Organizing Strategies

GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS help facilitate instruction.

Purpose: To provide an interactive visual structure that engages the learner and promotes retention of knowledge and the ability to transfer that knowledge into written evidence of processing and expression of what is learned. 

sl_go_clusterGraphic Organizers are important Non Verbal Representation tools that use visual symbols to express and sort ideas and concepts to convey meaning. Graphic Organizers can be simple or advanced and help the learner to make connections and see relationships between facts, terms, and or ideas within a learning task. Graphic Organizers are often referred to as a “map” because it can help teachers and students “map out” their ideas in a visual manner. There are many similar names for graphic organizers including: knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, cognitive organizers, concept diagrams or  advanced organizers. While sometimes mistakenly called advance organizers which are organizers that can be used in advance of a lesson, advanced graphic organizers have a higher degree of complexity.

In 1992, Jay McTighe in his book Graphic Organizers: Collaborative Links to Better Thinking outlined three main ways teachers may use graphic organizers in their teaching and a number of ways that students can use them to aid in the learning process.

  • Before instruction, teachers may use a graphic organizer to attempt to provide structure for the presentation of new material while indicating relations between ideas. Teachers can elicit information from students by creating a graphic organizer on the blackboard to get an accurate idea of students’ prior knowledge

  • During instruction, graphic organizers can help students to actively isolate, process and reorganize key information. This is because graphic organizers allow students to approach subjects cognitively because they assist thinking. The student must take an active role in learning while processing and reorganizing information. Modifying an organized structure of information gives students an opportunity to learn from their own mistakes. It also allows students to construct maps that are appropriate to their individual learning styles.

  • After instruction, students can construct their own organizers using the full text to isolate and organize key concepts. This summarization technique is a tool to see if students can interpret what was being taught and state it in concise, accurate terms. Post-instruction graphic organizers also encourage elaboration. If a student can connect prior knowledge with what was learned and identify relationships between those ideas, they are actively learning.
    When introducing students to a new graphic organizer, you should describe its purpose, model its use, and provide students with opportunities for guided practice. Once students become comfortable with using the organizer, more independent applications are appropriate. In the end, you should encourage and assist students to create their own organizers.

Types of Graphic Organizers

The web graphic organizer begins with a circle in the middle of the page with the main idea. Write your topic in the center circle. Out from the circle are smaller connected circles with subcategories of the main idea for more specific ideas. A web is often interchangeably called a Concept Map and is a useful tool for students to brainstorm and organize ideas. A graphic organizer activity should always be followed with a writing activity. More often than not, the writing step is left out of the process. The organizer should always be a pre-writing activity. During the pre-writing stage, Graphic Organizers can assist students in generating ideas and planning a course of action.


The T-Chart is simply drawing a t down the center of the paper diving it into two columns. using a small t gives you a place for two headers at the top of each column.

The clock graphic organizer divides a circle into twelve sections.

The story map can be done in a variety of formats. Our favorite starts with a list of events going from bottom to top of page and an arrow from left bottom to midrange top of paper to indicate rising action. Then the aroow takes a dive down from top to bottom right to indicate falling action.

A five point star is drawn on paper with five story indicators: character, setting, plot, action, and ending. Each part is written is specificed part of the star.

The Ladder of Inference is a drawn ladder. At the bottom of the paper the stident writes in reality and beliefs, with assumptions going up the rung of the ladder to conclusions, beliefs and actions at the top.


Graphic Organizers (Grades K-8), Karen D’Angelo Bromley , Linda Irwin-Devitis , Marcia Modlo, 01 January, 1999

Graphical Organizers as Thinking Technology - an article by James McKenzie

Graphic Organizers from NCREL - gives specific examples of graphic organizers such as K-W-L-H (Know, Want, Learn, How), Anticipation Reaction Guide, Spider Map, Series of Events Chain, Continuum Scale, Compare/Contrast Matrix, Problem/Solution Outline, Network Tree, Human Interaction Outline, Fishbone Map and Cycle.

Graphic Organizer Printables from Teacher-Vision.com - These graphic organizers will help you and your students organize ideas and concepts.

Graphic Organizers from Education Place - PDF's of many graphic organizers

WriteDesign On-Line - Graphic Organizers - explains the five main types of organizers with examples

Graphic Organizers from Houghton Mifflin

Graphic Organizers from Scholastic.com

Graphic Organizers from Enchanted Learning