K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Quito's Old City with a view of the statue of the Virgin of Quito

Quito's Old City with a view of the statue of the Virgin of Quito. (Photograph by Margery H. Freeman. More about the photograph)

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This activity may seem challenging, but with careful planning it offers a valuable way to incorporate many curricula objectives as well as various learning levels. Creating population pyramids provides a chance to see how population issues challenge the world.

By looking at North Carolina’s population pyramid and growth issues with those of other places in the world, teachers can connect a global issue to a more local level so students can better grasp the idea of globalization.

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Related pages

  • Ecuador: A land of climate diversity: In this lesson, students will create climate graphs and analyze photographs to investigate the various types of climate in Ecuador and the interactions between climate and human culture. The lesson plan is designed to be adapted to the study of various countries.
  • Threads through South America: Weaving in Ecuador: This lesson for grade six takes a look at the weaving and textiles created in the Andes of Ecuador in and near the town of Otavalo. In addition to learning about Ecuadorian weaving, students may also create their own woven artifact.
  • Majestic peaks: Mountains of North Carolina and Ecuador: In this lesson, students analyze two photographs: one of the mountains of Ecuador and one of the mountains of Western North Carolina. Students then analyze the two photographs together to gain an understanding of the two regions' similarities and differences.

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In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of a country, it’s important to learn about its human geography. Studying demographics leads to an understanding of the dynamic nature of population growth and decline in our world. In this lesson students will learn to use and make a population pyramid for Ecuador. Students will also analyze population data for Ecuador (such as gender and age groups) to make predictions about future issues for that country.

This lesson will look specifically at Ecuador, but it can be modified or extended to apply to any country that has disaggregated population data available. I use this activity in my class’ study of human geography, which includes looking at where people live and why they live there, population trends, and human migration. This activity is appropriate for middle and high school classes and can be modified for students with learning challenges.

Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • learn to read a population pyramid
  • learn to create a population pyramid using data from the United States Census Bureau
  • learn to analyze a population pyramid and make predictions about the future impacts of population growth and decline
  • learn important vocabulary concerning population
  • learn to analyze photos related to population in Ecuador

Teacher preparation

Time required for lesson

One to two 60-minute class periods (120 min.+) If students are simply analyzing an already completed population pyramid and related photographs, one 60-minute period may be sufficient. If modifications and extensions are used, more time may be needed.

Materials needed

  • Graph paper (if students will complete the graph activity)
  • Colored pencils
  • Ruler
  • Computer with projector and internet access
  • Population pyramid for Ecuador (Note: This can be found on the International Data Base on the US Census Bureau’s website.)
  • Disaggregated numeric population data for Ecuador (Note: You can find this by downloading the data used in the graph as an excel file - located beneath the pyramid for Ecuador at the link above.)
  • Photos of Ecuador from the LEARN NC multimedia collection
  • Photo analysis sheet to be used with analysis of population photos
  • Optional: Computer for each student
  • Optional: Printer (Necessary if you decide to print copies of population pyramids or disaggregated data for students.)


Before using this lesson in your class, it’s necessary to have a basic familiarity with population pyramids.

What is a population pyramid?

A population pyramid is a graphical representation of the various age groups of a population. It consists of two horizontal bar graphs that originate on a vertical axis in the center of the graph paper. Each bar on the graph represents an age group — e.g. birth to four years, 5 to 9 years, etc. The graph is divided in the middle by gender, with the left side of the pyramid showing the male population by age group, and the right showing the female population by age group.

The graphs are called “pyramids” because a typical age-sex diagram of a country’s population is pyramid-shaped, with a larger bottom representing the younger members of the population and a smaller top representing the older members of the population. Typically, developing countries exhibit a truer pyramid shape while developed countries tend to have a more squared base. This is due to many factors including health care and immigration.

Before getting started

Familiarize yourself and your students with Ecuador using websites such as the CIA World Factbook, the website of the Embassy of Ecuador in Washington, DC, or other online sites. Locate Ecuador on a map — using Google Earth software would be an excellent place to start.

Make sure your students also have some background knowledge and basic understanding about world population and migration and a familiarity with reading and creating bar graphs.

If you will have students create their own graphs as a part of this lesson, you may want to print the numeric data for Ecuador from the International Data Base on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website before beginning the lesson. Select the country (Ecuador) and the year for which you want data. After you submit the query click on “Population Pyramids,” located across the top of the returned results. Below the pyramids, you have the option of downloading the data in an excel spreadsheet. This will give you the raw numeric data based on gender and age group. You may choose to print this or to first put it into a more user-friendly form for students to turn into graphs (population pyramids).

