Hypothesizing with Venn Diagrams

Luke Houghton, British Hills

Quick Guide

  • Keywords: Whole class, question formation, reasoning, hypothesizing
  • Learner English Level: Intermediate and above
  • Learner maturity: High school and above
  • Preparation time: N/A
  • Activity time: 40-60 minutes
  • Materials: Blank A3 paper, coloured markers (optional)

In this communicative activity, students create a relational hypothesis, survey, and a visual representation of their results using Venn diagrams to identify relations between a collection of factors or sets. The class begins with a model example regarding jobs/hobbies, leading into student-led creation of hypotheses and surveys. These results can then be discussed and extended into presentations.


No preparation.


Step 1: Put students into pairs.

Step 2: Explain that pairs will make a hypothesis, which is a proposed explanation made using limited evidence as a starting point for further investigation. Give and elicit some examples to check comprehension, for example, “If you study English, you like Disney movies,” or “People who live in the countryside own cars.”

Step 3: Model an example with the class. Write “When someone has a part-time job, they don’t have time for hobbies” on the board. Ask if they agree with this hypothesis.

Step 4: Hand out A3 paper to pairs, and ask them to draw three overlapping circles (Appendix A).

Step 5: Have pairs label one circle “plays an instrument,” one “plays a sport,” and one “has a part-time job.”

Step 6: Demonstrate collecting data by approaching a student and asking, “Do you play an instrument?”, “Do you play a sport?”, and “Do you have a part-time job?” and recording their name in the appropriate place.

Step 7: Elicit the necessary questions (you have already demonstrated these) and write on the board.

Step 8: Give pairs 5 minutes to survey as many peers as possible.

Step 9: Once surveys are complete, ask pairs to discuss if their results agree with the hypothesis.

Step 10: Ask one pair to give their answer, using the Venn diagram to visually support their argument. Elicit/provide useful language and make a note on the board. This becomes the model for subsequent pair presentations later on.

Step 11: Ask pairs to make their own hypothesis. Elicit ideas, for example, “People who own cars don’t use buses”, or “If you have an iPhone you get good grades” (see the Appendix).

Step 12: Give pairs time to prepare diagrams and questions. They will likely discover problems in initial attempts, so ensure they have time to resolve these.

Step 13: Give pairs time to survey classmates and analyse the results before forming their arguments.

Step 14: Have pairs report their results to the class, referring to diagrams as visual aids.

Step 15 (optional): Have pairs identify problems with their study, and possible solutions.


Three-circle diagrams elicit more language and discussion, but two-circle diagrams may be appropriate in some cases.

Groups can use Venn diagrams to visualise contrasting discussion points, such as: “Which are better pets, cats or dogs?” with 2 Venn diagrams: one recording the good points of each, and one recording the negative points.


This activity is a good basis for presentations. The diagrams can be used to give an impromptu presentation, and to elicit discussion about the reasons behind any proven/disproven hypothesis. Students could carry out follow-up interviews to discover the reasons for their classmates’ answers.


This activity involves students developing their reasoning and question forming skills and encourages peer cooperation. Students will learn about their classmates and learn how to form arguments supported by evidence. Venn diagrams are an accessible analytical tool that will build confidence for future research projects.


The appendix is available below: