Make Tally Charts

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SWBAT make a tally chart and interpret the information.

Big Idea

What's Up Tally Cat? In this lesson, students will learn how to make their own charts using tally marks.

Activating Strategy

10 minutes

I begin this lesson by reading “Tally Cat Keeps Track


I like to start with this book because, the final two pages feature an explanation of what tally marks are, how to use them, and how they are used by Tally Cat. It gives the students another thing to add to their schemas about daily use for tally marks.   I also love how this delightful story incorporates the math concept of tallying along with the value of friendship.

Tally marks are an abstract representation of numbers, and can sometimes be difficult for younger students to grasp.  In teaching the use of tally marks, it enables students to reason using abstract thinking (MP2) by taking numbers and converting them into tally marks. 

Ask the following questions to find out what children know about drawing tally marks.

  • How do you show the number 4 with tally marks? (I draw 4 marks in a group.)
  • How do you show the number 7 with tally marks? (I draw a slashed group of 5 and 2 more marks.)

If children need additional experiences writing tally marks, you might have them write the numbers 1 to 20 down the left side of a paper and draw tally marks on the right side to represent each number.

Explain to children that in today’s lesson they will make tally charts to display data.

Teaching Strategies

15 minutes

I read the following problem aloud to the class (found here: Make Tally Charts.ppt):

Ava asks the children in her class which of three games they like the best. She makes a tally mark to show each child’s answer. Which game did the most children choose? Which did the fewest children choose?

  • What do you need to find? (the game that the most and the fewest children chose)
  • What information do you need to use? (I need to use the numbers of children who chose each game: 5, 3, and 10.)

I have children compare the three sets of tally marks.

  • Which game has the most tally marks?  (Board game has the most tally marks because this is the only kind of game with two slashed groups of tally marks.)
  • What story does this tally chart tell?  (Most children chose board game and this is the class favorite.)

I guide children through the model on the next PPT slide. If necessary, I discuss boat sails with children.  I call a student to the board and have them count the boats.  I have them put the appropriate tally marks on the chart.  Then I guide the discussion as follows:

  • What information do you use to make the tally chart? (I use the picture of the boats at the lake.)
  • How do you know in which row to put a tally mark for each boat? (I look at the boat and think about if it has a sail or does not have a sail.)
  • What story does this tally chart show? (There are more boats at the lake without sails than with sails.)

Next, I guide students through the first problem on their worksheet.  Before starting the independent practice, make sure children complete the tally chart showing the number of each type of fish in the tank.

In this standard (MD.C.4), many students have difficulty with determining how many more in one group than another.  To overcome this, I review how to use subtraction to compare. I make sure children understand that they are finding the difference between the two numbers.  We do this by using manipulatives to model finding how many more or less in one group than another.  We would use one color of connecting cubes for one category, and another color for the other category - we can then line the two chains of connecting cubes up and easily compare which has more or less.

Independent Practice

30 minutes

I have students compete the Make Tally Charts_worksheet.docx for the independent practice portion of this lesson. 

In this video, students are asking each other the question that we are graphing, and recording the answers on their worksheet.

For struggling students, I allow them to use connecting cubes to help them with a concrete visual representation of the problem.


5 minutes

To close out the lesson, I have students write their own question about the tally chart “our favorite snack” in their math journal.  I then have them share their question with a partner and have their partner answer the question.