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Advanced ESL Lesson Plan - Interpreting Statistics

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Harper's Index is a monthly list of statistics provided by Harper's magazine. This index is a list of statistics which are remarkable for the underlying conclusions, often conflicting, that you can make based on any particular statistic. Statistics range from political votes, to public opinion polls, to statistics about popular culture. The one thing they all have in common is that they give the reader a revealing insight into contemporary society. As such, they are perfect for use in advanced level classes. I have been using Harper's Index with high school students and the conversations generated have been wonderful. The most important part of this exercise is that students interpret information presented in the index. In this way, students don't just parrot what they have read, but express their own opinions. Here are some suggestions on how to use this index in class, as well as a work sheet for students.

Aim: Conversation, interpretation of statistics

Activity: Analyzing statistics provided by the Harper's Index

Level: Upper intermediate to advanced

Outline:

  • Choose an index you would like to use at Harper's magazine previous months can be viewed by clicking on 'previous month' at the bottom of the page.
  • Give students a copy of the index you have chosen. Underline two or three of the statistics and give your own interpretation of various conclusions that can be drawn from the information presented.
  • Ask students to read the index, check vocabulary with students as necessary.
  • Have students choose two or three statistics to interpret (alone or in groups).
  • Students use the information questionnaire to fill in their own opinions about the statistics they have chosen.
  • Students present their thoughts in class using the questionnaire sheet.

Harper's List - Analyzing Statistics

Choose two or three statistics and answer the questions below:

  1. Which statistics have you chosen? (write the statistics below)

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  2. Look up difficult words and write their meanings below:

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  3. Which type of information does this statistic give? (for example: political facts, facts about popular culture, etc.)

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  4. How do you interpret these statistics?

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  5. What are some other possible interpretations?

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