What's in a text?


The purpose of this unit of lessons is to conduct a statistical investigation into the relative popularity of four different text and print features, and to use data squares as the data gathering ‘tool’.

Achievement Objectives
S3-1: Conduct investigations using the statistical enquiry cycle: gathering, sorting, and displaying multivariate category and whole-number data and simple time-series data to answer questions; identifying patterns and trends in context, within and
Specific Learning Outcomes
  • Pose an investigative question.
  • Design and carry out an investigation.
  • Answer questions by sorting, organising and arranging information.
  • Make sensible statements about the information.with supporting evidence.
  • Critique the investigation process.
  • Pose further questions for investigation.
Description of Mathematics

A piece of written text has a range of features that combine to form its particular structure. These features can have different forms and the multiple possible combinations of these can result in quite different ‘nuances’ of the same text. As students develop their writing skills and as their audience awareness grows, they will develop too a curiosity about how and why texts appeal to different audiences.

When planning an investigation from an ‘I wonder’ statement, students need to consider what question they should ask, how they will gather data, and how the data will be organised when it is collected.

To investigate the preference for possible combinations of text and print features requires the gathering of multivariate data. Data squares are one tool that can be successfully ‘employed’ to gather this data. Data squares can hold several pieces of information about individual preferences, however, it is important that students understand the difference between individual data and group data.

At level 3, as students learn to investigate data sets with many variables, they begin to learn how to sort and resort it, to display it and to see relationships between the variables.

Sorting and organising a set of data squares means that the group preferences, feature by feature, can be found out. The questions about the preferred combinations of features can also be answered, as the data squares allow students to consider combinations of more than one variable at the same time.

Their conclusions should directly relate to their original question and to the data they have gathered. In answering questions and presenting the findings of their investigation, students need to make statements about the group and accurately describe aspects of a data set. The students are learning to identify patterns and trends in context, both within and between data sets.

In doing so they should be encouraged to develop a wider statistical vocabulary, including reference to multivariate data, datasets, variables, frequencies and proportions. They should also be given the opportunity to reflect upon and critique their investigation process and recognise its limitations.

In carrying out an investigation, involving multivariate data, students will need to draw upon well-developed number strategies, to think multiplicatively and to reason in a proportional way.

Associated Achievement Objectives

Listening, Reading and Viewing
Purposes and audiences
Show a developing understanding of how texts are shaped for different purposes and audiences.

  • Recognises and understands how texts are constructed for a range of purposes, audiences and situations.

Show a developing understanding of text structures.

  • Understands that order and organisation of words, sentences, paragraphs, and images contributes to and affect text meaning.
  • Identifies a range of text forms and recognises some of their characteristics and conventions.

Speaking, writing and presenting
Purposes and audiences

  • Constructs texts that show a growing awareness of purpose and audience through careful choice of context, language and text form.

Organise text, using a range of appropriate structures.

  • Organises written ideas into paragraphs with increasing confidence.
Required Resource Materials
A class set of a Connected 2 text

Pencils and erasers


Data squares (Attachment 1)


Learning activities
Whilst this unit is presented as sequence of five sessions, more sessions than this may be required or desirable to consolidate key learning. It is also expected that any session may extend beyond one teaching period.
It is intended that this mathematics investigation be complemented by literacy/English lessons that focus on developing knowledge and understanding of particular text features found in non-fiction texts.
The investigation could alternatively focus on a different genre and its particular features.

Session 1

This session is about planning an investigation into optimal text (and print) features.


  • Identify text (and print) features that can influence the reader.
  • Plan an investigation to find out which combination of text (and print) features is the most appealing to class peers.

Activity 1

  1. Begin by making available to each student, a copy of a Connected 2 (non fiction) text of choice.  
    Have students browse the contents.
  2. Recognise the visual language features including maps, diagrams, drawings and photographs.
    Have individual students identify their favourite double page in the book and explain to a partner what is it they like about the visual language features on those pages.
  3. Agree that some people like the same pages and other students have different preferences. Recognise that the overall impact of any double page depends on the clever combination of visual language features and the text with its particular features.

