2021 Census Teacher's Kit—Activity 4: 92 years from now

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2021 Census Teacher's Kit—Activity 4: 92 years from now (PDF, 134 KB)


Senior-level students will investigate some of the questions asked in the census, using the 2016 Census as a tool. They will think critically about the census questionnaire and consider how information gathered from the census would be useful to past and future generations. They will also be asked to create their own census questions.

Estimated completion time: Up to 90 minutes
Suggested grade level: Grades 10 to 12 (Secondary 3 to 5)


  • Become familiar with the kinds of questions asked in the census.
  • Think critically about why particular questions are asked.
  • Consider and craft questions to gather additional information about the Canadian population.

Subject-specific learning objectives

Language and communication

  • Identify and analyze perspectives in text and comment on questions they raise about beliefs, values, identity and power.
  • Write for a particular purpose and audience.

Social studies

  • Understand that governments and other decision-making bodies evolve over time and are shaped by the traditions and pressures of the communities they govern.
  • Formulate research questions.
  • Investigate demographic trends and how data about the life patterns of individuals are obtained.
  • Use appropriate information technology to access or transmit information (e.g., surveys).



  • None




A collection of information from every household in a country, on topics that are important to that country, that is used to help all levels of government, businesses, associations, community organizations and many others make decisions.
Census of Population
An enumeration of every household and person in Canada, conducted once every five years. Topics include age, marital status, household members and languages spoken.
Census questionnaire
A written series of questions intended to gather specific information about all household members.
All personal information collected in the census is protected by law. Statistics Canada does not release any information that could identify individuals or households without their consent.
The completion of a census questionnaire at home, online, on paper, by telephone, or with the help of an enumerator.
A person whose job is to collect census data directly from the population. Enumerators also contact households that have not returned their census questionnaire online or by mail.

Part 1: Getting started (15 to 30 minutes)

1. Gather and show students images of their region 100 years ago. As a class, discuss the images and ask students how they think life would have been different or similar for everyday Canadians in that period.

2. Provide students with the What is the Census of Population? handout and give them a few minutes to read the text and summarize with a partner.

3. Tell students that census information provides a snapshot of people living in Canada, on one particular day, every five years. Every household in Canada is required by law to complete it, and Statistics Canada is required by law to keep individual results confidential. Information obtained through previous censuses can be used to learn about people living in Canada in the past, and information from the most recent census can be used to help make decisions that will affect people living in Canada in the future.

4. Encourage students to consider the lives of Canadians at a time when their great-grandparents were alive, 92 years ago. What would they like to know about the life of everyday Canadians 92 years ago? What do they think their own great-grandchildren might like to know about everyday Canadians in 2021?

Part 2: Activity (30 minutes)

5. Divide the class into small groups and provide them with the Summary of census topics handout.

Ask groups to consider which questions are important to their classmates and to rank the questions in order of relevance or interest.

Discussion questions

  • What information are these particular questions designed to collect?
  • Do all of the questions apply to you and your classmates? Which ones seem more or less relevant?
  • If a question is not relevant to you now, will it be relevant to you in five years? Ten years?

6. Draw attention to the topic of consent at the bottom of the summary. In 2016, census respondents had to specify whether they wanted to give Statistics Canada permission to release confidential information after 92 years.

Discussion questions

  • Would you have said yes or no? Why?

Part 3: Consolidation of learning (30 minutes)

7. Using the Census question worksheet handout, ask students to work individually or in pairs to define five topics they feel should be represented in the census data for 2021.

8. From these five options, ask each student to select three topics and write clear, concise and objective questions to obtain the desired information. Encourage students to consider what makes an effective or useful question.

Considerations for writing survey questions

  • Does this question presuppose information? Is it open-ended? Is it objective?
  • Is what I'm asking clear? Will people reading the question know what I want from them?
  • Does the question solicit useful information?

9. When they have completed their list of questions, ask students to pair up and test their questions. Partners should answer each other's questions, provide feedback about whether the questions were effective, and make suggestions about how questions might be improved. Be sure to give students time to reword and refine their questions, based on feedback from their peers.


If students require additional support, try the following:

  • Some students may need to see example questions before they are able to create and test their own. You can provide them with sample questions from the 2016 Census long-form questionnaire.

If students require an additional challenge, try the following:

  • Ask students to investigate previous census data to determine whether topics similar to theirs have ever been included in any form of the census questionnaire. If the information has not, to date, been included, ask students to speculate on trends in responses to the question for 5, 10 or 15 years in the future.
    Data gathered from previous census questionnaires and other surveys conducted by Statistics Canada can be searched by topic, year, region, etc.
    Statistics Canada encourages people to download and reuse data provided in its socioeconomic database.

Next steps

To continue this activity, try the following:

  • Have students examine how census questions have changed as Canada and its population have changed. Provide sample questions from past census questionnaires (5, 10 or 50 years old) and have students try to guess which era the questions are from. Have them create a poster with a comparison chart of data trends for questions of interest.
  • Have students investigate the history of the census; the data it provides; and how it is used by organizations, media outlets, researchers and policy makers. Have students consult the highlights and analysis of 2016 Census data; reflect on interesting or surprising findings; and discuss how they relate to those findings personally or, in the long-term, professionally.
  • Create a survey from student questions and use free online survey tools to collect data, using the questions, from a sample population within the community. If collecting data from people in the local community, ensure that respondents are aware that their participation is voluntary and that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in an informal survey.
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