The Democracy Project

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Graphically Speaking

Subjects: Math/Social Studies

Estimated Time of Completion: six fifty minute class periods

  1. I. Summary
  2. II. Objectives
  3. III. Materials Needed
  4. IV. Procedure
  5. V. Classroom Assessment
  6. VI. Extensions and Adaptations
  7. VII. Relevant Standards

I. Summary

Students will explore the relationship between state population and federal congressional representation. Using Web site data or almanacs, students will graph state population, state size, and number of congressional representatives. Students will then infer the relationship between the three figures. Historical extensions allow students to discover why congressional representation was set up in this fashion.

II. Objectives

  • Students will use the Internet to find states' population and number of elected officials those states send to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
  • Students will create a spreadsheet or database to contain state population information and congressional figures.
  • Students will use Microsoft Works Spreadsheet or Excel to create a computer generated graph of the above information.
  • Students will write a summary paragraph about what they discovered when they compared population size to the number of representatives sent to Washington.

III. Materials Needed

  • Computers with Internet access and spreadsheet/database capability
  • Paper, pencil, ruler
  • Optional: almanac, graph paper, colored pencils

IV. Procedure

  1. Begin by asking students about the significance of the upcoming government elections. Who is being elected? Probe to assess students' understanding that the presidency isn't the only office up for grabs, but that other campaigns might focus on local or state elections?or Congressional elections. Why are so many levels of government necessary? What does each level do?

    To learn more, students should begin with the game "How Government Affects Me?" Instruct students to concentrate on understanding the levels of government (state, federal, and local) and the branches of government (legislative, judicial, and executive) represented in the capitol building of the virtual town. Reinforce the knowledge by drawing a federal organizational chart on the board. Ask students how many elected officials serve in congress. Is this number the same for each state?

  2. The students may find state population estimates or regional estimates of population by using the U.S. Census Bureau Web site. (If computers are limited, this activity may be done with an almanac.)
  3. Use for state-by-state congressional data and to access data about each state's congressional representatives. Students may use the almanac. They should also use an almanac to find the size of each state in square miles.
  4. Direct the students to create spreadsheets or a database of population data, state size and congressional representation. Students may do this for all fifty states, or for states selected by the teacher.
  5. The students will make a bar graph showing the population of different states.
  6. Next, make a bar graph showing the number of representatives per state in the U.S. House of Representatives.
  7. Finally, make a bar graph showing the size (in square miles) of each state. Compare the three graphs. Which two look most similar, in their peaks and valleys?
  8. Using the spreadsheet/database software program, create computer-generated graphs of the same data. How do they compare to students' graphs? What other methods might students employ to represent this data?
  9. Direct students to write a paragraph analyzing the data. Is congressional representation based on population or state size? Is the ratio the same for each state? Why does the number of representatives vary for each state? The students will state why they think this number varies and whether they think it should vary. Also, students should reflect on the number of senators from each state. Why is this number different than the number of representatives?

V. Classroom Assessment

See Graphically Speaking rubric.

VI. Extensions and Adaptations

  • For younger grades, teachers may want to choose two or three states (the home state, two bordering states, or a state that the child would like to visit). For older students, the teacher might pick a demographic area (South, Midwest, Mid-Atlantic, etc.) and find the information for those states.
  • Read about Congress in the U.S. Constitution to learn more about why Congress was established with two houses of different sizes. Why did the Founding Fathers do this? What parts of the plan would citizens of Rhode Island like? How about citizens of California?
  • Teachers may want to compare colonial populations to present day figures using the InfoPlease Almanac. Students should also try to find out how many members of Congress there were at that time.
  • Students should research how their state legislative body is chosen. Compare and contrast this to the federal model.

VII. Relevant National Standards

These are established by McREL:


  • Understands that data represent specific pieces of information about real-world objects or activities
  • Organizes and displays data in simple bar graphs, pie charts and line graphs
  • Uses data and statistical measures for a variety of purposes (e.g., formulating hypotheses, making predictions, testing conjectures)
  • Organizes and displays data using tables, graphs (e.g., line, circle, bar), frequency distributions and plots (e.g., stem-and-leaf, box-and-whiskers, scatter)

Language Arts

  • Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies of the writing process
  • Demonstrates competence in the stylistic and rhetorical aspects of writing
  • Uses grammatical and mechanical conventions in written compositions
  • Gathers and uses information for research purposes

Social Studies

  • Knows that the Constitution describes how the government is organized, defines and limits the powers of government, and is the highest law in the land
  • Knows that the government was created by people who had the following beliefs: the government is established by and for the people, the people have the right to choose their representatives, and the people have the right to change their government and the Constitution