You may also want to show, discuss, and model examples of the data and finished pyramids for various countries from the U.S. Census Bureau site so that students will have a better understanding of the completed graphs.

Finally, before beginning the lesson, you may want to introduce the vocabulary terms that will be used. (See critical vocabulary section below.)

Activity one: Creating a population pyramid

Part I: Graphing

  1. After completing the pre-activities section, give students copies of the numeric population data for Ecuador, or have students look up the information on the Information Data Base on the U.S. Census Bureau’s website. (Note: This would be a good time to show examples of completed population pyramids as a model for students.)
  2. Distribute materials (graph paper, colored pencils, rulers, etc.) for students to complete the population pyramid.
  3. Remind students that graphs should have a title, correct labels, and appropriate intervals for measurement. If you repeat this activity using data from other countries, remind students that each country may need to have a different interval based on the country’s total population.
  4. Instruct students to complete one gender and one age group at a time. Each age group should have the same color for both male and female bars.

Part II: Analysis and interpretation

Population pyramids are used by many professions to help plan for future needs on local, state, national, and international levels. Population pyramids, when carefully studied, can help show future population trends.

  1. Once students have completed their population pyramids, encourage them to analyze the data more closely by asking questions about the pyramids. If you’re modifying this activity to use data from various countries, you may ask students to compare their pyramids with those of their classmates. This can be done verbally or through written responses, or using a combination of both. Encourage students to use evidence from their graphs to support their answers.

    Questions to consider are:

    • What age groups make up the largest part of the population? The smallest?
    • Which gender has the highest population numbers? Why do you think so? (Females tend to have higher population numbers due to their general longer life expectancies, as well as other socio-economic factors.)
    • What trends may be predicted for the population over the next 20 to 50 years? Do you expect to have more people in older age groups?
    • If you have researched migration, life expectancy, and other population features, what do you expect to happen in this country in the next 25 to 50 years? Will the population pyramid still be a pyramid or more like a box?
    • What effect on population would better housing, income, medicine/health care have on the overall population? (Answers may include that better health care would result in longer life expectancy and more population in older age groups.)
    • What effects do immigration and emigration have on the country’s population? (Answers may include that more people moving into a country will increase the population while more people leaving will decrease the population if births and deaths are also high.)
    • What challenges are faced by countries that have an older population that outnumbers the younger population? (Answers may include that there are high demands for medical and nursing facilities, labor shortages, and a high demand for government programs for the elderly.)
    • What are some challenges both developed and developing countries will have in the future with growing populations? (Answers may include environmental concerns, transportation concerns, growing medical needs, growing demands for education, shortages of resources, and shortages of housing.)

Activity two: Photo analysis

  1. Choose a photo from the selection related to population in Ecuador, such as a photo showing an individual or a group of people in an Ecuadorian setting (a city, a farm, etc.) Have students complete the photo analysis sheet or create your own photo analysis questions that engage students in higher levels of thinking such as those found in Bloom’s Taxonomy. (LEARN NC provides many professional articles on photo analysis and Bloom’s Taxonomy. See the links in the “Learn More” section in the sidebar if you would like to read further on these topics.) Encourage students to make connections between the photos they analyze and the information they have researched and created related to population and population pyramids in the pre-activities and Activity One in this lesson. Acknowledge students making connections — this shows higher levels of thinking!
  2. After completing the analysis, have students share and discuss their answers and thoughts about the photo. Guide students in the discussion about the cultural aspects revealed, such as modern versus traditional methods (Is modern necessarily better?), appreciation of diverse cultures and traditional methods, and the preservation of traditional ways of life. Discuss with students the impact of population trends on rural and urban ways of life, the environment, and cultural characteristics as a whole. Remind students to not make judgments of people based on their living situations.


You, the teacher, are the best judge of your students’ learning levels and abilities.

  • Assess student responses and adjust questioning and activities as needed.
  • Students can be graded on completeness of work.
  • You may also gauge students’ level of thinking and understanding of photographs through the photo analysis activities and the ability of students to completely and thoughtfully answer questions on various levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. It is encouraged to have students use photo analysis activities several times throughout the year to help students create a “habit of learning” on what to look for when analyzing photographs and documents.
  • Learning rubrics can be developed through Rubistar. When creating a rubric for this activity, you may want to include areas such as “completeness of bar/line graph,” “correct intervals and measurements used,” and “connections between graphs and photographs made.” Using a rubric is good in that it does not totally negate the work students do on their graphing if they do not do well on their drawing connections to the photographs.


