Organizing Data Using
Tables and Graphs

By Stephanie Jensen and Tia Taruscio
University of Idaho

ITV Series: Eddie Files #111, Dessert DerbyBS00813_.WMF (8900 bytes)

People are constantly using tables and graphs to organize information and materials (data.)  This lesson is designed to introduce students to pictographs, bar graphs, and tables.  They will create their own graphs and tables, as well as interpret and make inferences from the data shown.  The students will determine when and where graphs and tables are most useful.

Learning Objectives

The student will be able to:

  • Organize data into a bar graph and use the information to solve the problem presented on the video.
  • Observe the use of charts and graphs in a real world situation.
  • Use the data they have organized into a graph and plan a week long lunch menu.
  • Explain the purpose for using charts and graphs when problem solving.


  • 2 Small packages of M&M's for every student
  • Large glass jar
  • Blank sheet of large squared graph paper for every student
  • Set of colored markers for each table of students; 6 tables
  • Inventory lists from school cafeteria for each student
  • Blank table for week's menu for each group of 2-3 students
  • Graph paper
  • Computer for every group of 2-3 students


Focus for viewing

Introduce the video to the class.  Explain to them that the teacher on the vide, Mrs. Tolliver, will be presenting her class with a problem that we are going to solve. 

Viewing Activity
Start the video at the beginning and Stop after Mrs. Tolliver asks, "How many M&M's are in this jar?"  Ask students, "Is there another way to count all of the M&M's in the jar without actually counting each one?"  Elicit responses.  After discussion explain that we will attempt to answer the question another way:

Hand out individual packages of M&M's.  have students count and graph the M&M's with the
horizontal axis= color, and the
vertical axis = number. 

After individuals have counted and graphed their results, students will need to transfer their information with the students in their group.

Students will need to put their M& M's into the large jar. 

Once students have put their M&M's into the jar they will need to determine which color would most likely  be chosen by  someone reaching into the jar. (from their graph) 

Focus for Viewing

Tell students they will be watching Mrs. Tolliver's class performing the same activity.  They will need to write down at least 2 similarities and 2 differences between their experiment and Mrs. Tolliver's experiment. 

Viewing Activity
Pause the video after Mrs. Tolliver asks her class to determine what color will be picked from the jar.  Have the class vote on what color they think will be picked.   Once the students have made their decisions, resume the video to find out the outcome.  Stop they video after Mrs. Tolliver's activity.

  • Discuss the similarities and differences between the video and their activity.
    Have students answer the following questions:
  • How does the data organized in your graph differ from that on the graph you made with your group and the class chart?
  • Which data do you think is the most useful for solving the M&M problem?
  • Why was it necessary to combine every student's data into one chart? 
  • After students have finished the questions, collect the questions and bar graphs.

Focus for Viewing

To give students a specific responsibility while watching the vide ask students to answer the following questions while viewing:

  • What would happen if the grocery store did not keep track of their produce by using a table?
  • How else could stores keep track of their inventory?

Viewing Activity
Resume the video where previously left off.  Show only the segment that connects how graphs and charts are used to keep track of produce in a large grocery store.   Stop the video.  Discuss the students' answers. 

Ask the cooks to talk to students about how they use tables and graphs to track what food they have on hand and what they need to order for the following week. Take a tour of the school's kitchen.  At the end of the tour each student will be given a list of food items that the kitchen has on hand.  The students will need to take note of the quantities usually ordered and how much space is available for storage. 

Post Viewing Activity

Students will need to organize the information from the food list into a bar graph.

Horizontal axis = food item;
Vertical axis = quantity.

Students will use this information to plan a menu for one week, using only the food listed on the inventory sheet from the kitchen.

Students will reorganize/transfer the data from their inventory graphs to a menu (table.)

As a whole class, decide how many students will be eating school lunch in one of two ways:

  • Taking count of the number of students in their class that eat hot lunch and multiplying that by the total number of classrooms in the school. 
  • Asking the office for lunch counts for the last four weeks and getting an "average" hot lunch count.

Students will return to their cooperative groups and :

  • Compare the lunch count, the menu, and the bar graph and determine how much food will need to be ordered for the upcoming week.
  • Show what needs to be ordered by adding to the original bar graph using different colored ink.
  • Present the results to the class.

Post Viewing Activity continued

Individually students should answer the following questions:  

  • Would you have chosen another method for organizing your inventory information?
  • How did you use your chart and graph to solve the problem?

Extension Ideas:

  • Use a spreadsheet program to create graphs.  Incorporate the use of different graphs (pie or line graphs)
  • Take a vote on favorite color of M&M's
  • Document which color had the least amount  and write to the manufacturer discussing your findings.
  • Inventory the classroom or PE equipment.
  • For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource!   You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites!  Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! 
  • Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!  Look for a localized version of Mathline and Scienceline on IdahoPTV next year!

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