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What I See, What It Means: Analyzing and Interpreting Data

a teaching tool to help students analyze and interpret visual data and develop visual literacy skills in science

Examining data can be overwhelming for adults, let alone students. Use this strategy to break down the data available to you into smaller parts that you can more easily access and interpret.  There are two steps to this process.

Science and Engineering Practice

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

5E Model Phase:

Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, or Evaluate

Learning Target:

Students will analyze visual data to draw conclusions.


Success Criteria:

I can draw conclusions from the data presented in a [graph/diagram/model/map].



Identify a relevant graph, map, model, diagram, or other piece of visual data to pair the student worksheet with. Provide students with the analysis worksheet.


Prior Knowledge:

Students may have limited knowledge of analyzing visual data.  The first time this strategy is used, walk students through each step. As they become more familiar with the process, increase independence.



What I See: In the first step, your goal is simply to identify patterns and trends without attempting to interpret them. After identifying a pattern by drawing an arrow, you can write a caption to concisely explain what can be observed.  See the example included.

What It Means: After identifying these types of patterns, you will begin to interpret the graph by making meaning from what you have observed.  You are not YET trying to understand what the entire graph is telling you – you are simply interpreting the specific patterns you observed.

For example, on the graph provided, you might add below caption #1, “The atmospheric CO2 at Mauna Loa Observatory rises and falls in cycles, but overall, it is steadily rising.” Under caption #2, you might write, “The black line shows the average parts per million of CO2 measured each year, and it is steadily rising.”

Drawing Conclusions: Lastly, you will use these observations to develop an understanding of what the entire graph is showing.  You can use the graph title and axis labels to help you with your topic sentence, as well as your “What I See” and “What I Mean” captions.

For this graph, you might write:

This graph shows the atmospheric CO2 levels measured at Mauna Loa Observatory from 1960 to 2020. The levels of CO2 rise and fall in cycles each year, but overall, the levels of CO2 measured each year have been rising.”

What I See, What It Means: Interpreting and Analyzing Data
Terms of Use
What I See, What It Means: Interpreting and Analyzing Data (Editable Doc)
Analyzing Data Task Cards