3-5
  • 6-8

Brief Description

Allow your students the opportunity to be in charge of a lesson. They create and work through the steps of gathering responses to a specific survey question.


  • collect, organize, and present data to illustrate responses to a survey question.


organize, analyze, survey, graph

Materials Needed

  • paper for recording data
  • markers
  • paper for graphing

The Lesson

This lesson can be adapted in countless ways. The options are limited only by your students' creativity. Students enjoy taking charge and leading this lesson, and much can be learned as a result. As the teacher, it's up to you to guide and monitor students during the lesson.

You might begin this lesson by taking a quick survey of your students. You might ask them

What is your favorite thing to do when you're feeling bored?
a. read a book
b. play a board game
c. play a sport
d. watch TV


How much allowance money do you earn each week?
a. I don't get an allowance
b. I receive an allowance less than $2.00
c. I receive an allowance between $2.00 and $5.00
d. I receive an allowance of $5.00 or more

Pass out small pieces of scrap paper on which students can record their responses. In that way, their responses are "secret" and students will not be influenced by a public hand-raising. Collect all the "ballots" and have a student help you by opening them and calling out the responses as you record the number of responses for each a-b-c-d choice on a board or chart.

Report the results, and if you are able to draw a quick bar graph to illustrate them, you might do that too.

Next, announce to students that they are going to become pollsters. They are going to come up with a survey question in the style of the one you just asked. They will conduct the survey, collect the data, and present the data in the form of a graph.

Invite students to help you come up with some additional ideas for survey questions in the style of the one you asked at the top of the lesson. Record a handful of their brainstormed question ideas. Then give students time to think quietly about another question that they might want to ask. Encourage student to think creatively, to think of a question that everyone else might not consider.

  • You might let students team up with one or two others who will be charged with coming up with a team question. This is a good way to go if you are unsure whether your students are prepared to go it alone or if you want the question to be asked of a larger sampling. In this case, students can put their heads together to come up with a strong and interesting question.
  • You might prefer that each student come up with his/her own question. If you do that, then you might make coming up with a question your students' homework assignment for the night. In that way, students might involve their parents. Parents can help students come up with strong and interesting survey questions.
If you teach young students, you might encourage them to keep the possible responses down to four. That way there will not be too many choices and the graphs will not get too complicated. For example, if one student surveys classmates about the amount of time they watch TV in a week, the answers could be

a. about 1 hour
b. about 2 hours
c. about 3 hours

and so on, up to 10 or 20 hours. That would be a difficult question to manage. So, instead, students might come up with "grouped responses." For example, in response to the same TV-watching question, the response choices might be

a. about 1 to 2 hours
b. about 2 to 5 hours
c. about 5 to 10 hours
d. more than 10 hours

When students have their survey questions set, they need to decide who will be asked their question. For example, they might ask the question of their classmates, of students at their grade level, of randomly selected students in the entire school, of students on their bus, of adults in their apartment building or neighborhood, of teachers at the school You might also want to decide how many people will be asked the question. Do you want all students to ask their questions of 20 people? Or will they ask it of as many people as they wish? With younger students, it is probably best to set a limit in order to keep graphs manageable.

Each group may decide on its own how to collect and record data, or the whole class may decide on a plan. Among the things to be considered is if students will ask the question aloud and record responses or create a secret ballot and distribute it. (If there is a chance that someone might not give a truthful answer when asked the question in person, then a secret ballot might be the way to go. The favorite-thing-to-do-when-you're-bored question above might be a good example of why a secret ballot is beneficial: some students might be shy about admitting that watching TV or reading is their favorite thing to do.)

After collecting the data, students next organize and analyze it. If students are working in small groups, you might set aside time for them to discuss, and compare and contrast, data collected by the group.

When it comes to making a graph to show the survey results, you have a few options. Depending on the age of the student you are working with, you might need to teach the skill of graph creation. You might teach the skill using real data; create a graph that illustrates the results of another all-class survey. With older students, you can simply direct them to record the results as a bar graph, picture graph, and/or a pie graph. If you wish to involve technology, the free "Create a Graph" tool is easy to use and can be taught in a single computer-lab lesson. Or you might prefer to use graph-making tools already loaded onto your school's computers.

If students collected data as members of a small group, all students might work at creating the same graph. Group members might choose the best/neatest graph to present to the class and display in the classroom.

When graphs are complete, each student or group will present the results of their survey, share their graph(s) with the class, and lead a discussion about the results. If the activity is done as a group, each member of the group should plan to have something to say in the presentation.

Extend the Lesson
The results of many surveys are reported to the media. Have each student write a letter to another class (make sure they are not all writing to the same class). In the letter they must share the question, data, and graph related to their survey.


Students will be assessed on their understanding of how to collect and analyze data, display that data in the form of a graph, and convey it in the form of a letter.

Submitted By

Veronica Davis, Hector P. Garcia Elementary School in Temple, Texas

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