Advanced Methods

Graphic Organizers!!

Posted on: March 15, 2011

Definition: Graphic organizers are “a visual and graphic display that depicts the relationships between facts, terms, and or ideas within a learning task” (Nicole Strangman, 2011). Graphic organizers have many other names such as, knowledge maps, concept maps and story maps. It can also be described as, “a visual communication tool that uses visual symbols to express ideas and concepts, to convey meaning” (Karen D’Angelo Bromley, 2011). In my opinion, this definition is a clearer explanation.  

            In other words, a graphic organizer is a visual representation of organized facts. They can be used for many different subjects and elements in each subject. For example they can be used in math, language arts, social studies and science. Specifically in language arts they can be used for compare/contrast, keeping track of important facts in a story (summarizing), and vocabulary definitions, as well as many other curriculum strands.


How to Use and Adapt Graphic Organizers

            Graphic organizers can be used before, during and/or after a lesson. Using them at different times and throughout the lesson provides structure and a better way of understanding. Using these tools will aid in the learning process.

  • Before the instruction teachers can use the organizers to provide structure of new material and indicate a relationship between two different ideas. An example of this would be to use an organizer to make a connection to two lessons in one unit. It is also a helpful way for teachers to see what background knowledge their students already have about the topic.
  • During the lesson these organizers can help students isolate information, process and reorganize key information. This gives students the opportunity to actively participate in their learning while they reorganize this information. It also allows students to construct their own “map” that is appropriate for their own particular learning style (Multiple Intelligences).
  •  Then after the lesson is complete students can create their own graphic organizer to isolate and organize the key concepts they need to know. Again, this gives them the opportunity to do it in their own way, for their specific learning style.

(Karen D’Angelo Bromley, 2011).

Graphic organizers can always be changed and adapted for any specific child. If the child is not required to learn and/or remember as many key concepts as other students, their graphic organizer can be modified and shortened to their specific requirements. Graphic Organizers help so many different kinds of learners. For example, they are really beneficial for the spatial and logical-mathematical learners because of the visual organization and patterns. Another example would be to have students cut out and design their own graphic organizers; this would really reach the kinesthetic learners.   


How Do These Graphic Organizers work??

            Why are these organizers so helpful?? Studies have shown that using graphic organizers elevate comprehension using a variety of comprehension measures. These studies showed students with learning disabilities who were taught to generate cognitive organizers for reading scored higher in literal and inferential comprehension than students that were not taught this skill. It was also clear those students with and without learning disabilities significantly improved their performance when their teachers used these organizers. Their note taking skills were also improved (Nicole Strangman, 2011).

            Simply put, having a way to visually organizes different elements such as, facts, ideas and concepts teacher students to “think in multiple directions, which makes learning an active and meaningful process” (Minds, 2002). Even students with learning disabilities, who cannot think in multiple directions, have the opportunity to try, but also have the information already written down in case they forget what they were thinking about before. Having a visual way to brainstorm and organize information is essential for children with learning deficits.

This process is one that researchers suggests aids comprehension for several reasons:

  •  Graphic organizers match the mind. As researcher David P. Ausubel has shown, the mind arranges and stores information in an orderly fashion. New information about a concept is filed into an existing framework of categories called a schema. A schema already contains preexisting knowledge about that concept. Graphic organizers arrange information in a visual pattern that complements this framework, making information easier to understand and learn.
  • Organizers demonstrate how concepts are linked to prior knowledge to aid in comprehension.
  • Organizers aid the memory as opposed to recalling key points from an extended text.
  • Organizers help retain information readily when higher thought processes are involved.
  • Organizers engage the learner with a combination of the spoken word with printed text and diagrams.

(Minds, 2002).


Students with Learning Disabilities and UDL!!

      It is commonly known that students with learning disabilities have a difficult time recalling facts and key information. They also have a hard time making connections between broad concepts and details. Solving mathematical word problems may also be a challenge. However, using graphic organizers “is not only a validated instructional practice but a viable strategy that might lessen the difficulties learning disabled students experience” (Minds, 2002).

      Using these organizers help clarify and organize their learning in an individual way. This is what Universal Design is all about. There are three principles of UDL. The first is to support recognition learning by providing multiple, flexible methods of presentation. The second principle states that we support strategic learning by providing multiple, flexible methods of expression and apprenticeship. The third and final principle states that we should support affective learning by providing multiple, flexible options for engagement (Nicole Strangman, 2011).


How do we Teachers do That???

To support diverse recognition networks:

• Provide multiple examples

• Highlight critical features

• Provide multiple media and formats

• Support background context.

To support diverse strategic networks:

• Provide flexible models of skilled performance

• Provide opportunities to practice with supports

• Provide ongoing, relevant feedback

• Offer flexible opportunities for demonstrating skill.

To support diverse affective networks:

• Offer choices of content and tools

• Offer adjustable levels of challenge

• Offer choices of rewards

• Offer choices of learning context.   

(Nicole Strangman, 2011).


How do Graphic Organizers do this?

            Graphic organizers support students’ recognition learning by allowing students to master patterns by viewing multiple examples. Teachers can help student understanding by developing organizers that highlight key terms and critical features in any subject. They support students’ strategic learning by giving them the opportunity to plan out and write their own concept map in an organized and strategic way. Lastly, the graphic organizers support students’ affective learning by giving them a choice of tools and the freedom to select those tools based on their own preference (using a different style of organizer that is better suited for them) (Nicole Strangman, 2011).


Pros, Cons, and My Personal Opinion

            There are many wonderful things about graphic organizers. They will help the most unorganized student think and takes notes in a more manageable way. They help students really see what the key information is, and what they need to remember for tests, quizzes and essays. The only caution I have for teachers who do use graphic organizers: be careful what it looks like! Make sure it is not visually confusing, because it will not help your students, especially those with learning disabilities. The less clutter on the page the better it is!  I use graphic organizers with some of my students in social studies. They love them, and always refer to them when writing informational paragraphs.  


Want some Graphic Organizers to use in Your Classroom???


There are also different websites to make your own graphic organizer. Here is a tutorial for Webspiration:



Karen D’Angelo Bromley, L. I.-D. (2011, March 13). Graphic Organizers. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from Instructional Strategies Online:

Minds, M. (2002). Critical Thinking for Life. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from Graphic Organizers:

Nicole Strangman, T. H. (2011). Graphic Organizers and Implications for Universal Design for Learning: Curriculum Enhancement Report. Retrieved March 14, 2011, from The Access Center:


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