Activity 2

Using the same text, focus students on the written text only.
Together, make a class list of the text (and print) features that they notice vary between different texts.
For example: title length, text breaks, (the presence of) sub-headings within the text, sentence length, line spacing, the use of bold lettering, the use of bullet points, font, (the amount of) direct speech etc.
Work through several of these, one at a time, and have students identify which they personally prefer. Have them explain why to a partner. Have them recognise that audiences can have different responses to text structure and print, and different preferences.

Activity 3

  1. Ask the students if they have any ‘I wonder’ statements about text format and graphics. For example:
    “I wonder which is the most popular combination of features.”
    “I wonder which features I should use if I really want a classmate to read my work.”
    “I wonder if different features of text or print appeal to different age groups.”
    “I wonder if particular features are used for different purposes.”
    Record these for reference.
  2. Have students work in pairs to discuss their ideas. Have them together suggest a question that (they think) they can investigate. For example:
    “What is the best combination of text features to use?”
  3. Have students consider how they would carry out the investigation of their question. Many suggested questions may be too open. If so, the students will need to refine their question by being specific, and by narrowing the focus. They will also need to consider any words that are ambiguous or unclear.
    Use several examples of open questions and model refinements.
  4. Give student time to refine and narrow broad open questions. Have them share their ideas once again. Record these and discuss them as a class. For example:
    “What kind of title, font, text breaks and line spacing do students in our class (Y6) prefer?”

Activity 4

  1. Use one question as an example: eg.
    “What kind of title, text breaks, font and line spacing do students in our class prefer?”
    Discuss together and recognise that there are multiple features of a text. Introduce the term multivariate data and provide student pairs with time to discuss and formulate a plan for data collection.
  2. Have student pairs share their plans and adopt a plan, if appropriate.
    Alternatively, build upon their ideas and propose this plan to collect these data.
  3. Make available to each student Attachment 1, and explain that they will use this data gathering ‘tool’. Point out that the quadrant form of each data square allows datasets on four categories to be collected.
    Suggest that students now:
    1. Select a participant cohort. For example, all member of this class, all members of another class/year level in the school, girls in a class, boys in a class, adults in the school.
    2. Select four text features that they would like to investigate.
    3. Write an engaging short (up to one page) article or report to use for the investigation.
    4. Make three variations of each feature and label each set differently. For example, ABC; 1,2,3; i, ii, iii; X,Y,Z; etc. See Attachment 2.
      In each set (of three), only vary the feature that is being investigated. Keep the rest of the text the same in each example.
    5. When investigation material is complete, have each participant record their text feature preference on the identified quadrant of the data square.
      For example: (Variation shown in red)
  4. Have students interpret the data square response of the example participant.
    This person prefers:
    a clever title, paragraphs, cambria font, and medium line spacing.
  5. Have students recognise that the varied text examples can be easily created, by adjusting the variables for investigation within in a Word Document, and printing each change.

Activity 5

Conclude the session by having student pairs complete steps 1 and 2 only in the process outlined above in Activity 4, Step 3.

Session 2

This session is about preparing the resources to carry out the investigation and predicting an outcome.


  • Prepare resources for an investigation.

Activity 1

  1. Begin by reviewing the big picture purpose of the statistical investigation. (To conduct a statistical investigation into preferred text and print features, to better inform us as writers, of how we can present our work in a way that appeals to a particular audience.)
  2. Review the process outlined in Session 1, Activity 4.
    Have student pairs share the decision they made about steps 1 and 2 in Session 1, Activity 5.
    1. Select a participant cohort. For example, all member of this class, all members of another class/year level in the school, girls in a class, boys in a class, adults in the school.
    2. Select four text features to investigate.
      Discuss as a class the variations of each feature that each pair has chosen according to the participant cohort identified.
      For example: For a Year 2 cohort, the text features may be size of font, sentence length, font type and line spacing.
      For a Year 8 cohort, the features may be title style, paragraphs, the use of subheadings, and line spacing (text density).
      Identify that the focus of this session is to complete steps 3 and 4:
    3. Write an engaging short article or report to use for the investigation.
    4. Make three variations of each feature and label each set differently. For example, ABC; 1,2,3; i, ii, iii; X,Y,Z; etc. See Attachment 2.
    Remind the students that in each set (of three), they should only vary the feature that is being investigated. Keep the rest of the text the same in each example.
  3. Allow time in the rest of the session for the text to be written and for the material for the investigation (copies of the variations of the text format) to be completed.
  4. As appropriate, make arrangements with other classes in the school for a suitable time in which data can be collected.

