As teachers, we are always looking for instructional tools that can positively impact student engagement and comprehension across all grade levels and subject areas. One such tool is the graphic organizer. Designed to help students visualize the relationships among ideas and concepts, graphic organizers can “offer an entry point into complex material…increase comprehension and retention, and can be used with all students, ranging from gifted and talented to those with cognitive disabilities.” Students can use graphic organizers to interact with instructional content to create meaning. However, as with all instructional tools, the value of graphic organizers is dependent upon how and why they are used. Here are some basic guidelines to keep in mind when using graphic organizers.
When introducing graphic organizers into your lesson, be sure to communicate why they are being used. Some common reasons for using graphic organizers include:
- Activating prior knowledge
- Creating a framework for new information
- Organizing one’s thoughts about a topic or concept
- Indicating key information to be remembered
- Engaging students in drawing conclusions
- Highlighting key relationships between concepts or ideas
- Clarifying student’s thoughts prior to group or class discussions.
Whatever your reason for using a graphic organizer, be sure that the students are clear on the purpose and what your expectations are for their use of this tool.
Teach to the Tool.
Just as students need to know why they are using the graphic organizer, they also need to know how to use the tool. Be sure to clarify your expectations: what are the students required to do? Does this organizer require student brainstorming? Do students need to refer to the text? Are students making inferences based on what they know? The more frequently you use a particular type of graphic organizer, the more comfortable students will be when using it.
Graphic organizers are most effective when they are used to highlight a specific set of relationships. The more complex the organizer becomes, the less likely it is that students will make the desired connections or retain the connections they do make. As you design your graphic organizer, keep it focused on essential information. Be sure relationships are clearly defined (and labeled when appropriate). Avoid extraneous graphics, extended instructions or other elements that may distract the students from the purpose of the organizer.
Use Across the Instructional Spectrum.
Graphic organizers are tools that can be used across all aspects of instruction. They can be used as instructional hooks, as guided practice during instruction, as a way for students to formulate their thoughts prior to an in class activity or discussion, or even as formative or summative assessments. The more familiar students are with using graphic organizers in a multitude of ways, the more benefit they may glean from them.
For more information about using graphic organizers and for sample organizers that can be printed or modified for use, check out the following resources below:
- “Graphic Organizers: Guiding Principles and Effective Practices.” http://education.wm.edu/centers/ttac/documents/packets/graphicorganizers.pdf
- “Graphic Organizers.” Education Oasis. http://www.educationoasis.com/printables/graphic-organizers/
- “Graphic Organizers.” Scholastic. http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/sites/default/files/asset/file/graphic_organizers.pdf
Becky Hunsberger, M.Ed.
Coordinator of Teacher Education
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 A graphic organizer is a visual representation used to help students see relationships among ideas within a text or surrounding concept. They provide structure for abstract ideas. Examples of graphic organizers include concept maps, flow charts, venn diagrams, etc.
 Mentoring Minds. “Research on Graphic Organizers.” https://www.mentoringminds.com/pdf/pdfGraphicOrganizersResearch.pdf. pg. 2.