If you began the New Year by vowing to get more organized in 2011, this issue of Class Ideas could be for you. This month we zero in on graphic organizers -- a popular classroom teaching tool for reading comprehension, research, and understanding content areas such as science and social studies. The January article looks at why graphic organizers work, which type is best for which task, and what teachers can do to facilitate their use. We're also offering a generous New Year's special on Didax's new grade-level Graphic Organizer CD series for the computer and interactive whiteboard.
From all of us at Didax, happy New Year and happy organizing!
Graphic organizers are an excellent teaching aid when used purposefully in the classroom. Graphic organizers come in many forms for many purposes. The ten questions and answers that follow will help you organize your thoughts around organizers and whether they are the right tool for what you're currently teaching.
1. What is a graphic organizer?
A graphic organizer (GO) serves as a visual cue designed to facilitate communication and/or understanding by showing how essential information about a topic is organized. When information is placed in a GO, the important points are immediately obvious. The information may be presented using key words, phrases, pictures, or symbols representing specific information.
2. What are the different ways GOs organize information?
Graphic organizers use lines, circles, and/or boxes to organize information in four common ways:
Cause and effect
Compare and contrast
Cyclic or linear sequences
3. Who are graphic organizers best suited for?
Graphic organizers can be used effectively with all students, with the exception of those with profound cognitive disabilities. The key is to make sure that the type of GO employed is developmentally appropriate and that the information presented is appropriate to students' background knowledge of the topic.
4. How do graphic organizers work?
Graphic organizers work by complementing the way the brain naturally works. Humans learn new information by connecting it to what is already known. Reading comprehension goes beyond memorizing and recalling facts. To understand what we read, we must bridge the gap between the content on the page and our own background knowledge of the topic at hand. Graphic organizers help us do that.
Second, the visual nature of GOs reinforces the brain's ability to retain new information. While random facts are quickly forgotten, the brain's ability to store images is unlimited.
5. When should graphic organizers be used?
Graphic organizers are a helpful tool whenever students are given new information to digest. During reading and listening, students should be encouraged to graphically organize new information and ideas. Among their many uses, GOs can be used to sequence events (time line) or steps in a scientific process (cycle chart) or even to brainstorm when solving problems.
6. Are there other reasons to use graphic organizers?
Students can use graphic organizers to present their own research. It is also important to let students create their own look to the type of GO being used whenever possible. The brain remembers more when personal creativity has been invested in a project.
7. What does the research say?
Researchers have studied GO use with students at all grade levels studying a variety of subjects, and the evidence is solid. The use of graphic organizers can improve reading comprehension, increase writing and thinking skills, and increase learning of content-area subjects.
8. What's the best way to introduce students to graphic organizers?
To gain confidence in completing and interpreting graphic organizers, students need to be:
Shown examples of information presented in GOs
Given opportunities to present information in GO form
Guided in their choice of organizer and the conventions of each style so that the organizer they choose fits the purpose and audience.
9. How do I choose the type of graphic organizer to use?
The following list matches the task with suggested types of organizers to use. Though it's best to use simple organizers in the earlier grades, many types of GOs can be used across grade levels.
Purpose: concept development Examples of organizer to use: concept map, spider map, word map, character map, mind map, story map, story star, concept web, summary chart, matrix
Purpose: presenting data Use: bar graph, pictograph, line graph, pie graph, labeled diagram
Purpose: determining sequences Use: word chain, sequence chain, word wheel, cycle wheel, ladder, cartoon and picture strip, action plan
Purpose: determining relationships Use: fishbone map, decision tree, network tree
Purpose: categorizing and classifying Use: Venn diagram, Carroll diagram, tree diagram
10. How can teachers facilitate students' use of graphic organizers?
GOs work best when instruction is informed, explicit, intentional, and scaffolded. Here are some tips:
Informed instruction: To increase student success, provide a rationale for using a GO, explain what the GO is designed to do, and inform students about the different contexts in which it can be used.
Explicit instruction: Demonstrate to students how a particular GO is used. Once students have developed a basic proficiency with it, gradually switch instruction to more implicit forms while providing opportunities for students to adapt or create their own versions of the GO.
Intentional instruction: Inform students that they are expected to develop skill and demonstrate competency using the GO.
Scaffolded instruction: Coach and assist students as they learn to use a graphic organizer. Begin by introducing a relatively simple version of the GO, and as students gain familiarity and skill using it, introduce increasingly more complex versions of the same organizer.
Didax's new Graphic Organizers series is ideal for introducing and reinforcing graphic organizer concepts. Each grade-level CD provides six types of organizers (for example, Topic Wheel, Flow Chart, Tree Diagram, Time Line, Hierarchy Chart). Each organizer features an interactive sample and fill-in-the-blanks organizer for teachers to create their own electronic content, as well as accompanying blackline masters to copy and hand out for homework or independent classwork.
Just click below for blackline samples of these versatile tools for developing thinking and research skills.
Manipulatives can be just as effective for math learning in middle school (and just as much fun to use!) as they are in the elementary grades, especially when reteaching foundational concepts that students continue to struggle with. Join us in February for an informative article by Dr. Carl Seltzer and other resources to help you make the most of manipulatives in the middle school math classroom.