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Lesson 1: Anecdotes vs. Data

Lesson 1: Anecdotes vs. Data


Students will learn the difference between anecdotes and data. They will begin to read articles critically to discern whether the evidence presented is based on anecdotes or data.


  1. Hans Rosling’s video How Not to Be Ignorant About the World found at
  2. Article: Miracle at the KK Café (also available in the LMR folder)
  3. Article: Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation? (also available in the LMR folder)


anecdote data

Essential Concepts:

Essential Concepts:

Data beat anecdotes. In science, we need to closely examine the quality of evidence in order to make sound conclusions. Anecdotes can contain personal bias, might be carefully selected to represent a particular point of view, and, in general, may be completely different from the general trend.


  1. Prepare your video player to show the first 5 minutes and 23 seconds of Hans Rosling’s video How Not to Be Ignorant About the World found at:

  2. Ask students to play along as they watch the video. Each time Hans Rosling asks the audience to choose an answer to each of the three questions, pause the video for about 5 seconds and ask students to write down what they think is the answer to each question.

  3. After viewing the video, engage students in T-I-P-S (see strategies) with the questions below:

    1. Why did the chimps at the zoo score better than the people? Answer: Anyone can select the correct answer just by chance.

    2. On the second question, Hans Rosling says that “everyone is aware that there are countries and there are areas where girls have great difficulties and they are stopped when they go to school.” How could this information influence the answer choice? Answer: Personal knowledge and experiences can influence what we think we know.

    3. Why do you think only a few people know the correct answer to these three questions? Answer: People do not know enough about the data that can help them answer these questions.

  4. Display the following statements to students:

    • “My skin glows more…I feel pretty confident.” Melissa for Proactiv®

    • “Within four months, I'd lost a grand total of 63 pounds* and was down to my goal weight.” Marianne G. for Nutrisystem®

    • “The customer service is obnoxious. The employees are patronizing, smug, and intractable.” Seymour773 for Bank of America®

  5. Discuss each statement with students by asking the following questions:

    1. Is                  a good product? For example, is Proactiv® a good skin product?, is Nutrisystem® a good diet program?, is Bank of America® a good bank?

    2. Do you think this person’s experience is “typical?” Why? Maybe it is typical but maybe not. Their own experience might be very different.

    3. Do you think the company chose this person? How do you know? Each company may have chosen the first 2 statements because they were a success. In the case of the Seymour773, a competing company may have chosen his experience to make them appear better.

    4. What about all the other people? How many were successes, how many failures? We don’t know for sure.

    5. How could we answer such questions? Collect data!

  6. Inform students that the statements are called testimonials and they are examples of anecdotes. Anecdotes are stories that someone tells about his/her own experience or the experience of someone he/she knows. Anecdotes are good for some things like witness statements in a police report but are not useful for reaching conclusions about groups of people because the assumptions they are based on are not always true. Their claims are easily debunked. Many anecdotes do not equal data.

    Note to teacher about witness statements: Lots of evidence suggests that witness testimony needs to be examined very closely. "As perhaps the single most effective method of proving the elements of a crime, eyewitness testimony has been vital to the trial process for centuries. However, the reliability of eyewitness testimony has recently come into question with the work of organizations such as The Innocence Project, which works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted. This thesis examines previous experiments concerning eyewitness testimony as well as court cases in which eyewitnesses provided vital evidence in order to determine the reliability of eyewitness testimony as well as to determine mitigating or exacerbating factors contributing to a lack of reliability." Information gathered from

  7. On the other hand, data are a series of observations, measurements, or facts. Data are information and tell a story.

  8. Quickly survey students about whether the video they watched at the beginning of class is based on anecdotes or data. Then inform students that they will analyze two articles to find out if their claims are based on anecdotes or data.

  9. Students will read one of two articles, Miracle at the KK Cafe or Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation? to analyze whether the claims each makes are based on anecdotes or data. The articles can be found at the following links or in the LMR folder:

    Miracle at KK Café

    Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation?

  10. Ask students to number themselves off as 1 or 2. Students whose number is 1 will read Miracle at KK Café and those whose number is 2 will read Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation?

  11. Ask students to find a partner with the same number.

  12. Before reading, ask students what they think their article will be about. Have students pair-share their thoughts.

  13. During reading, students will take turns reading each paragraph out loud to each other. The student listening will verbally summarize what his/her partner just read.

  14. After reading, student pairs will answer the following questions in their DS Journals:

    1. What was the article about?

    2. What claim(s) was/were this article making? Cite examples from the article.

    3. Was this article based on anecdotes or data? Cite examples from the article.

    4. How believable are the claims?

  15. After answering the questions, students will find a partner with a different number. Each student will report to their new partner the following information about the article he/she read:

    1. The name and publisher of the article.

    2. His/her response to the four questions in their DS journal.

  16. Quickly survey students about which article was based more on anecdotes and which one was based more on data. Ask a couple of students to explain their choices and give examples.

    Miracle at KK Café makes claims that are anecdotal. Students may cite a customer’s claim as an example of an anecdote. Can Trophy Hunting Actually Help Conservation? uses data to make their claims. Students may refer to a statistic used in the article as an example.

  17. Class discussion: Data Beat Anecdotes! Ask students to come up with reasons why this statement is true. Have them come up with situations where you have to have an anecdote. For example, if asked what it’s like to walk on the moon, only a few people would be able to tell us.

Class Scribes:

One team of students will give a brief talk to discuss what they think the 3 most important topics of the day were.


Students will do a Last Word Review for the words DATA and ANECDOTE.

Last Word Review: Write the word vertically. Students come up with a word or phrase for each letter of the word. Each letter of the word should summarize something about what the students learned about the topic.