Bad Graphs AKA Truly Unfortunate Representations of Data

Bad graphs, also called “Truly Unfortunate Representations of Data” (ie TURDs) by some funny folks from #mtbos, are a fun but informative way to launch a statistics unit. Christopher Danielson wrote about them here.

I planned this lesson back in August, but only just got to use it with my Algebra class to introduce IM’s Unit 3: Two-Variable Statistics. It was a hit: kids were engaged and giggling.

Here is how I ran the lesson. (Apologies if the scripting is annoying…it’s just how I think through lessons.)


Lesson Slides
Collection of TURDS (mostly mined from #TURData on twitter)

Lesson Launch:

“Today we are going to set the stage for our new unit: Two-Variable Statistics. What comes to mind when you hear the word “statistics”? What do you think we might study?” Minute to think. Turn and talk. Share out. Record their initial ideas on an anchor chart.

Introduce TURDs:

“To get us warmed up for this unit, we are going to spend some time looking at TURDs. (Hopefully I’m not the only one giggling!) TURD is short for Truly Unfortunate Representation of Data. Put your fist in front of your chest, like we are doing a number talk. Here is a TURD.

Give me a thumbs up when you think you see WHY it’s a TURD Share out.

Turn and Talk: Why do you think the creator of the graph might have represented the data like this?”

Potential answers: It was a mistake. Maybe they rounded. Maybe they wanted to get people to think Rick Scott was in the lead.

Main Task:

Kids pick a couple of TURDS to analyze with a partner and answer these two questions:

1. Why is this graph a “truly unfortunate representation of data”? In other words, how is the data being misrepresented?

2.  Do you think the creator might have intentionally misrepresented the data? If so, what message might they have been trying to send?

Here is a way for them record their ideas: Handout

You can either print the TURDS and post them around the room or give each pair of kids a laptop so they can access the collection of TURDs.


  1. Could a few different pairs share which graph they thought was the absolute worst representation of data and why?
  2. Based on the examples you saw today, what are some common ways data gets misrepresented
  3. Why do you think it might be important to study statistics?

I’m hoping for takeaways along the lines of:

Understanding statistics can help us…

– collect, analyze, and represent data as truthfully as possible.
– identify when data is being misrepresented
– avoid being mislead by misrepresentations of data
– have careers that use data
– understand important issues that rely on a lot of data (such as climate change)

Throughout the unit I plan to expose my class to a variety of fields that use statistics by sharing videos of people (especially women and POC) talking about using data in their work.

Wrap Up:

Let kids choose one of these videos to watch.

What am I missing? What can I do better?

Always happy to hear from readers!