Utilizing Numbers in Reading and Writing about Socially-Conscious Literature

Sun Hee Teresa Lee
Carleton College
Author Profile
This material was developed as part of the Carleton Teaching Activity Collection and is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


In this activity students will be given summaries of data related to Native Americans. The data cover such topics as population, health care, education, and family structure. In the first part of the activity, the students will be asked to apply these numbers to their reading of socially-conscious Native American literature. In class, they will then discuss how their understanding of the literature was influenced by the data summaries, and which particular numbers were more useful than others. In the second part of the activity, the students will discuss and practice incorporating numbers in their critical writing.

Learning Goals

  1. Understand the relevance of numbers in reading socially-conscious literature.
  2. Acquire the skill of choosing relevant numbers for a particular literature.
  3. Learn about the appropriate use of numbers in critical writing.

Context for Use

This activity will be implemented in an upper-division course on Native American literature that emphasizes close-reading as well as interdisciplinary critical approaches. In particular, the activity will be part of a unit on Sherman Alexie's socially-conscious book of short stories "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven." Deeply engaged with such issues as alcoholism, domestic abuse, and poverty in Native American communities, the book lends itself well to the use of data related to social issues. After the students have become familiar with the data summaries and the reading, they will be divided into small groups to identify the data that most clearly related to the reading. They will then share their findings with the rest of the class, at which point the class will discuss the relative value of their findings. Afterwards (perhaps in the next class period) students will be asked to think about how numbers could improve the argumentative quality of their writing. They will be given samples of student writing where quantitative information could have been incorporated with success. Since this activity will occur in the middle of the term, the students would be able to think about how their first writing assignment could have been improved with the use of numbers.

Description and Teaching Materials

Statistical Record of Native North Americans, Marlita A. Reddy, ed., Detroit: Gale, 1993. "Guide to Chapters and Contents," p. xlvii-lxvi.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This activity may be adopted in any lower- or upper-division course where socially-conscious material is taught and writing is emphasized. Depending on class size, the instructor can decide on whether small group work will be best format.


The instructor will see during class discussion how well the students are using the data in their understanding of the literature. Furthermore, the activity will be a stepping stone for a larger research project, where students will be encouraged to use quantitative material in their argumentation. The instructor will assess the extent to which numbers played a role in their research papers.

References and Resources