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Understanding media reports that include statistical information

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Last updated 26 October 2012 15:30 by NZTecAdmin
Understanding media reports that include statistical information (PDF, 29 KB)

Interpreting Data to Predict and Conclude progression, 6th step

The purpose of the activity

In this activity, the learners develop the ability to interpret and critically analyse a media report that includes statistical information. This ability requires the learner to integrate their knowledge and understanding of general literacy, including numeracy, statistical ideas and critical skills.

The teaching points

  • The learners need to be familiar with the context of a report in order to interpret and analyse it.
  • The learners need to develop a critical approach to media reports that include statistical information. This includes:
    • being aware that credible evidence is a better basis for forming opinions than personal experience or anecdotal evidence
    • having some knowledge of methods used to collect information such as census, survey, experimental and control group information, and understanding that how the information, is collected impacts on its reliability
    • understanding the difference between a sample and the population and understanding that the size of the sample and the way it is chosen impacts on the reliability of information collected
    • understanding that information needs to be summarised to show key features but that this may hide variation in the information
    • being aware that ignoring simple conventions for displaying information (some examples are offered at http://lilt. ilstu.edu/gmklass/pos138/datadisplay/ badchart.htm) can distort information, and this may be done deliberately.
  • Guideline questions can help the learners develop a critical approach:
    • Is there information given about:
      • what type of study it is (based on samples from the census, experiments, etc)?
      • who or what was studied, how many and how they were chosen?
      • who collected the data and how?
      • how the information gathering came about and who funded it?
    • If this information is given, are the answers to the questions such that you can have confidence in the results?
    • Is the information presented clearly, using conventions for tables and graphs?
    • Is the information complete, does it make sense and does it agree with what you already know?


  • One copy of a media report for each learner.

The guided teaching and learning sequence

1. Choose a media report that is of interest and relevant to the learners (and possibly controversial). Begin the session by asking the learners what they already know about the subject of the report. Listen for their opinions on the topic and differences in opinion, and ask the learners to consider how they formed their opinions. Challenge the learners to consider the fact that evidence is a better basis for forming decisions than their personal experience.

2. Divide the learners into groups and ask them to read and discuss the media report. Ask each group to prepare a brief summary of what the report is saying. Encourage the learners to identify in the summary the aspects of the report they used as the basis for their interpretations.

3. Ask the learners to share their summaries with the whole class. Encourage the learners to look carefully at any graphs and tables to ensure they follow accepted conventions. Discuss any statistics reported and what they might or might not indicate about the underlying data.

4. Once broad agreement has been reached on what the report is saying, ask the learners to discuss how sure they are that the findings reported in the article are correct. Continually challenge the learners to give reasons for the opinions they express.

Listen for discussion, and prompt if necessary, about whether information is given in the article about:

  • how the information was collected
  • who or what was studied, how many and how they were chosen
  • who collected the information and how it was funded.

If such information is not included in the report, ask the learners to discuss whether they can have confidence in the findings. If the information is included in the report, ask the learners to discuss whether the manner in which the information was gathered enables them to have confidence in the findings.

5. Ask the learners to return to their groups and discuss if there are any changes they wish to make to their summaries of the article, following the discussion. Ask the groups to share any changes.

6. Conclude the session by asking the learners to recall the original discussion about the topic. Ask the original question again and ask the learners to share whether their views have been changed or strengthened by the media report. Encourage the learners to challenge each other to provide evidence for the views expressed.

Follow-up activity

Ask the learners to individually, and then as a group, prepare a list of questions that could be used to critically analyse media reports.

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