Surveys and Graphs in 1st Grade

One of the best math lessons from the Scott Foresman 2nd grade textbook was having the kids do a simple survey.  It was such a fun lesson and the kids really enjoyed it so much, that although we have adopted a new math series this year; Envision Math, I want to be sure I don’t ever throw the baby out with the bathwater. I will keep those good lessons I’ve done in the past and reteach them every year.

Surveys and Graphs in 1st Grade

Another thing I’ve learned as an “action researcher” was one year I noticed on my 1st grade testing across the whole grade (a Title 1 School I used to teach at) that nobody’s class was doing very well in the section of the end of year testing on “data analysis”. That means 1st graders can’t read graphs and tables. 

Our Bar Graphs

So we, as a grade, decided we would do a monthly graph as a whole class and see if that helped. We graphed favorite apple flavors, favorite Halloween Candy, favorite turkey dinner item, you name it, we graphed it.  But that year the scores were in the gutter again. Even though all our cute monthly graphs in all their butcher paper glory lined the halls of first grade, it didn’t help scores JACK SQUAT!  I realized that until the kids used the vocabulary words and really played with graphing a lot, they wouldn’t know what to look for and how to manipulate the information on their own. 

 I wanted them to be able to follow a bar graph across to match up the correct number with the top of the bar and then follow it down to what information it graphed.  And I wanted them to be able to converse in the vocabulary of graphs. The other thing I added to my classroom that has made all the difference was a “weekly graph”. But the  key is this; the kids after graphing must sit down on the rug and each child must tell me one thing they see in the graph using math words.

Weekly Picture Graph
Weekly Graph Pocket Chart

 They have learned to describe a graph. They use “greater than, is equal to, less than, most, least, greatest, zero votes, is 2 more than, is 8 less than, etc etc”. This has made all the difference.  It is the same principle as teachers who do calendar math. The kids learn the thing you want them to learn when you routinely do it again and again and make them describe it for you.

Trace surveyed us on our favorite sports…

Last week I introduced some new math vocabulary; surveys, pie charts, bar graphs and pictographs and tally marks to 5 to go along with Section 18 in Envision Math which is graphs and tables. We all decided on something to survey and then wrote out 4 choices. We folded a paper into 4ths and wrote the 4 choices at the bottom. Then I gave the kids 10 minutes to go around trading surveys and checking off their favorites on each other’s papers using tally marks. Then we added up our totals and made the bar graphs on fat, 1 inch size graph papers.

Some of the surveys kids came up with were; What’s your favorite soda flavor, ice cream, fruit and candy. Some wanted to know your favorite video game or sport. Others wanted to know your favorite color or movie. The hard part was coming up with only 4 choices.  And my only rule was that nobody have the exact same survey. So 2 people who wanted to survey favorite soda flavors had to compromise; one student changed hers to favorite juice flavors and added chocolate milk to the drink choices.

Emma asked what kids’ favorite books were?


The kids were really good at doing their own bar graphs.  We used different color markers for each bar. The hard part came when they had to fold a circle into 12ths and then graph their bar graphs onto the pie chart using 12 pieces. We have only 12 in our gifted class so it should have been easy. It wasn’t. (if you do this activity, fold a circle in half, then that half into thirds. Then fold one more time. It should net you 12 pie pieces). Or maybe just draw it out and kids just cut it. Shoulda woulda coulda!


But most of them transferred the totals on the bar graph successfully to the pie chart.  I was very proud of them. Then they colored the pie pieces a corresponding color to their bar graph colors. Then they labeled each pie piece with words that matched the bar graph words.

When we did our vocabulary test on Friday on the 4 vocabulary words, everybody got 100%. Talk about real world applications of math. Oh YEAH! 

Vera asked what everyone’s favorite color was?

These kids understood surveys and how to graph them. But the fun part was discussing why business owners of places like McDonalds and Chuck E Cheese or Boondocks  might want a survey done to find out customers’ favorite things in the first place.   I think we’ve got “Future Business Leaders of America sitting right in room 6 in the great state of Utah.  mmmmhmmmm.