Rethinking graphic organizers

KWHL, Star, Spider, T-chart, Chain of Events . . . these are a few examples of graphic organizers designed to visually and logically organize a student’s comprehension. While some students use these models effectively, other students simply don’t connect with them. Why? The simplest answer is that we all process information differently and no one organizational strategy will work for everyone. So, we know we have to be flexible.

But, it may be that a student sees learning as fact gathering and hasn’t experienced what the organization and application of information actually “feels” like. This needs to be addressed.

So what do we do?

1. Start with a simple conversation ( just talk, no need to write anything down) about a topic of interest:

Regardless of the interest (soccer, video games, fashion, food, music, animals, etc.), ask the student to tell you about it. As you listen, ask questions that model of the types of questions one asks when gathering, organizing and applying information. For example:

  • How do you know that? (this question directs a student to access background knowledge)
  • Is that similar to . . . ? (this question directs a student to link different sources of information)
  • Have you ever wondered if . . .? (this question directs a student to extend what’s already known to new possibilities)

2. Build on what is known with an audio and visual search for new information (just view and listen, no need to write anything down):

  • Ask the student to find some images that illustrate the topic of interest, search the images for information that is already known and search again for additional information that is new.
  • Find a short audio or video recording of the topic. Ask the student to listen / view and search for information that is known and for additional information that is new.

Tell the student why you’re doing this: to get a sense of what it feels like to acknowledge what they know and use that information as the foundation of the search for new information.

3. Provide an opportunity for the learner to read about the interest:

  • Find a text about the student’s topic of interest.

    NOTE: Make sure the reading level of the text matches the student. A difficult text requires so much cognitive energy for word solving that there’s little left for comprehension.

  • The goal for the first reading is to find information about what is already known. Ask the student to mark or record the “known” in a way that makes sense to him/ her.
  • The goal for the next reading is to find new information. Ask the student to mark or record the “new” in a way that makes sense to him/ her.
  • After the readings, provide time to think about applying the information or asking followup up questions about the information. Ask the student to mark or record the applications or questions in a way that makes sense to him/ her.

Tell the student why you’re doing this: to see as well as feel how the known is the foundation of the new and how the new extends one’s thinking to new possibilities.

   4. Provide a variety of opportunities to practice

  • Work through this sequence a few more times with a variety of topics of interest presented through a variety of mediums –  audio, visual, and text.
  • As the student becomes more comfortable with this process, work with him/her to construct a personalized method of recording the known, the new, the questions and possibilities.

 Tell the student why you’re doing this: to construct a meaningful method of gathering and organizing information so it can be used at a later date.

5. Monitor the student’s progress.

  • Ask the student to apply the diagramming method developed to new information, chosen by you.
  • Observe the student’s work, provide feedback about progress made, and provide additional prompts as necessary.
  • Revisit and, when appropriate, revise the diagramming method.

If this sounds a bit simplistic, that’s the intent. We’re convinced that the most effective instruction guides the learner from acknowledging what is known and using that knowledge as a foundation for exploring, gathering and applying information about the new.

For more conversations about education, please visit:Beyond the Apple . . . Reframing Conversations in Education or contact us at







About Beyond The Apple

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