Data Storytelling in Primary

Tell stories to build number sense and data skills

image of book with binary coming out of it

Data is changing our world. While our youngest learners are just learning to count and write, they still need to build strong foundations for working with data. To help get them ready for future work in data science, focus on collecting and visualizing data.

“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.“ — Albert Einstein

Use the following children's books as the basis for powerful storytelling that gets students to count, measure, and analyze information.

10 Black Dots - Donald Crews

In this fun text by Donald Crews, the reader sees dots incorporated into objects, as they count from one to ten. For example:

"2 dots can make the eyes of a fox, or the eyes of keys that open locks."

After reading the story, ask students to add dots to create an object, illustrate it, and tell their own story.

image of ten black dots dinosaur

The Grouchy Ladybug - Eric Carle

In this story, Eric Carle describes the interactions of a grouchy ladybug and the other animals it meets, always saying, "Want to fight?" Most often teachers read this story in the classroom to discuss our feelings and our actions towards others, but you can use it to help students analyze time.

Begin by working with students to identify the animal the grouchy ladybug meets each hour of the day. Then, ask students to identify an activity they do at a specific time each day.

Have students draw a picture of the activity and identify the time using a clock. Then, have each student share their work and find classmates who chose the same time and talk about the similarities and differences in their experiences.

Older students can use this book as a model for a grouchy animal story that not only identifies the time something occurred, but the elapsed time between events!

When I Was One - A. A. Milne

In Now We are Six, A.A. Milne shares this poem:

Use this fun rhyming structure to have students describe their real, remembered, or imagined experiences.

image of student poem

Five Creatures - Emily Jenkins

Five Creatures, by Emily Jenkins, is a great way to introduce students to data visualization. In this fun story, Jenkins describes a family of five (two cats and three people) by comparing things they have in common and things they do not. For example:

"Five creatures live in our house. Three with orange hair, and two with gray. Two with long hair, three with short."

Ask individual students to create their own data story about their family. First, they need to define the creatures (humans and pets) in their family. Then, identify traits they have in common and compare. Write a sentence for each trait and illustration to help the reader.

This also makes a great get-to-know-you project for back-to-school or collaborative work. Ask a small group to collect data (template) on their team members to create a 5-creatures-style project about the attributes of the members of their team.

image of team five creatures project

This is a helpful way to help students find and celebrate commonalities and differences amongst their peers.

Get Started with Your Favorite Story

It's easy to turn your favorite stories into counting and data visualization activities for young learners. For example, almost every student has sung "Five Little Monkeys (Jumping on the Bed)."

student sample with three animals on the bed

You might also consider data stories created from classroom favorites like:

To use with your students, simply come up with a sentence stem or idea to get your students to see the data in the world around them.

Melinda Kolk

by Melinda Kolk

Melinda Kolk (@melindak) is the Editor of Creative Educator and the author of Teaching with Clay Animation. She has been helping educators implement project-based learning and creative technologies like clay animation into classroom teaching and learning for the past 15 years.

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