A graphic organizer shows relationships among information.
Graphic organizers are a visual representation of ideas that can help students of varying abilities and grades, including primary grades, with everything from learning key vocabulary to making presentations. The Institute for the Advancement of Research in Education’s (IARE) review of the research shows strong evidence that they improve learning. When teacher modeling and practice are provided, graphic organizers can clarify material for students in a unique way. There are strong reasons for using them in the language arts classroom.
Using Brain Research
Graphic organizers take advantage of how students learn. First, the visual presentation reduces demands on working memory as well as keeping the material concrete. For example, a KWL (Know, Want to Know, have Learned) chart can help students remember their reading purpose and keep track of what they learn. Also, a graphic organizer’s big-picture view shows the structure and relationships of ideas or words, ranging from a simple, non-hierarchical web to a continuum scale showing a range such as less/more. Students can easily see main ideas and are more likely to remember the concepts. The brain processes information by relating it to prior knowledge, and a graphic organizer helps students categorize new content along with what they know. Finally, in terms of learning styles, a visual accompanied by oral explanation is the most effective way to present material.
Improving Language Arts Skills
Although best known for their use in reading comprehension, graphic organizers can be applied to a variety of language arts content and skills. Gains documented in vocabulary are significant in comparison, according to the National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Graphic organizers can also be used for processes. In the writing process they can be a way of recording brainstormed ideas, an alternate method of note taking, or a way to organize ideas in prewriting. A graphic organizer can help check coverage before drafting a research paper, making clear whether there are sections that need more support. Most importantly, using graphic organizers helps students understand that writing and speaking are not about repeating facts but expressing ideas and their relationships.
Developing Higher-Level Thinking
Using graphic organizers also develops higher-level thinking skills. Students take ownership of their learning as they comprehend pick out important information or decide organize material for presentation. Also, because content is easier to absorb, teachers can deal with it at a higher level. Whereas webs and charts may describe or order things and be on lower levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, many graphic organizers can be used for prediction, problem solving, and drawing comparisons/contrasts. These tasks reach into Bloom levels of application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.
Flexibility and Effectiveness
Graphic organizers can enhance whole-class, small-group, and individual instruction. They keep students engaged and are not difficult once students have grasped the format. Once created, they can be reused and with the same students, lessons take less time. Where study skills are concerned, the IARE research finds graphic organizers superior to standard instructional methods in terms of reviewing, summarizing, and ultimately results on both classroom and standardized tests. Students study the appropriate key information and learn facts in context, resulting in improved performance.