: : Tech skills:  typing numbers and inserting data into cells

Of the fabulous three of Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, I find that Excel is least used by teachers integrating technology. Perhaps this is because some think it is harder for students to learn, but maybe it is because being math-phobic like me, some teachers view it as more daunting than need be. (Do fewer teachers integrate spreadsheets into projects and other classwork? Let us know what you think and comment below.)

Anyway, here is a very simple activity that actually could even be used in beginning ESOL classes when starting to talk about students’ families. It also has the potential to be extended into a complex project with more advanced ABE/GED students reading census data and surveying their own community. Using this spreadsheet template you can have your students input their own family sizes to find the class' average.

Lesson ideas:

Opening activity:
  • Begin by explaining to the class your purpose for the activity. (e.g., “We are talking about families…” “We have been learning about averages…” “We have been working on understanding charts and data from the census...”)
  • Review the meaning of the word “average.” Ask the class if anyone knows what the average family size in the United States is? Ask if they know the average in countries where they (or their ancestors) are from? Depending on the class, you might ask about changes over time and why in some countries family size has diminished. 
  • Present a challenge or driving question. Depending on whether or not you plan on a broader-reaching project or not, you might ask (and discuss) one of the following: 
    - What do you think the average family size is in our class? 
    - What do you think the average family size is in our school or community?
    - What is the average family size in the United States and how does it compare to our community or class size?
  • If need be, introduce or review basic functions of a spreadsheet and when they are used. 

Options for the activity: 

  • One computer class - If you are working on one computer (preferably with a projector) ask students to come up and type their name and family size into the cells. So they keep engaged, ask the rest of the class to call out the number when an individual types in the family size. Also have them notice and call out the new average as it automatically changes. (Click in the cell and show them how the average has been programmed to change as data is entered. If your goal is for students to learn this aspect, use this segue to instruction.)
  • 1:1 – If you have a computer lab make sure students are able to access the document. Ask students to take a short survey and enter the names of students next to them. 
  • In the cloud - You might create a spreadsheet document on Google Drive where students can all access and enter their own names and family size at the same time. 

Closing activity: After students have gathered and entered data, have them save the spreadsheet and report their results to the class.

Note:  If you are using this as an English language learning activity, if need be, before they start, prepare students on how to ask questions. For example: “How many people are in your family?”  Encourage them to ask more questions too such as, “How many sisters do you have?” Don’t forget to work on phrases like: “The average family size in my survey is/was…”

Follow up/Extension: Have the class answer and discuss the following questions: 
  • Is the average family size what you expected it would be? Why or why not? 
  • Organize a survey of the school or local community. Then compare the data to census data. If there is a difference can they think of why? Have a class discussion and consider being in experts as guest speakers on the topic. 


  • Ask the class to develop a new survey on a different topic.
  • Expand the survey using a free survey tool such as Survey Monkey.  
  • Focus more on the math and spreadsheet aspect such as creating formulas with this being one example of how to do so. 
  • Ask the class to research the following: Why is family size larger in some countries? Was the average family size larger? If so, why? 

Steve Quann

Share any comments, your experience using this activity or any suggested variations you have (particularly using other technologies).  


Carey Reid
09/23/2013 11:43am

This is great. It reminds me of something that a teacher in Western MA, Joe Panzica, does with his classes. He sets up a spreadsheet with all the students names and columns for "points earned" for attending a class, arriving on time, helping another student, doing work outside class, etc. The students can watch their points accumulate, and on a monthly basis win "prizes" for most points (e.g., Dunkin Donuts certificate). He also can show connections between high point totals to good learning outcomes, to "make the case" for persistence and intensity.

Leah Peterson
09/30/2013 10:50am

Thanks for sharing, Carey!

Joe Panzica
10/02/2013 2:57pm

The (student tracking) functions mentioned by Carey are handled by an Access database. I have made attempts to get students to track their own accomplishments (or points) with spreadsheets, but since I already do that for them . . .

I have not given up trying to incorporate spreadsheets as a regular part of my curriculum, but, whether or not that is a realistic goal, I have not yet settled into any pattern that feels sufficient!

When I do get students to use spreadsheets, I mostly focus on the graphing functions. A regular option in my curriculum is to find a graph or a table and then use the spreadsheet to represent that particular data set as both.

I also have students use spreadsheets to graph functions (or equations).

But tracking data over time is probably the best form of project. And it is one that I have not pursued enough.


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