Using Graphic Organizers in the Classroom

I love graphic organizers! I hope you do too. Here are some of the reasons that I love them:

  • For many people, graphic organizers provide the fastest way to grasp information. You can expect that at least some of the kids in your classroom will fall into that category.
  • Everyone learns better when information is presented to them in multiple ways, through multiple sensory channels. Graphic organizers not only provide a visual capsule of information, but also lend themselves to tactile uses, with sorting circles and graphic organizer pocket charts allowing a high degree of hands-on involvement.
  • Graphic organizers can encourage new ways of thinking about things. For example, the Big Book of Graphic Organizers from Scholastic includes a pair of sunglasses for thinking about “Character Companions.” Many books have best buds as the main characters, or rivals as in the example on the front cover here, “The Tortoise and the Hare.” Each temple of the sunglasses is labeled with one of the characters, and the lenses have space for listing the characters’ respective traits. I hadn’t thought about analyzing stories that way before — but I sure will now.

Scholastic's Big Book of Graphic Organizers

  • Graphic organizers are a useful tool throughout life — first in school, for test-taking and studying, and then for planning and communication in the working world.

If you are convinced (and I expect that many of you were just nodding your heads and agreeing all along), then how can you conveniently get these graphic organizers into your classroom? Let’s start with the three dimensional options.

Sorting Circles may be the first tool every classroom needs. They come in big (20″) or desktop sizes, and you can decide how simple or complex the diagram you form should be. Your preschool and kindergarten students can put all the red counters inside the red circle and all the other colors outside it, and work up from there. Your high school students can arrange all the circles into a complex Venn diagram and sort a list of wars throughout history according to their causes. There is no limit to how you can use these.

I also like graphic organizer Pocket Charts. There are plenty to choose from.

graphic organizer pocket chart

This is the Web Organizer Pocket Chart from Carson.

I like the three-dimensional ones for their multisensory nature and their versatility, but you might prefer something flatter, like a chart, for space and economy. Graphic Organizer Charts are also the way to go if you want to have something more permanent.

What if you want students to have their own individual paper organizers, for assessment or for their future study?

There are lots of books of reproducible graphic organizers. Here are some of the ones I like best:

There are plenty of good resources on the web, too. Here are my favorites:

  • Here is a fine collection of printable PDF files of graphic organizers, from a simple clock to a Persuasion Chart.
  • Here is another. There is some overlap, but between these two you will probably have all the classics covered.
  • Freeology has a good collection, too.
  • Gliffy is a free diagramming application.

Web diagrams, or mind maps, are great for brainstorming solutions to problems or ideas for writing assignments. You can use the pocket chart shown above, or a quick scribble with a pencil, but this is a good time to bring in some technology, too. Try out one of the many mind-mapping tools, and you may find that you prefer it to the pencil. We use ConceptDraw MINDMAP 5 Pro, but there are lots of alternatives

mind map about penguins

You don’t have to stop there. Once you start thinking in terms of graphic organizers, you can make it an art project, too.

Cinderella Venn diagram

Make a Venn Diagram from a pair of faces to compare two characters. In the example above, characters from two different Cinderella stories (Cindy Ellen: A Wild Western Cinderella and Bubba, The Cowboy Prince) are compared with a Venn diagram made from simple cut paper shapes. A butterfly’s two wings can overlap at its body to form a Venn Diagram comparing complete and incomplete metamorphosis.

Use those skyscraper shapes from Skyline Lesson Plans to make a bar graph. Or why not the legs of an octopus, colored to different heights?

A web diagram or mind map can be all circles connected by lines, but it could also be animal outlines, or faces, or fruit shapes. Why not? Flow charts can also have “boxes” with shapes that relate to the topic you’re studying.

Let students use their creativity to add layers of meaning to the graphic organizers they make, and you’ll also have the makings of a cool bulletin board when they finish.


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