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Finding stories in data


This lesson helps students begin to identify potential story ideas in data they have collected and introduces students to resources they can use to help visualize that data.



  • Students will be able to identify different types of story ideas within a data set.
  • Students will be able to identify appropriate sources who can give context and life to observed data.
  • Students will evaluate the best way to tell the story their data represents.


Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.


CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content.



90 minutes


Worksheet: Finding the story

1:1 computer access

Note: This lesson follows and builds on the Introduction to spreadsheets  and Using descriptive statistics to analyze data  lessons in the data journalism unit. However, if you have not taught those lessons, you can still use this lesson by providing students with a data spreadsheet to work with for inspiration (instead of their own spreadsheets they would have created in the two related lessons here).


Lesson step-by-step

1. Finding the story — 15-20 minutes

Students should use their Google Sheets spreadsheet, with completed calculations from the previous lesson, to brainstorm and fill out the worksheet “Finding the story,” Part I and Part II.

2. Pair share — 10-15 minutes

Once they have completed these parts, students should switch with a partner who can provide an initial glance at their survey data and fill out the “outside perspective” Part III portion of the worksheet to offer feedback.

3. Select an angle — 15 minutes

Using the “Finding the story” worksheet, students should identify a single story angle they might want to pursue by completing Part IV. Remind students to answer all questions with as much detail as possible.

4. Brainstorming — 10-15 minutes

Finally, students can complete part V of the “Finding the story” worksheet about storytelling options.

5. Exploring visuals — 20-40 minutes

Once students have completed the worksheet and have a story idea, they should spend some time exploring the “insert chart” option inside their Google spreadsheet. This will allow them to see some of the automated charts Google can make from their data. Additionally, students can upload their spreadsheet file to and explore the visualization options there. Ideally, students will earn more about the potential for charts and graphs as they explore both Google Sheets and instead of receiving direct instruction for how these programs work. Each data set will be different and will facilitate different types of graphs, so the teacher should point students in the right direction and let them create and explore on their own.

At the end of the allotted time, students should have created two-to-three visuals related to the data and their specific story angle. These visuals are not meant to be the final graphics related to their story, but rather, they should serve to help students begin to see what kinds of coverage will be best for presenting this data.

Note: At this point, a great follow-up to this lesson is Designing an infographic, found in the Design Module. This lesson will introduce your students to what makes a great infographic and where to start.

6. Assessment

Students will submit their “Finding the story” worksheets and charts for feedback on accuracy, level of detail and whether the charts explored are a good fit for the proposed story.



Students who are below level should work as a partner or group member with stronger students through this brainstorming exercise.