Storytelling with Data

My first-year composition students are each studying an aspect of the opioid crisis. Their research papers cover topics that benefit from exploring data. Today’s class started with students dividing in pairs to brainstorm what types of data would be useful for their topics. Then we went around the room: each student introduced her chosen topic and talked about possibilities for the types of data that would enhance a person’s understanding of the topic.

A brief 2013 article from Martin Krzywinski and Alberto Cairo (pdf) provided a good starting place for discussing data storytelling. After each student had presented a possible data topic, the students read the 1-page article in class, and then we discussed the use of familiar elements of a story arc: introduction, question, conflict, buildup, and resolution. [Krzywinski, M., & Cairo, A. (2013). Points of view: storytelling.]

The importance of establishing intrigue and tension in presenting the data was identified as a key way of engaging the audience. Students were than asked to brainstorm in pairs about what startling data point could be used as a springboard for their essays later this term.

For the next class, each student will bring to class one data source and data set on their topic and explain why it’s potentially intriguing.