Graphic Organizer Activities

Graphic organizers help students understand information visually.

Graphic organizers help express meaning visually or pictorially rather than with words alone. They’re very useful to teachers at all levels to help students organize information and draw conclusions. Graphic organizers display large amounts of information in a way that is easy to understand. Conversely, they also unpack meaning or show complex relationships between just a few concepts or ideas. When class activities are supplemented by graphic organizers, students have an opportunity to actively engage with the material in a meaningful way.

Brainstorming Activities

Brainstorming information, such as for a written essay or a class project, is an activity that needs to be done visually. Create a graphic idea web, starting with the main idea circled in the middle of a blank paper. The student draws spokes from the main idea to supporting ideas and sub-points, and shows how those ideas connect. If you’re brainstorming as a class, let students take turns coming to the board and adding a spoke to the web. If students need more structure, try a story star. Students draw a five-pointed star on their papers and write the main idea in the pentagon-shaped center. In each of the star’s five points, they brainstorm ideas for who, what, where, when and why.

Compare and Contrast Activities

Graphic organizers are ideal for activities that require students to compare and contrast several items. The most common and useful compare-and-contrast graphic organizer is the Venn diagram, which consists of two or more overlapping circles. Similarities between the two things are written in the overlapping section, and differences are written in the areas that don’t overlap.

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The matrix is a more complex compare-and-contrast method, showing the relationship across a set of specific criteria. A matrix begins with a large grid. Write the items to be compared and contrasted across the top, one in each box. An example is reptiles versus amphibians. In each box down the left side of the grid, write the areas you want to compare, such as physical appearance, eating habits, environment and reproduction. Then write the correct information in the corresponding boxes.

Reading Comprehension Activities

Graphic organizers help with reading comprehension because they take information from a story, which students read in paragraph form, and represent it in a more visual way. Plot diagrams help students keep track of events in the beginning, middle and end of a story. Use a story train for younger students, which displays each plot episode as a connected car in a railroad train. For older students, use a triangular plot diagram that shows the rising action, the climax and falling action. To analyze characters, use an open mind, which is the silhouette of a head traced on a blank paper. Students fill the silhouette with the character’s thoughts. You can customize the open mind by making spaces for story-based evidence such as what the character feels, says and does.

Order of Event Activities

When it comes to understanding the linear order of events, graphic organizers can help immensely. Time lines allow students to understand the order of events in a story’s plot, a historical era or a scientific process. Use a cycle to represent a time line that ends where it begins and then repeats. Let students fill in a blank time line, or provide them with a time line that has missing elements that they need to find, such as missing years, events and names. Or cut out each event on a separate paper and allow students to piece together the correct time line or cycle. These types of graphic organizers can also show cause and effect relationships. Cause-effect chains can display a domino effect, where one event triggers another. Use arrows to show that one event causes another.

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