Standard Lesson

From Quantitative to Qualitative: Writing Descriptions of Data From Tables

9 - 12
Lesson Plan Type
Standard Lesson
Estimated Time
Two 50-minute sessions
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Academic writing tasks often require students to use words to describe quantitative data found in tables, charts, or graphs. This lesson plan integrates quantitative reasoning and critical thinking with opportunities for writing as students examine a table with numerical data and then analyze the content, language, and organization of a verbal description of the same data.  Students then write and evaluate their own descriptions of data from tables. The lesson's discourse-based approach to language choices aims to raise students' awareness about verb tense selection and reasons for shifting tenses.

Featured Resources

From Theory to Practice

Many teachers think that a focus on verb forms in writing necessarily decontextualizes language as students practice sentence-level drills. A discourse-based approach to language allows teachers and students to focus on the forms found in particular genres or tasks within a larger context, and thus connects various forms with their meanings and uses in authentic situations. This lesson is based on the observation that many students are often confused as to which verb forms to use when describing data, such as that provided in tables, especially when their descriptions are embedded into larger writing assignments. By closely examining the language of descriptions of tables, students come to realize that verb form selection is not random, but rather is based on the meanings and contexts in which they are writing.

Common Core Standards

This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.

State Standards

This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.

NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts

  • 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
  • 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
  • 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
  • 7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.

Materials and Technology

  • Tables from the websites (listed below)



This site includes data in tables that students could use for the lesson’s writing assignment.

This website includes a wealth of data in various visual formats, not limited to tables.

This page from the US Census Bureau allows users to generate tables in Excel so that they can include just the information they want to focus on.


  1. Make copies or an overhead of the Student Ascriptions of Gender TableCompare and Contrast ChartSample Description of Student Ascriptions of Gender Table, and Textual Descriptions of Tables.
  2. Select the tables that students will use for the writing assignment later in the lesson, either from  existing resources or by exploring the websites for useful tables.
  3. Make copies of Peer Review Worksheet for Describing Data in Tables.
  4. Make copies or an overhead of Grading Rubric for Descriptions of Tables.
  5. Test the Compare and Contrast Map on your computers to familiarize yourself with the tools and ensure that you have the Flash plug-in installed. You can download the plug-in from the technical support page.

Student Objectives

Students will

  • analyze textual descriptions of quantitative data from tables.
  • write descriptions of quantitative data found in tables.
  • note commonly used verbs and verb forms in table descriptions.
  • examine how verb tenses vary depending on the context.

Session One

  1. Start by showing students the Student Ascriptions of Gender Table and briefly explain what the numbers mean, making reference to the context from the Avoiding Sexist Language lesson. (This lesson could also follow the lesson on Avoiding Sexist Language. In this case, add a table including data from students’ responses as well.)
  2. Ask students to describe some of the information from the table. For example, “In 1987, all students assigned the role of judge to a male character. Ten years later, there was no change in this percentage.” Elicit students’ reactions to the meanings of these numbers and the gender stereotypes they reflect.
  3. Students can use the Compare and Contrast Map interactive or the Compare and Contrast Chart handout to organize their ideas and describe data from the two years.
  4. Have students work in pairs or individually to write complete paragraphs describing the information in the table. Point out that students do not have to describe all of the numbers but that they should focus on information that is useful for summarizing trends or what stands out.
  5. After students have completed a first draft of their descriptions, hand out the Sample Description of Student Ascriptions of Gender Table. Have students compare their descriptions to the sample description. Elicit students’ observations of differences and similarities between their own description and the sample. Encourage students to focus on the content, language, and organization of the descriptions.
  6. Hand out copies of the Textual Descriptions of Tables printout to each student (or have them complete the forms online).  Students use the questions on the handout to analyze how this text describes the table.  Elicit students’ answers as a class. Use the Possible Answers as a guide.
  7. Present students with additional tables to describe for homework or in-class writing. If students are working on research projects involving data collection, they can use their own tables for this part. Sources for tables with data relevant to students include the Fast Facts sheets available on the Open Doors Web site and the United States Census Bureau’s Web site, which includes a wealth of data in various visual formats, not just tables. The Census page for statistics about people includes links to numerous tables.  For example, the page on “Educational Attainment in the United States, 2010 – Detailed Tables,” allows users to generate tables in Excel to include just the information they want to focus on.
  8. Elicit from students the information from these tables that stand out for description in text.
  9. Have students use what they learned about the conventions of describing data to write descriptions of the tables in class or for homework and bring them to the next class.

Session Two

(Can be done the same day if the writing assignment from Session One was done as an in-class activity)

  1. Have students work in pairs to read their classmates’ descriptions and complete the Peer Review Worksheet for Describing Data in Tables. Students give their completed reviews to the writers.
  2. After students receive and read over their feedback from their peers, facilitate a discussion around what they plan to focus on in their revised version. Doing so not only helps students see the value of the peer review activity but also helps them focus on their revision plan.  In the discussion, be sure to elicit students’ revision plans regarding their written interpretations of the quantitative data as well as their verb choices.
  3. After students have shared their ideas for revision with the class, have students write down the specific revisions they plan to make for their next draft.  Remind students to include revisions regarding verb choices, if any.
  4. Then ask students what they learned from the peer review process. Students can do this first in pairs or directly as a class.  Once they get started, students usually generate a long list of items, from superficial tips (such as how to format their responses), to grammar points (such as which verb form is most appropriate in a given context), to more personal responses (such as information about their classmates). Point out that peer review is valuable not only for the feedback that they receive, but also for the skills that they develop as reviewers, as the review process helps them become independent and critical reviewers of their own work.
  5. Ask students revise their descriptions for homework.  Ask them to hand in the first draft and peer review worksheet with the final draft.  Before students hand in their papers, ask them to write a brief note of the changes they made in the final draft.  This helps raise students’ awareness of how their writing has developed throughout the lesson.
  6. Provide students with a copy of the Grading Rubric for Descriptions of Tables.  Draw students' attention to the similarities between the grading rubric and the peer review worksheet.


This lesson plan could be expanded in various ways.

  • During assessment/response, create a handout with excerpts from students’ work.  Include a number of introductory sentences, so students can compare how their classmates introduced the table, as well as sentences using different verb forms, so students can identify and examine tense shifts.  Include strong examples as well as sentences that would benefit from student revision.  (If possible, ask students to submit their assignments electronically to make it easier to create the handout.)
  • Have students describe charts and graphs as well as tables.
  • Have students describe data from their own surveys, in conjunction with the lesson “And the Question is... Writing Good Survey Questions.”

Student Assessment / Reflections

This assignment not only integrates quantitative and qualitative descriptions of data, but also allows students to select which information they choose to prioritize in a description. There are no right or wrong answers as to which information students choose to focus on in their descriptions. Likewise, while certain verb forms are more commonly used than others in describing tables, these forms may vary depending on the context.  The main point here is for students to become more aware of the verb forms used in descriptions so that they can make more accurate and meaningful choices in their own selection of verbs and verb tenses.  See the Grading Rubric for Descriptions of Tables associated with the writing task in this lesson plan.

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