More than Words: Using Graphs for Discussion

When I have private lessons with upper level students, we often work with articles on a range of topics. We study the vocabulary, look at grammar in context, develop a summary of the key points, and react to the content. Recently, I considered the value of purposefully choosing articles with graphs. A different kind of reading skill is used when a learner has to process facts presented visually beyond words.

A couple of recent articles on sleep habits allowed for the opportunity to synthesize information and draw conclusions about how sleep habits vary from country to country and from profession to profession. I felt it was easier to make personal connections to the topic because one could first visualize his or her own place on a particular graph and then start articulating that thought.

What else might you do with graphs?

  • Reflect on our dependency on smartphones. Belle Beth Cooper of the Huffington Post shared some interesting facts back in 2013. Check out fact number 8 in her article 10 Surprising Social Media Statistics that Might Make You Rethink Your Social Strategy. For how many minutes of the day do students keep their phones next to them? Create your own class survey and plot the results on a graph.
  • Compare life experiences. The Visual Everything has an interesting set of line graphs comparing the events that a 30-year-old and a 90-year-old have lived through. Check out Huge Timescales in Perspective. It’s limited to a U.S. perspective, so can your students create a similar line graph and identify key events that have shaped their own world view? In small groups, they can present and share their work.
  • Illustrate the qualities of patience and impatience. On GraphJam’s Memebase I found a graph representing (for one author) What I Do When a Website or Video Is Loading Slowly. Do your students wait patiently in this kind of online situation, or do they engage in some other activity, like playing Minesweeper? Students can create a personal pie chart and then in small groups try to synthesize their findings into a single graph.
  • Break Down a Process into Manageable Steps. BoredPanda presents 35 Extremely Funny Graphs and Charts. One shows a humorous break down of someone’s Use of Time before 15-page Essay due in 12 Hours. The chart can be a starting off point before students take on a short writing assignment. All humor aside, what are the steps and how long will each realistically take? Perhaps agreeing on a breakdown, expectations will be set and tasks will seem more manageable.

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