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Choose one or more documents that reflect the use of data as a means of communication or persuasion. Embed questions or comments for student response or reflection within the documents and ask students to analyze, annotate, and consider the source of the historical data.

Learning Objectives and Historical Thinking Skills

Interpreting Data activities teach students to analyze historical data, consider a document’s source, and hypothesize about the methods used to collect the data. Create activities using the Interpreting Data tool to help students question where historical data comes from, understand why a document’s creator would choose one method of data presentation over another, and how such sources and choices can reflect both the intended audience as well as the author’s intent.…more

Interpreting Data activities teach students to analyze historical data, consider a document’s source, and hypothesize about the methods used to collect the data. Create activities using the Interpreting Data tool to help students question where historical data comes from, understand why a document’s creator would choose one method of data presentation over another, and how such sources and choices can reflect both the intended audience as well as the author’s intent.

Interpreting Data activities can help students practice extracting historical information from statistical data. Choose a document or set of documents and ask students to examine them carefully. Ask students to notice what makes such a document unique: the title, the labels assigned to the data, timeframes and scale, dependant and independent variables, and the focus of the data. Help students place such information into historical context and then formulate historical conclusions based on what they’ve seen.

Students completing Interpreting Data activities can use primary source documents containing historical data, such as charts and graphs, to address a particular problem that you pose. When creating an Interpreting Data activity for students, annotate the documents with text pins to point out significant clues that address your central question. When students engage in the activity, they can reveal the hint pins or questions you pose, notice those relevant parts of the document, and start to form conclusions based on the data. To demonstrate the basis for their interpretations, students can add their own text pins and point out significant data that they found in the documents. They can then reflect further on the source of the documents and respond to your initial question on the “I’m Done” screen.

In Interpreting Data activities, students will reflect on how data collection happens, if surveys and interviews are the only methods, or if other approaches are used. Incorporate the Consider the Source worksheet into an activity and encourage students to consider how research methods might influence the results, and how presentation of the results might influence interpretation of the data. Students will hypothesize how the data was collected, as well as who created the documents and his or her purpose in doing so.

Provoke students to think about the role of data in society, and when and why people choose to present information through numbers or statistics rather than through other means with the Interpreting Data tool. Following completion of the activity, ask students to revisit the determined source and intended audience of a document, and then to consider other possible means of conveying the same information. Ask students how the audience could have perceived the information differently or how their reaction to it may have changed based on the method of presentation.

Teaching Tips

  • Consider the goals you have for your students before planning your activity. Choose documents and structure your activity based upon those goals.
  • Students in early grades can develop graph and chart-reading skills through Interpreting Data. Activities can introduce primary sources to younger students and help them practice basic document analysis. Construct an activity with simple graphs, charts, or tables of data. Walk students through analysis of each document, providing them with hint text pins as needed. Help them decipher what each particular document is, why someone would have made it, and how the audience likely received the information.…more
  • Consider the goals you have for your students before planning your activity. Choose documents and structure your activity based upon those goals.
  • Students in early grades can develop graph and chart-reading skills through Interpreting Data. Activities can introduce primary sources to younger students and help them practice basic document analysis. Construct an activity with simple graphs, charts, or tables of data. Walk students through analysis of each document, providing them with hint text pins as needed. Help them decipher what each particular document is, why someone would have made it, and how the audience likely received the information.
  • In many instances it is valuable to ask students to hypothesize about why a document may have been created before formally beginning the activity. The exercise can act as a pre-assessment and can help to guide students' thinking. Once students begin to examine documents to determine their content, therefore, they have a purpose for viewing them and begin to contextualize them on their first encounter.
  • It is important to model careful document analysis for students before beginning the activity. Analyze an example document in isolation using the Focusing on Details template, or open up a document from the Interpreting Data activity before asking students to begin. Ask the class to look at the document in a very general sense. Ask, “What type of document is this?” Once the class has determined the type, ask them to point out unique physical characteristics of the document (the kinds of unique features vary depending on document type). Use the zoom feature available in the document detail view to note handwritten versus typed portions; stamps, seals, notations, or signatures; symbols; special effects or symbols; and any other telling features. Ask students to identify the date and creator(s) of the document.
  • Interpreting Data can lead to a variety of answers in the Consider the Source sheet; follow activities with class discussion about student responses to contextualize the documents and student conclusions.

Interpreting Data

Introduce students to primary source documents containing historical data and encourage them to consider the source, the presentation style, and the intended impact of the material.

Lessons Created Using this Template