Graphic Organizers

Graphic Organizers


Although children who have been diagnosed with learning disabilities often have executive function weaknesses, studies suggest that executive functioning training may affect the way all children’s brains develop.  Torkel Klingberg, a neuroscientist in Sweden, conducted  a study of children with ADHD.  He found that better working memory skills may reduce ADHD symptoms.  One way to help student’s working memory is with the use of graphic organizers.  Literacy experts, Irene Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (2001) cite that when content is illustrated with diagrams, the information can be maintained by students over a period of time.  Graphic organizers help present knowledge in a meaningful way which help students make connections and  bring clarity to ideas.  Organizers can demonstrate how concepts are linked to prior knowledge.  They are not limited to any particular subject.

 It is important to remember that graphic organizers should not be used as “busy work” or just worksheets that are handed out after a lesson.  A graphic organizer should be used as a tool that helps students organize their thoughts.  The teacher needs to find the correct organizer to fit the learning situation. In the following video, the teacher explains how she has the students supply examples of why they chose certain words to describe specific characters.  This is a good way to use graphic organizers effectively because the students are required to show understanding of what they’ve written.

Graphic Organizers can:

help students plan out writing projects

make it easier for students to classify ideas and communicate

allow students to examine relationships

make it easier to brainstorm

help students increase reading comprehension

show how to break a story into main elements (intro, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion)

help visually show cause and effect

help with note taking

help with organizational skills

help with sequencing

It is important for students to have a way to organize ideas, facts, and concepts.  Graphic organizers help students  generate mental images to go along with information.  This is particularly important for visual learners. Graphic organizers can be used before the learning task or after the material has been presented.  There should be explicit teacher instruction on how to use them or they  may not be effective learning tools (Clements-Davis & Ley, 1991).  Researcher David P. Ausubel  has shown that the mind arranges and stores information in an orderly fashion.  Graphic organizers complement the way our minds store information quite nicely.

It is is crucial that teachers use a graphic organizer that is going to help accomplish the learning goals of their lessons.  Once the graphic organizer is chosen, the teacher should continue to use the same one for future lessons.  Then the students will always understand how to use the organizer, and they can focus their attention on the content of the lesson.

Some examples of graphic organizers:

Organizing a hierarchical set of information is made easier by constructing a Network Tree.

When the information relating to a main idea or theme does not fit into a hierarchy, a Spider Map can help with organization.

 A Problem-Solution Outline helps students to compare different solutions to a problem.

A Sequential Episodic Map is useful for mapping cause and effect.

A Comparative and Contrastive Map can help students to compare and contrast two concepts according to their features.

A Series of Events Chain can help students organize information according to various steps or stages.

A Cycle Map is useful for organizing information that is circular or cyclical, with no absolute beginning or ending.


Ausubel, D. (1963).  The Psychology of Meaningful Verbal Learning.  New York:  Grune & Stratton.

Clements-Davis, G.L, & Ley, T.C. (1991).  Thematic preorganizers and the reading comprehension of tenth-grade world literature students.  Reading Research & Instruction.

Fountas, I., & Pinnell, G. (2001)  Guiding Readers & Writers, Teaching Comprehension, Genre, and Content Literacy.  Portsmouth, NH:  Heinemann.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. brittpuleo
    Mar 22, 2012 @ 01:13:09

    Great post Colleen! I agree that graphic organizers are a great way to aid students in reading comprehension and organizing thoughts. I use them daily with the kiddo I work with, and she benefits greatly from them. The biggest struggle that I have is that she has a difficult time taking her thoughts from a graphic organizer and transferring them to a paragraph in which she needs to add more details. Any suggestions on how to make graphic organizers more valuable in the writing process would be greatly appreciated. One of the biggest points you made was that teachers should stick to a graphic organizer and not continually change it. This was something that I learned quickly because it took a while for my student to get comfortable enough with it before she was able to use it without a lot of expanation.


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