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Tally Charts Lesson Plans

Information drives our society. Research studies promote consumer choices, social changes, government policies, technological developments and more. As educators, we need to prepare little minds for important data-driven futures. The tally chart is easy to use and understand, so it is an excellent choice for first-time researchers.

What is a Tally Chart?

A tally chart is a simple means of recording small samples of categorical data in an organized way. The information gathered by a tally chart is to be separated into categories. Depending on the desired facts, categories might be favorite ice cream flavors, number of times you hear the word “cucumber” in a story, number of holidays in each of the twelve months, or shoe size. All kinds of information can be shown on a tally chart!

Storyboard That makes it super easy to create tally charts that can be used digitally or printed out and marked up in class. Print your tally chart on large format poster for class-wide charts, or print them on regular handout sized paper for students to use individually or in groups as they complete a task.

Making tally marks next to a category is much more efficient than listing items as they are reported.

How to Make a Tally Chart

Tally charts are very easy to make, and very easy to use! First, separate the space you are working with into rows and columns. On one side, or on top if preferred, we list our categories. If asking the question, "Where is your favorite place to read?", the categories would be the answers or options for that question.

Leave enough space to record the data as you discover it. An additional column for the frequency (number of instances of a specific data value) is often added for ease of reading after all the information has been collected. You will also hear tally charts referred to as Frequency Tables.

Ideas for Tally Chart Data

  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • Favorite ______
  • Number of times I _______
  • Number of items that ______
  • Distribution of girls/boys in a class or grade
  • Number of times a teacher says the word ______
  • Number of times choosing a certain color marble from a jar
  • Number of vowels/consonants in a word, sentence, or short paragraph
  • Preference for a free time activity, field trip, group game at recess, etc

While tally charts are useful research/data tools, they can also be helpful in record-keeping throughout the day, behavior plans, class or group decisions, or to keep students engaged in a silly activity, such as Sit, Stand, Jump.

Using Tally Charts

Students can get data through a survey, asking the same question(s) of different people, or by witnessing events over a period of time.

As you gather information, you make tally marks on your chart. For each response, we mark a single vertical line, like a lowercase letter “L”. When you reach the fifth data point, the notation changes slightly; instead of continuing to use vertical lines, every fifth data point is a diagonal slash across four vertical tally marks. It is an easy visual cue to see the data organized into groups of five. Have your students practice their skip-counting to get the totals for each category!

Students can count the tally marks individually if needed, but skip-counting by fives first makes finding the totals of each category quicker. Introducing skip counting by fives with tally charts demonstrates a very practical use for the skill to students. Students should record the totals for each category on the tally chart in a separate column for frequency.

Students are expected to be able to compare and answer questions about the frequency of data points. Many of these answers can be figured out easily by counting carefully, or by doing basic addition or subtraction with the frequency table.

Using the example below, have students interpret the following questions with the data presented!

  1. How many more people like basketball than tennis?
  2. Which category had the most?
  3. Which category had the least?
  4. How many people voted in all?

By using language that students don’t necessarily associate with math, students will be able to see the value of gathering and analyzing the information.

Here are some questions that change up the language used, requiring students to analyze the data in a different way. Let these questions serve as inspiration for creating your own, unique storyboard tally charts!

  1. Which flavor of ice cream was the most popular?
  2. Did people like playing kickball or Band-Aid tag in PE better?
  3. When I buy colored paper for the classroom, should I get lots of the [unpopular] yellow?

Suggested Modifications

The tally chart is the perfect tool for those who struggle with literacy, need to count quantities to recognize a number, or need assistance with arranging information.

Modified tally charts could be used to scaffold students with language or writing difficulties. Use pictures to pair with words (i.e., “dog” and the image of a dog) or simply use pictures or representations (splotch of red to indicate the category of “red”). Tally marks do not require much handwriting skill, and can be made with pencil, crayon, fingerprint, paper strips, objects, on paper, or in sand!

Use Storyboard That for creating and printing a tally chart for students to use as they survey classmates or make observations. Students can create their own tally charts on Storyboard That for printing to use for data-gathering, or as an electronic assessment for student understanding.

A tally chart is often the stepping stone between gathering information to displaying information in a graph. Use tally charts or a frequency table to prepare for bar graphs and other visual data displays!

Related Common Core Standards

  • Math.Content.2.MD.D.10: Draw a picture graph and a bar graph (with single-unit scale) to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare problems1 using information presented in a bar graph.

  • Math.Content.3.MD.B.3: Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories. Solve one- and two-step "how many more" and "how many less" problems using information presented in scaled bar graphs. For example, draw a bar graph in which each square in the bar graph might represent 5 pets.

  • Math.Content.4.MD.B.4: Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Solve problems involving addition and subtraction of fractions by using information presented in line plots. For example, from a line plot find and interpret the difference in length between the longest and shortest specimens in an insect collection.

  • Math.Content.5.MD.B.2: Make a line plot to display a data set of measurements in fractions of a unit (1/2, 1/4, 1/8). Use operations on fractions for this grade to solve problems involving information presented in line plots. For example, given different measurements of liquid in identical beakers, find the amount of liquid each beaker would contain if the total amount in all the beakers were redistributed equally.

Check Out Other Math Activity Ideas

  1. Use a storyboard to depict new math vocabulary.
  2. Create math infographics and posters to explain new concepts.
  3. Use Storyboard That to show word problems.
  4. Create a comic to explain how we use math every day.
  5. Add a presentation to any storyboard project.

Be sure to check out more of our Math resources!
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