Lesson plan

Musical Bar Graphs

Do your students love music? Use this music-themed lesson with your students to practice interpreting information from bar graphs, collecting data, and creating scaled bar graphs.
Grade Subject View aligned standards

Students will be able to interpret data from a scaled bar graph and answer one and two-step problems about music.

(5 minutes)
  • Engage students by taking a poll and have them raise their hands if they enjoy listening to music.
  • Explain to the class that they are going to hear short clips of songs, and they need to think about what type of music it is.
  • Remind students to raise their hands when they are ready to share their answer about what genre the song fits into.
  • Play short clips of songs from several different genres (country, hip hop, pop, soul, rock, etc.).
  • Accept answers after each clip, and validate or correct misconceptions. Record the genre suggestions on the board.
  • Explain that today’s math lesson is music themed.
(10 minutes)
  • Display a copy of the Bar Graph: Getting to School worksheet.
  • Provide the definition of bar graph. (A chart that uses bars to show comparisons between categories of data. The bars can be either horizontal or vertical.)
  • Explain that the lines inside the bar graph represent the data. Sometimes data is collected by doing a survey (when you gather information about a topic by asking questions).
  • Point out the different parts of a bar graph to the students (title, numbers labeled on y axis, category labels on x axis).
  • Explain that we can use the bars in the bar graph to answer questions and interpret information about a group of people.
  • Model creating a bar graph on a blank piece of paper displayed on the document camera with the following data: A group of elementary students were surveyed to find out what musical instrument they would be interested in playing when they got to middle school. The number of students interested in each type of instrument were as follows: 30 flutes, 16 clarinets, 25 saxophones, five tubas, and 12 trumpets.
  • Think aloud about the answers to the following questions: How many students showed interest in the flute or clarinet? (46 students) How many more students were interested in the saxophone than the trumpet? (13 more students) How many students were interested in playing a musical instrument? (88 students)
(20 minutes)
  • Hand out a copy of the Forms of Entertainment worksheet to each student.
  • Explain to the class that the next task in regards to bar graphs is that students will actually collect data and then create a bar graph, similar to the one seen in the teacher modeling section of the lesson.
  • Lead the students in collecting data among themselves by first explaining that they only get to choose one type of entertainment (go to the movies, watch television, read books, surf the web, or listen to music) that they prefer the most.
  • Go around the class and have each student say which type of entertainment he or she prefers the most.
  • Record names in the correct column based on the announced preferences and have all students copy the information onto their worksheets too.
  • Divide students into small groups of four or five students and hand out a sheet of blank computer paper to each group.
  • Instruct students to use the data collected on the worksheet to create a bar graph. They should include a title, numbers on the y axis, category labels on the x axis, and bars to represent the data.
  • Give groups time to create a bar graph, and circulate to offer support and praise.
  • Instruct students to display their graphs on the board next to each other.
  • Lead a discussion about the differences that can be seen in the bar graphs (point out if students organized the categories differently or if they chose to use different number intervals along the y axis).
  • Ask students to suggest reasons for any differences among the graphs.
  • Explain that, even though the graph may visually look different in one way or another, the data still shows the same information about the students who were surveyed.
  • Ask questions in the form of one- and two-step problems to check students’ understanding of how to gain an understanding of the data from the bar graph. (How many more students enjoy watching television than surfing the web? How many students prefer television and movies?)
(10 minutes)
  • Distribute a copy of the Word Problems: Interpreting Bar Graphs worksheet to each student.
  • Explain that students will look at the data, which shows students’ favorite music genres, and answer questions based on the bar graph that is provided.


  • To support struggling students, use manipulatives to stand for each bit of data in the guided practice to provide a more concrete visual.
  • Intentionally create groups of students at varied levels for the guided practice portion of the lesson.
  • Offer students the opportunity to practice working with scaled bar graphs by playing the Zap and Kreb: Graphing Word Problems game.


  • Challenge advanced students to play the Bar Graphing with Roly game.
  • For a larger data set, partner with another teacher who would allow representatives from your class to come in and quickly survey his or her students. Have your students create a bar graph with this data.
  • Have students come up with a topic and category choices. Allow them to survey the class in order to gather data. Have the students independently create bar graphs and at least five one- and two-step word problem questions to accompany the graph. Let the advanced students trade bar graphs to answer each other’s questions.
(5 minutes)
  • Collect students’ independent work and use it to serve as a formative assessment of students’ proficiency in interpreting the data from bar graphs.
  • Display one of the groups' bar graphs and have students answer questions about it. Have students write their answers on a whiteboard and hold them up for a quick visual check for understanding.
(5 minutes)
  • Distribute an index card or sticky note to each student and instruct the class to put their names on it.
  • Display the following question on the board to serve as an exit ticket: What type of information can we get from looking at bar graphs?
  • Give students two minutes to write an answer and turn in their exit ticket.

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