Session 3

This session is about explaining the investigation to participants and gathering data.


  • Explain to investigation participants (sample) how the data will be collected.
  • Collect data.

Activity 1

  1. Have some student pairs explain to the class, the investigation material that they have prepared and the purpose of their investigation.
  2. Explain that student pairs are to consider their prepared investigation material and write which combination of factors they predict will be preferred by their chosen audience and why they think this. Have them share their predictions and reasons.

Activity 2

Have student pairs prepare for their data collection by cutting their copies of Attachment 1 into individual data squares, and practice how they will present their investigation to their participant group.
They should consider how the sample group (audience) will know about and understand the purpose of the investigation, how the pair will display the variables in the investigation (the four sets of text), exactly how they will explain the process of completing the data squares (including that each person will complete just one square), and where participants should put their data square when completed (eg. in the white plastic container). They should also give opportunities for questions from their audience.

Activity 3

Allow time in this session for data to be collected.

Activity 4

As student pairs complete their data collections, have them layout and manipulate their data squares, beginning to look for patterns and relationships, and identifying any initial findings.

Session 4

This session is about sorting information into categories, organising data, identifying patterns and relationships and displaying data in a statistical form.


  • Sort information into categories.
  • Answer questions by sorting, organising and arranging information.
  • Make statistical displays of the collated data.
  • Make sensible statements about the information with supporting evidence.

Activity 1

Have students begin to sort their data by examining one variable (univariate) at a time and recording the results with tally marks.
For example: The title preference variable (ABC) is sorted.

Activity 2

Have students present these data as simple bar or pie graphs.
Have them make statements about preferences.
For example: 1/3 (33.3%) of the audience preferred a one-word title, 5/12 (41.7%) preferred a clever title, and 1/4 (25%) preferred a long descriptive title.
Where possible use computer software to create graphs and seek patterns.

Activity 3

When students have considered each variable and recorded the results, have them look for patterns and relationships between two variables.
For example:

1/3 (33.3%) of the audience preferred the clever title and paragraphs. (B,2)
None of the audience liked the clever title and no text breaks. (B,1)

Activity 4

Have students identify patterns and relationships between three or more variables, recording statements, supported by evidence.
Ask students to confirm whether the predictions they made in Activity 3 were correct.

Activity 5

Have students refer to and answer their investigation question. Explain that their answer is likely to have several parts to it because they are ‘synthesising’ their answer from multivariate data.

Activity 6

Have students consider whether or not the answer to their question applies to their sample only (Yes) or whether the information is representative of a wider group and can inform a general statement. (No).

Session 5

This session is about having students consider the effectiveness of their investigation, identify further questions that their investigation raises for them, and present their findings.


  • Make sensible statements about the information with supporting evidence.
  • Critique their investigation process.
  • Pose further questions for investigation.
  • Present findings.

Activity 1

Begin by explaining that this session has three parts. The student pairs should:

  1. Critique their own investigation process and suggest how they might improve it if they were to repeat it in the future.
  2. Consider whether their findings would lead them to pose further questions for investigation, and if so, to list these.
  3. Present their findings, their critique and their further questions to their classmates.

Activity 2

Allow students time to complete steps 1 and 2, before presenting their findings to the class. This may be an oral presentation supported by a power point presentation, a poster or a combination of these.

Activity 3

Have classmates give specific feedback on findings and presentations.

Activity 4

If appropriate, have student pairs present their findings to audience participants if they are other than their own class.

Activity 5

As a class, conclude the session by listing key learning about text and print features, and about conducting an investigation into multivariate datasets.


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