ESL Teaching Materials: Summarize Data

Teach English Writing: Data Analysis

Can your ESL students look at a data set and write a meaningful summary and analysis? It’s not easy. Here’s a collection of ESL teaching materials to help students learn English by writing a summary and analysis.

Writing a Summary

1. Text Based Analysis

In a previous post, I provided two stories that can help students learn to summarize English text. These level-graded stories are easy to read for most high beginner+ students.

2. Chart Based Analysis

What the World Eats provides a fascinating look at changes in food consumption patterns for about 22 countries. The presentation is a pie chart that changes over time.

This is an excellent resource for summarizing changes in one country over time, or for more advanced level classes, comparing changes that occur in two or more countries. For teachers who want to dig in, the FAOSTAT source page has more more data to mine.

Elite level students, or deep thinkers, might be able to extend the analysis and offer explanations for the changes. Describing change is a good skill. Explaining change with reasoned, logical answers is an exceptional writing and thinking skill.

3. More Chart Analysis

Data analysis does not have to be boring. Spurious Correlations has a decent collection of charts which show how two unrelated variables are correlated. Like the chart below, for instance.

maine divorce learn english correlation causation


Get a complete lesson about correlation and causation with writing activities on this page.

4. Historical Trend Data

This lesson, suitable for intermediate+ students, starts with a 4 minute video that describes a correlation between income and lifespan.

This thinking and writing task asks students to summarize the entire data set with a hypothesis that connects two variables. Extend the writing lesson by asking student to explain the correlation.

Click here to get the video and a short description of the data summary lesson plan.

5. Table Based Analysis

Being able to summarize numbers on a chart is a worthwhile skill for students seeking to upgrade their practical writing skills.

The attached pdf file contains several charts of data. They are mostly related to food consumption patterns in Korea.

I’m not sure if they will be of direct use to teachers outside Korea because a good analysis would require some knowledge of Korea’s history. However, they provide an example of what to look for in your particular region.

Working with Numbers: A Framework for Thinking

Why is data summary and analysis so hard?

The starting point is not obvious.

Data analysis is harder than text because the story often contains clue words which help the reader locate the main idea.

Where to start? When running a summarizing lesson, a few simple instructions can help students create understanding:

  • read the title carefully, that often provides a giant clue about the subject
  • check the unit of measurement, so you understand how things are counted
  • focus on key data; often the first and last years in a data set are most important for a summary (the in between years provide too much information for most class assignments)
  • look for patterns
  • look for differences

As one wise professor once told me, differences are significant. Get students to uncover the differences and you’ve put them on the path to finding meaning in numbers.

Good luck.

Teach writing?

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2 thoughts on “ESL Teaching Materials: Summarize Data”

  1. Great ideas (#2-#5), Rob. Thank you. I’m teaching Business English for financial executives, so reminding me that there are other kinds of prompts than my typical balance sheets and income statements will allow me to break up the monotony in class.

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