Activities Using Advance Organizers

Teachers can use charts or other advance organizers to help students learn better.

An advance organizer is an instructional tool that can perform two purposes within an educational lesson design. The first use is to introduce a topic in a way that provides a topic overview, activates prior learning or knowledge and helps students to see how the new knowledge will be assimilated. The advance organizer can also be a tool that shows students the process by which the learning of a topic or the completion of a process occurs. For instance, advanced organizers can be used to help students understand what steps to take to complete a presentation. In such cases, different levels of advanced organizers can be prepared that range from open-ended to concrete step-by-step breakdowns based on students’ capacities to perform the work.

Activating Prior Knowledge

Before instruction begins, a variety of activities can be performed to activate prior knowledge. The basic assumption is that students have some knowledge that they have already acquired, which will be beneficial to the present learning objectives.The most common method for activating prior knowledge is to give students charts to complete a KWL: K is for what you know, W is for what you want to know as the learner, and L is for what was learned. Only the K and the W portions are completed prior to the learning activity. For instance, students may be asked what they know about animals in general before a unit on mammals. Robert Marzano is a leading researcher on instructional strategies and has suggested that students be questioned in a way they can infer what the learning topic and objective are for a given class. Students can be asked questions like “Why are _________ important?” and “Why should we study _____________?” The blank can be filled in with whatever topic is being covered. If a unit is on earthquakes, then the students can discuss why earthquakes are important and why people should understand more about them. As a result, this approach can increase student buy-in for a subject because they are investing more energy and personally connecting to the content. If students feel connected to the material, they will want to learn the material.

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Providing a Topic Overview

Semantic maps are a method of advance organizers that can provide a topic overview. In literature, the map can include a list of literary elements that will appear in the book. The students can try to make predictions about the storyline based on details like the title of the book and the cover art. Students can try to determine what kinds of internal and external conflicts may arise in the story for the protagonist, what the setting is, and what the general theme of the story may be. Then, during the reading of the book, they can check their predictions with what is happening. In this way, they are prepared for the content they are meant to acquire and engaged throughout the book. In other subjects, a semantic map can be used to demonstrate cause and effect, cycles or other systematic progressions. For instance, science classes often use charts that demonstrate a cycle as a means of providing topic overviews. There are cycle charts for the water cycle; carbon, nitrogen and oxygen cycles; photosynthesis; and many more topics. Students see some core concepts that are interrelated and, therefore, are better prepared for the learning activities.

Assimilating Knowledge

To help students assimilate knowledge and recognize the knowledge they have assimilated, a variety of advance organizer activities can be used. The KWL mentioned earlier fits in here. The students conclude a learning activity with an assessment of what was learned.The KWL, therefore, acts as an anchor for the knowledge and as a tool for reinforcing the learning by actively stating what was learned. The 3-2-1 is another tool that can allow the teacher to help the student assimilate knowledge. There is a great deal of flexibility in how the 3-2-1 is approached. Essentially students need to provide three things, two other things and a separate individual thing. A few examples may include having students name three things they learned, two questions they now have, and one thing they are confused about, or listing three important facts they feel they should know for a quiz, two reasons why the material is important, and one way they can use it in their life. There is no end to how the 3-2-1 can be presented, and so it is a great closure activity that provides a basis for the next lesson in the unit.

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Sequential Presentations

When students are given activities to complete, advance organizers can be used to organize their approach to these activities. Science classes necessarily include an advance organizer in the way of procedural instructions that are listed in a lab write-up. These steps help students understand what is meant to happen. Rubrics are another advance organizer that helps students understand what is expected of them. Rubrics are excellent ways to provide differentiated learning for students, too. The specificity within a rubric can be adjusted based on the learner’s needs. For instance, a perfect paper may be required to be “informative and factual” or “to include four facts and their sources” depending upon what a student needs in order to prepare a thorough paper.