At the start of the year, students are sometimes shy with one another and this introduction to data collection and graphing provides an easy and safe way for them to get to know each other. All children have opinions about their favorite foods! It also provides an immediate, relevant experience with the engaging aspects of collecting and making meaning of data, which is a skill of lifelong value!
This activity can be introduced in a number of ways, but some interesting openers might be listing some of your favorite foods that the students might either relate to or find unusual. Another way to open this activity is to discuss popular foods in different countries, which can be followed by the open-ended question: Why are people’s preferences in ----- so different from/similar to ours?
Here are a few links if you'd like to explore the angle of what popular/ children's foods are like in other countries:
Students now list their 10 favorite foods. It's my preference to put no restrictions on this because I like to know what they are eating, but of course there are numerous modifications that could be made to this, including asking them to list their 10 favorite fruits and vegetables, their 10 favorite non-junk food treats, and so on.
I have them write these on their whiteboards and then immediately use the data. This is a good time to chat with the students a bit (it's very easy to make conversation about food) and to observe their spelling. I'm always on the lookout for children whose writing doesn't show an understanding of syllables, who don't use vowels, or who aren't yet correctly identifying initial sounds. Then I can immediately start to assist these students with directed phonics micro-lessons and discussions.
Next, I pass out the tally chart of favorite foods to each student, directing them to prepare to share the first item on their list. If their first item has already been taken, it's my first opportunity this year to convey an important thought for 3rd graders - that it's okay if several children have the same great idea!
Next, I ask students to name the second item on their list. I model answering in complete sentences. "My name is ____________ and my favorite food is _____________." or "My name is _________ and one of my favorite foods is..." Usually about half of my students do not speak English as their first language. Whether that's the case or not, it's good practice to start of the year expecting answers in complete sentences!
Then I ask students to name the second item on their list. I model answering in complete sentences. "My name is ____________ and my favorite food is _____________." or "My name is _________ and one of my favorite foods is..." Usually about half my class are not native English speakers, but whether that's the case or not, it's good practice to start of the year expecting answers in complete sentences!
As I go around the room, I fill in the list side of the chart and have students fill it in their "Foods We Like" tally chart along with me. I now use a document camera (and love it) but in the past I have done this on chart paper or on the whiteboard. I also like to set handwriting parameters early on, because if students can't read their own writing it will slow down their progress in all subjects. When writing in tables, the way I emphasize neatness at the beginning of the year is by talking aloud about how my letters are sitting on the line and not jumping out of the box. A later focus might be "tall letters tall, short letters short."
There are usually a few children who can't keep up with the pace of filling out the chart, because their motor skills aren't ready for small spaces yet, because they are trying to be perfect, or because after a wonderful summer they aren't yet back in the habit of attending to what is going on in the classroom.
It's important to keep the pace moving along so that children don't become restless while also not unduly stressing them, so I'm constantly taking quick walks around to see where they are. When the majority of the students have finished copying an item, I move on. I let the sweet turtles write just a few letters of a word if they need to and then have them move on to the next line with us or soon they will be in the habit of falling far behind in those instances where all moving along in unison.
After we've recorded the foods, the fun part! (Of course, those of us who like lists - and there are students out there who like them too, are already enjoying the soothing routine of this simple activity.) The children can vote for ANY food they like. I record the votes for each food, but if it helps some students to attend, assign "monitors" to also make a count. Part of recording is modeling the use of tally marks.
Again, this is a great time and circumstance in which to set expectations, in this case for graphs. While they have made them before, it has still been my experience that at least 10% of the class labels the incorrect axis, skips parts of the graph, colors uneven bars, and so on. This is easily remedied with practice, so I do at least the first ten columns on this graph whole group, on the document camera (or chart paper, prepared ahead of time, or sticky graph paper for those of you lucky enough to have it - cool stuff). I used to always add all the x axis labels first, and then color in for the data, but a recent discovery was that if the columns are labeled then colored one at a time. Some students find it helpful to use a strategy in which they mark the quantity for all the columns prior to coloring in anything on the graph.
All of this helps students attend to precision (MP6), not just by representing the correct amount in the correct column, but also by talking about the graph using the words label, x axis, y axis, column and row. On this graph, everything is completed for the students except the food item labels.
I read an item, tilt the paper, write the item, verify the count on the data chart, mark the top line of the square representing that amount, trace along the edge of the column with a colored pencil, and then lightly color it in.
I also watch to see who has a death grip on their pencil. Poor kids - they don't have to be in pain to color in the lines! Taking the time to teach/ review this procedure for graphing now will reap the reward of more instructional time down the road. At the conclusion of this lesson students have accurate, colorful and complete graphs that tell them a bit about their classmates!
After we complete the graph I talk to students what we can learn just from glancing at the visuals on the graph. Depending upon their starting point I model attending to precision (MP6) by rephrasing their observations, refining the language in comprehensible stages.
Student: I see that there is more of hamburgers.
Teacher: I see that more students chose hamburgers than several of the other choices.
Teacher: I see that hamburgers are the 4th most popular choice out of 32 foods total.
Student: There is the same amount of two things.
Teacher: I see that the number of students that chose two different foods is the same.
Teacher: Specifically, the same number of students chose (ice cream) and (burritos).
Teacher: 10 students choose both ice cream and burritos. So, 10/30ths of the students in our class chose ice cream and burritos as their favorite foods.
I've attached the Food Graph Questions. I gather writing samples at the start of the year in all subject areas.