Venn diagrams are a useful tool for sorting data, and one that your students should know how to read and create. When teaching Venn diagrams, start with the basics:
Explain that Venn diagrams use overlapping shapes (usually circles) to show relationships. Each circle contains a set. Where the circles overlap, the two sets have something in common.
Teaching Venn diagrams by getting kids into them
Make two large, overlapping circles on the ground with tape or string. Write labels for each on a sheet of paper and place it in the circle. Label one Apples and one Grapes. Ask students who like apples to step into the apple circle. Ask students who like grapes to step into the grape circle.
Ask: What if you like both?
If students don’t notice it, point out the overlapping section. That is where people who like both grapes and apples belong.
Ask: What if you don’t like either?
Students may realize that they should stand outside of both circles.
You can add a third circle, say one labeled bananas. Ask students to find the right space for themselves with this new category.
Check understanding by looking at where they are standing and asking: Julian, you like grapes and apples, but not bananas. Is that right? If where the student is standing and what they like, match up, move on. If not, help them find the spot that matches their own likes.
More ways to make teaching Venn diagrams fun
After you are done teaching Venn diagram basics, let them play with Venn diagrams some more.
Use two hula hoops to make a Venn diagram on the floor or on a large table. Give students a group of objects and ask them to sort them into two categories, with some overlap. For students who need more support, label the circles. For students who could use more challenge, have them come up with the categories.
For example, if you gave them blocks of different shapes and colors, they could choose how to sort them. For example, they might put blue shapes in one circle and squares in another. They would place blue squares in the intersect. Any blocks that were not blue or square, such as a red triangle, would be placed outside the circles.
If students do not have any overlaps, ask them to think about why. Often it will be because they chose two mutually exclusive categories such as Red and Blue or Triangle and Square.
To extend other math learning, you can have students sort numbers based on what they know. For example, label the two hoops Factors of 12 and Even Numbers Up to 12.
Give students cards with numbers 1–12. Have them put the cards in the right places. In the Factors of 12, no overlap, they should place 1 and 3. In the Even Numbers, no overlap, they should place 8 and 10. In the overlap section, they should place 2, 4, 6, 12.
Try this with other factors, doubles facts, or any other number sets that work with other math you have been doing in class.
Have students gather data in a survey about a topic they’re interested in (two kinds of pizza or ice cream students like, two sports, etc.), and then plot the data in a Venn diagram.
First students should come up with their question. Remind students that it is not an either/or survey. Even if given two choices, survey participants may like or do both things—or none. Students can have Yes / No surveys with questions like Do you like tennis? Do you like swimming?
If you have large Venn diagrams set up, like the hula hoop model or the tape on the floor, students can use those to sort their survey papers. Otherwise, suggest they sort by Category A, Category B, both, neither before they create their Venn diagrams.
Students who have a firm grasp on Venn diagrams could include three data points in their survey. Have students include their results with their diagram so that you can see if data is plotted correctly in the diagram.
I love teaching Venn diagrams because they are so versatile. You can have kids practice them with data from any subject that interests them. They can be leveled by including more or fewer categories or through the type of data students are working with, and while a math subject, students will use them in many other subjects as well as a way to sort information and data. So have some fun with them and see how your students learn to sort with them.
For more ideas for teaching Venn diagrams AND a whole lot more math topics, check out the Bumper Book of Fun Math Games and Activities. You get more than 138 pages of math strategies, games and activities suitable for students in grades 1 – 4.
In addition to Venn diagrams, it covers place value, multiplication facts, mental math strategies, polygons, classifying shapes, area, time, making predictions, exploring chance and SO MUCH MORE.