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How much is lots?

By David, 25 March 2013 Activity

Almost everyone uses the word lots, but what does it mean exactly? the only way to find out is to ask people!

You will need

What you will need.

What you will need.

  • Pen or pencil
  • Printouts of the survey sheet. [.PDF, 8 kB]
  • Some paper that you can rip into small pieces or a printout of this counter sheet. [.PDF, 12 kB]
  • A bag that isn’t clear
  • Clipboard (optional)
  • Several people to interview (maybe four or five)
  • 20 counters

Preparing the survey

  1. Before you do this activity, you’ll need to prepare the survey sheets. Start by ripping a sheet of paper into 20 small pieces and then number them from 1 to 20. Put these pieces of paper into the bag.
    Folding the numbered pieces of paper in half will mean you can't peek, and make the numbers more random.

    Folding the numbered pieces of paper in half will mean you can’t peek, and make the numbers more random.

  2. Print out one survey sheet for each of the people you are going to interview.
  3. Pull one of the pieces of paper out of the bag and write the number from the paper in the first box of the ‘counters taken’ column. Keep pulling numbers out of the bag and writing them down in the ‘counters taken’ boxes until you run out of boxes to write in. Then put the numbered scraps of paper back into the bag.
  4. Using this process, make one survey sheet for each person you will be interviewing. The sheets will probably have different numbers on them – this is supposed to happen.
  5. Find a place that is private to conduct the survey. Put the counters in a pile so you can use them in the survey.

Doing the survey

Write down the numbers you draw on the survey sheet.

Write down the numbers you draw on the survey sheet.

  1. Gather everyone together and say: Thank you for helping me with this activity. I will be asking each of you a few questions individually. There are no wrong answers. If you don’t want to answer a question, you don’t have to.
  2. Ask for a volunteer to go first.
  3. Take the volunteer away so that the other people can’t hear you asking questions.
  4. Read the text at the top of your survey sheet so your volunteer knows what they are doing. Then, look at the first number you wrote on the survey sheet. Remove that many counters from the pile, and ask your volunteer to respond. Record their response, and then return the counters to the pile.
  5. For each of the remaining numbers on the survey sheet, remove that number of counters from the pile, and ask your volunteer to respond. Then record their response on the sheet.
    Take away the number of counters indicated, and then write down the responses.

    Take away the number of counters indicated, and then write down the responses.

  6. Once you have done all the numbers, thank the volunteer, and let them go.
  7. Repeat this questioning process with each of the remaining volunteers.
  8. Once you have asked all the volunteers, look at their answers. Are they all the same? Can you draw any conclusions based on the answers?

What’s happening?

It’s important to remember that there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. Even if all of your friends decide that three is a few and eight is lots, someone else can still say that eight is a few. There are times when either answer is right.

Words like few, many and lots are called quantifiers. They tell you how many there is, but they don’t give you a precise number, like five or 100. They are really useful when you only need to have a feel for the amount of things.

The value of lots can change depending on what’s being measured. Lots of people at your birthday party might be 20, lots of people at a football match could be 20 000.

Applications

Depending on how you ask your friends about the meaning of ‘lots’, their answers might change. There is no right or wrong answer, so your friend’s response might depend on what they were talking about five minutes ago, or how they are feeling. If they heard someone else answer, they might copy them, so they don’t get it wrong – even if there’s no wrong answer!

Sometimes these things can change peoples’ answers to other question, too. Scientists and statisticians often need to ask people questions to help with their research. They have to make sure they ask the right questions, in the right way, so that they get useful answers.

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