SportAtSchool Lesson plan: using statistics to find and report news

School Reporter shows off her running skills Image copyright Other
Image caption A School Reporter shows off her running skills

School Report has joined forces with SportAtSchool, a project that gives schools access to real data that can be used in the classroom.

Students from participating schools complete a simple questionnaire about sport and exercise, and their answers become part of a UK-wide data bank.

Every school involved then has access to the full data, and can compare their school with others as part of curriculum-based teaching.

This lesson plan will help you obtain and use this data to introduce students to an absorbing field: the art of turning statistics into news stories.

Has your school taken part in the Survey? If so, you simply need to request the data by following this link to the SportAtSchool portal, and following the simple steps.

If you are yet to take part, this guide has everything you need to get started:

Guide: getting involved in SportAtSchool [74 KB]

This resource has been devised in consultation with the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education, who run the SportAtSchool project.


1. Surveys and questions Internet access if available
2. What makes a number interesting? None
3. Introducing your data Survey results spreadsheet
4. Identifying anomalies Survey results spreadsheet
5. Reporting figures accurately Exercise sheet: Reporting figures accurately
6. Creating a 'top line' None
7. Applying the five W's Internet access if available
8. Writing a script Worksheet: Planning a survey-driven news report
9. Using graphs and graphics Survey results spreadsheet in Microsoft Excel or similar
10. Developing ideas into bigger stories Various, depending on report type

Optional resource: remind yourself of the originial questions posed by the SportAtSchool survey questionnaire.


1. Surveys and questions

Ask students:

  • Who completed the SportAtSchool Survey?
  • How many students do you think completed the survey at this school?
  • When you made your last news report, how many people did you interview?
Image copyright Other
Image caption A School Report student in a news studio

Explain to students: Journalism is about finding out and reporting the truth. One way to do that is to ask questions.

A survey enables journalists to ask a lot of people the same questions. Often, a collection of answers is a more accurate representation of how a group of people think, feel or act, than a handful of individual interviews.

As with face-to-face interviews, a journalist's job is to select the most interesting answers.

2. What makes a number interesting?

Present students with these two headlines:

  • New breed of dog discovered with four legs
  • New breed of dog discovered with five legs

Ask students: Which one makes a better news story?

Explain: the first headline is of interest to people who are enthusiastic about dogs, whereas the second headline is of interest to a much wider audience because it is unusual.

Tell students that they are going to look at the difference between the data for their school and the data for all schools who completed the SportAtSchool Survey.

They will then identify anything unusual about their school which might lead to a news story.

3. Introducing your data

Show students the top sheet of the spreadsheet of the results from the SportAtSchool Survey and explain what each column means (see extract below for the SportAtSchool Secondary School):

  • Column B contains a brief version of the question. To see the full questions, refer to the pdf version of the Survey questions.
  • Column C shows the answer options.
  • Column D gives the percentages of each answer for your school.
  • Column E gives the percentages of each answer for all the schools who took part in the SportAtSchool Survey 2012.
  • Column F shows the counts for each answer for your school.
  • Column G shows the counts of each answer for all the schools who took part in the BBC News SportAtSchool Survey 2012.

4. Identifying anomalies

Ask students to compare columns D and E, and highlight the rows of figures where there is a difference of 10 percentage points or more between the columns.

For example, if 40% of students from your school had toast for breakfast (column D) compared with 50% for all the schools (column E), this should be highlighted and noted.

Ask students to feed back their findings.

Now ask each student to choose the SINGLE area of data of most interest - this will form the basis of their news story.


5. Reporting figures accurately

One of the key BBC News values is "truth and accuracy". You might like to remind yourselves of the other values in our 'What is News? Lesson plan.

This exercise sheet provides a number of statistic-led statements that students will need to judge for accuracy:

Exercise: reporting figures accurately [62.8 KB]

Get their feedback, then work through the answers on the sheet to ensure students understand the importance of reporting figures accurately.

6. Creating a 'top line'

Ask students to return to the spreadsheet and the data they picked out as being the most interesting.

Ask them to create a top line for a story about this data - a sentence which expresses the most interesting findings in a succinct and accurate way.

Image copyright Other
Image caption Budding reporters discuss their ideas

In other words, it needs to be clear, concise and correct. Here is an example of a top line:

Nearly twice the proportion of children at the SportAtSchool Secondary School cannot swim compared with children from other schools - according to the findings of a new survey.

Students feedback their top lines. They will be asked to put these into context in activity 8. They also share their gut feelings about why their findings may be of interest.

As a group, decide which top lines to turn into news stories.

7. Applying the five W's

Ask students to recall the 5 W's of journalism.

Now ask students: For each top line, which is the most pressing question to ask?

So, if using the example top line above, the question could be: "Why is it that a higher proportion of children at the SportAtSchool Secondary School cannot swim when compared with the whole survey?"

Can the students offer any explanations for the data they selected as interesting? Any hunches? Who could they ask to find out the answers?

8. Writing a script

Image copyright Other
Image caption School Reporters prepare to ask some questions

After a discussion, students can begin to structure their thoughts using this worksheet, which helps them plan a news story in the form of a script:

Worksheet: planning a survey-driven news report [72]

Tip: Students might find it easier to write the introduction at the end.

Once completed, students can decide whether to use the script as a plan for a video report, written report, or audio report.

They can use the right-hand column to make appropriate notes for their chosen medium.

9. Graphs and graphics

Adding a chart or graphic to the report can be a useful illustration of the data. Students can experiment fairly easily to find effective ways of highlighting anomalies.

Here, the highlighted spreadsheet data contains figures about the month of the year students were born in. The anomaly is not immediately apparent (the resulting chart follows further below):

Image caption Raw statistics for 'month of birth' question

And here's what the above selection looks like in a simple, unedited bar chart form. Now, the data across the whole year can be quickly absorbed, and the anomaly stands out (visual here uses Microsoft Excel's '2D column view bar chart'):

Image caption 'Month of birth' figures in 2D bar chart view


10. Developing ideas into bigger stories

Students present their top lines, with context, to an editor - which could also be a nominated student.

As a news team - with the final say from the editor - they decide which idea(s) they will see through to the News Day as reports published on the school website.

They then allocate tasks accordingly to members of the group.


CensusAtSchool: Teacher Resources

CensusAtSchool is a project for schools run by the Royal Statistical Society Centre for Statistical Education, the organisation which is partnering with School Report to run the SportAtSchool Survey. [The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites]

Radio 4: More or Less

More or Less is a Radio 4 programme devoted to the world of numbers and their use in the media and politics.

BBC College or Journalism: Numbers

A video by Michael Blastland, former producer of BBC Radio 4's More or Less about using numbers in the news.

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