What are Graphic Organizers?
As educators we are aware of the different ways students are able to learn. It’s why we don’t just stand at the top of the classroom each day and lecture. Students, especially school-aged students, need a variety of stimuli in the classroom. They need a range of strategies to experiment with to find the best ways for them to complete a set task. Graphic organizers are a great strategy to add to their toolbox.
So, what exactly is a graphic organizer? Simply put, a graphic organizer is a means of organizing information by expressing concepts, knowledge, thoughts and ideas in a visual manner. As a student fills in their graphic organizer, links and relationships between concepts are displayed. Generally, graphic organizers are used as instructional tools and to facilitate learning. Some well known types of graphic organizer include mind maps, Venn diagrams, story maps, and compare and contrast charts.
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What Are the Benefits of Using Graphic Organizers in the Classroom?
There are an impressive number of advantages to using graphic organizers in the classroom. Just a few of these are listed below:
Makes content easier to understand and therefore easier to remember
Helps student filter information down to what is really important
Encourages students to become more strategic in their learning which well help in their future studies
Helps students display their understanding of taught material and therefore can provide useful assessment information to inform planning
Improves focus as it helps students organize their information and see relationships between ideas
In this article we will take a look at a few ways you can use graphic organizers with your students to improve their reading and their writing.
How Can Students Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Reading?
1. KWL Chart
Using a KWL Chart is a great way to connect prior learning to new learning. It encourages students to review what they have learned on a given topic and consider what further learning they would like to develop on the topic before they undertake a piece of reading. When the student has completed their reading task they then record what they have learned from the reading. The template for a KWL Chart will look something like this:
What I Know
What I Want to Learn
What I Have Learned
2. Story Sequence
A major aspect of reading comprehension relies on the reader following the sequence of events as they occur. This is true whether we are discussing genres from fairytales to chronological reports. Story sequence graphic organizers present a text in a jumbled series that the student must read and organize into a logical sequence before sticking onto a sheet or long strip of paper. The text may be displayed as purely illustrations, or as illustrations and text, depending on the level of the students. This activity helps students internalize the structure of the genre focused on and will help bridge to later independent writing activities.
From reading to writing…
A nonfiction application can also be made called a Sequence Chart. This consists of a series of rows beginning with the topic identified in the first row with the steps to be taken to complete task to be filled below in chronological order. The sequence chart is a great prep activity for instruction writing.
3. Vocabulary Box
Reading is a surefire way to help build a wide and varied vocabulary. But often there aren’t enough contextual clues to help students figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word. Often they will look it up in a dictionary or online only to forget the meaning before they have even returned to their reading. Vocabulary Boxes are a superb way for students to really get to grips with new vocabulary. A Vocabulary Box is a simple graphic organizer that lays out a part grid for a student to record essential details when they look up a new word, including definition, part of speech, example sentence, and illustration (usually their own drawing). This can be set as an accompanying homework to reading and helps students engage in a type of active reading that is much more effective in building vocabulary.
How Can Students Use Graphic Organizers to Improve Writing?
3. The Hamburger Paragraph
This organizer helps students get their ideas into a cohesive shape before beginning formal writing in earnest. It consists of the three main aspects of a paragraph represent visually as a hamburger - mmmm, yum! This concrete display of structure is very useful in approaching the often challenging and unwieldy task of writing a paragraph or essay.
The first part, the top bun, corresponds to the introduction or the topic sentence that indicates to the reader what the paragraph is essentially about. The following supporting sentences are
represented by the filling of the hamburger where supporting ideas and information are listed. The final bottom bun represents the paragraph’s conclusion. The notes here will help the student later write sentences that restate the topic sentence, summarize the ideas, and bring closure to the paragraph as a whole.
4. The 5 W’s and an H
This simple organizer helps students organize their thoughts when undertaking a piece of journalistic writing such as a report. It divides the sheet into sections to jot down initial ideas based on the questions every journalist worth their salt strives to answer: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How?
This graphic organizer leads the student from answering the more straightforward factual questions such as who and when before leading them organically into the more complex questions of how and why. Structuring notes this way encourages students to organize their information and thoughts on that information before beginning the writing process. This is helpful in producing a unified piece of writing that builds logically as it climbs the ladder of abstraction from the purely factual to the more abstract and universal.
Do-It-Yourself Graphic Organizing
Open any word-processing application from Microsoft Word and Pages to Google Docs and Open Office and you’ll find a host of ready made free writing templates. In essence, these too are graphic organizers that help you to perform a number functions; anything from writing a resumé to drafting a business report. You can also use these word-processing to design your own graphic organizers for your student. For example, if you want to produce an organizer for a particular writing genre, simply take a look at the specific criteria of that genre, draw out the various headings or related writing prompts and create a corresponding table in your word-processing program. You can add graphic, images, colorful tables and fonts. Making your own graphic organizer allows you to tailor your template for the specific needs of your students and relate it exactly to your own teaching methodologies.
Use Graphic Organizers to Bring Learning to Life!
We have only just touched the tip of the graphic-berg. With the ubiquity of computers in all aspects of our lives, we have at our fingertips a wealth of free and commercially available tools to help us use sophisticated graphic organizers to bring learning to life for our students. However, not all graphic organizers need to be made to the highest of production standards. Sometime a simple table scratched onto a piece of scrap paper can help a student slide that missing jigsaw piece of understanding firmly into place. The key to using graphic organizers in the classroom is to find ways to encourage our students to discover the best ways for them to learn - tooling them up to be self-directed learners for life!