  • Instead of focusing on just one country, such as Ecuador, divide your class into small groups and assign a different country to each group. Have the groups research topics related to population for that country, such as birth rates, migration rates, life expectancy, etc, and create a population pyramid for their assigned country. Bring the class together in a discussion of how the countries compare and contrast.
  • You may find it interesting to compare population statistics of countries with those of North Carolina. The U.S. Census Bureau provides a “State and County QuickFacts” section, and a population projections page where you can find a population pyramid of North Carolina. When using this modification, emphasize to students that the land area of a country does not necessarily correspond to the total population. For example, Russia is the largest country in the world, but its population is smaller than that of China and the United States.

Modifications and alternative assessments

This lesson plan has a wide audience range. Individual teachers know their class populations best. The activities in this lesson plan can and should be modified to the needs of individual students.

  • The amount of time allowed to complete these activities is a primary way of modifying this lesson. Providing students with a completed graph instead of having them make their own graph is another possibility for modifying the assignment and reducing the time needed to complete the tasks.
  • Students who have difficulty with graphing may be given a black line copy of the pyramid to color individual bars. This will help them engage in the assignment without becoming frustrated over creating numerous bars.
  • Peer grouping while pairing lower-level learners with higher-level learners is a possible alternative. You can still use learning rubrics in mixed peer groups.
  • You can also modify the questioning in the graph analysis and photo analysis activities in this lesson based on the level of Bloom’s Taxonomy at which you find your students. However, don’t be afraid to challenge your students with higher levels of questioning and thinking.

Critical vocabulary

Note: Some of the following definitions come from the CIA World Factbook

a count of the total population of a given location
the total number of people in a location
birth rate
the average number of births in a year per 1,000 people
death rate
the average number of deaths in a year per 1,000 people
life expectancy
the average number, in years, that a member of a population lives
male or female
population pyramid
a graph showing the breakdown of the population of a state or country into gender and age groups
the act of coming into a country from another country to settle and live there
the act of leaving a country to settle someplace else
population growth rate
the annual percent change in the population when births, deaths, and migrants are factored in; can be a positive or negative number
ethnic group
a group of people sharing a common and distinctive culture, religion, language, etc.


  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 7

        • 7.G.1 Understand how geography, demographic trends, and environmental conditions shape modern societies and regions. 7.G.1.1 Explain how environmental conditions and human response to those conditions influence modern societies and regions (e.g. natural barriers,...
        • 7.G.2 Apply the tools of a geographer to understand modern societies and regions. 7.G.2.1 Construct maps, charts, and graphs to explain data about geographic phenomena (e.g. migration patterns and population and resource distribution patterns). 7.G.2.2 Use...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 2: The learner will explore and analyze information from a variety of sources.
    • Objective 2.01: Explore informational materials that are read, heard, and/or viewed by:
      • monitoring comprehension for understand of what is read, heard, and/or viewed.
      • studying the characteristics of informational works.
      • restating and summarizing information.
      • determining the importance and accuracy of information.
      • making connections between works, self and related topics/information.
      • comparing and/or contrasting information.
      • drawing inferences and/or conclusions.
      • generating questions.

Mathematics (2004)

Grade 6

  • Goal 5: Algebra - The learner will demonstrate an understanding of simple algebraic expressions.
    • Objective 5.04: Use graphs, tables, and symbols to model and solve problems involving rates of change and ratios.

Science (2005)

Grade 6

  • Goal 1: The learner will design and conduct investigations to demonstrate an understanding of scientific inquiry.
    • Objective 1.09: Use technologies and information systems to:
      • Research.
      • Gather and analyze data
      • Visualize data.
      • Disseminate findings to others.

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 6

  • Goal 1: The learner will use the five themes of geography and geographic tools to answer geographic questions and analyze geographic concepts.
    • Objective 1.01: Create maps, charts, graphs, databases, and models as tools to illustrate information about different people, places and regions in South America and Europe.
    • Objective 1.02: Generate, interpret, and manipulate information from tools such as maps, globes,charts, graphs, databases, and models to pose and answer questions about space and place, environment and society, and spatial dynamics and connections.
    • Objective 1.03: Use tools such as maps, globes, graphs, charts, databases, models, and artifacts to compare data on different countries of South America and Europe and to identify patterns as well as similarities and differences among them.
  • Goal 2: The learner will assess the relationship between physical environment and cultural characteristics of selected societies and regions of South America and Europe.
    • Objective 2.02: Describe factors that influence changes in distribution patterns of population, resources, and climate in selected regions of South America and Europe and evaluate their impact on the environment.
  • Goal 3: The learner will analyze the impact of interactions between humans and their physical environments in South America and Europe.
    • Objective 3.01: Identify ways in which people of selected areas in South America and Europe have used, altered, and adapted to their environments in order to meet their needs, and evaluate the impact of their actions on the development of cultures and regions.