Stats! Nowadays we are bombarded with new information at every turn and that ultimately is accompanied by percentages, graphs, charts and infographics which provide the “proof” that legitimizes the information we are receiving. Consequently, it is imperative that our students are provided with the appropriate vocabulary that will help them understand any data analysis that they come across. Additionally, potential exam-preparation students might have to provide some written work in which they are providing an analysis of a graph. The IELTS exam for instance, requires students write a 150-word text on a graph (pie chart, line graph, bar graph, histogram, pictographs, flowcharts etc.). I assure you that from Intermediate and above, you can adapt this lesson for your students because it offers crucial study skills language for school kids, as well as professional English for adults in business. So, enough said, let’s get down to business peeps.
I teach IELTS and also provide business English courses for businesses here in Krakow and both require and need lessons on the topic. In the teacher’s world we often call these lessons “Describing trends” or “Quantifying expressions” and those are appropriate titles for it. If our lessons are effective, than our students leave our lesson feeling confident that they will be able to give presentations that are accompanied by data or understand what they are reading about in an English language newspaper or magazine.
Actually, this topic is one of my favorite lessons because of its versatility. There are many ways you can cover the subject, and it requires at least two lessons and maybe even some additional practice further down the road. So let’s get to it.
I typically start with a copy from the Advanced Headway course book in unit 3 which introduces the topic with newspaper headlines that contain the target language we are teaching. Some examples of these are:
Inflation soars to 10%
House prices shoot up
Microsoft market share tumbles
Car industry predicts slump
These are some of the headlines but there are others with some nice words you should also include: leap, plunge, pick up. Once students have read them ask them to tell you what direction the numbers are headed and at what speed. You can depict each on the whiteboard as you go through them and answer any questions while doing so. Of course you can add more words if you like. Oxford word skills offers some more options in their “money markets” unit but surely there are others on the internet you can research. These words are important because most students don’t have a clue what they mean and they have a very distinct meaning.
Once that has been covered you can then continue to the target language that follows and this is a table that provides an adjective + noun combination:
A slight/gradual/steady/sharp/dramatic/substantial + fall/decrease/rise/ increase
Followed by a verb + adverb combination:
A fall/drop/go down/decrease/rise/ go up/ increase + slightly/gradually/steadily/ sharply/dramatically/substantially
It is crucial that you spend some time clarifying any confusion with the combinations. I try to emphasize to my students that it is up to them what combinations they would like to use and that some might be quite similar in meaning. Give them a couple of example sentences to show how each combination is used in a sentence. For example: Prices have dramatically risen or The price of dairy products fell dramatically last year. There was a slight increase in the price of milk this past year. The price of milk fell slightly this past year.
Make sure students know how to form sentences with the combinations.
Now it’s time for practice. The headway unit offers two graphs. The first is meant to give students an opportunity to describe the line graph using the target language. Listen carefully and offer feedback. The second graph has no lines and you read out a data report in which students listen and plot the graph based on what they hear. After checking you can ask them to describe the graph on their own.
Now what? Well, here is where we hit our stride people. If your lesson is 60min then that’s it. But the key here is to follow this lesson up with a stunner that reinforces everything you have covered here plus some nasty little extras in lesson 2. I’ll discuss these in the next post in detail, but they include infographics, bar graphs and pie charts that you provide students for additional practice. Also, in lesson 2 you can concentrate on trends in numbers (quantifying numbers), such as a great deal of, a large amount of, a considerable number of.
These are not really for graphs but for other data analysis, hence a different lesson. Remember that you can adapt this to suit your needs. For example, you can find your own line graphs from the internet, maybe on a specific topic that you know they will enjoy talking about if profits and overdrafts are boring. Here are some ideas:
Beer consumption among different age groups, sales of particular video games, sales of digital music, views of particular celebrities throughout the year etc.
I’m sure you can think of other areas.
Remember you can create a Padlet or a Nearpod lesson if you want to go all tech which is where it’s at. The padlet link will give you some idea on how to upload your own graph if you want to do it yourself. We will cover Nearpod lessons in another post. Stay tuned for the follow up to this.
Good luck peeps, and let the learning begin!
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