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Best Teaching Practices

Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers provide a visual, holistic representation of facts and concepts and their relationships within an organized frame. They have proven to be effective tools to aid learning and thinking by helping students and teachers to represent abstract information in more concrete form, depict relationships among facts and concepts, relate new information to prior knowledge, and organize thoughts for writing. Graphic organizers exist in a variety of forms. Perhaps the most widely known is the web. Other types of graphic organizers include the concept map, sequence chain, story map, main idea table, flowchart, matrix, and venn diagram.

Graphic organizers may be productively utilized before instructional activities, such as reading or viewing a film, to activate prior knowledge, to provide a conceptual framework for integrating new information, and to encourage student prediction. During instruction, they can help students to process and reorganize information actively. After instruction, graphic organizers may be used to summarize learning, encourage elaboration, help organize ideas for writing, provide a structure for review, and assess the degree of student understanding.

When introducing students to a new graphic organizer, teachers 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. Finally, teachers can then encourage students to create their own organizers.


Anders, P. L., Bos C. S., and Filip, D. (1984). The effect of semantic feature analysis on the reading comprehension of learning disabled students. In J.A. Niles and L.A. Harris (Eds.), Changing Perspectives on Reading/Language Processing and Instruction (pp. 162-166). Rochester, N.Y.: The National Reading Conference.

Semantic feature analysis as compared to traditional vocabulary "look-up" activities gave structure to discussions for learning-disabled adolescents and resulted in significantly better performance on measures of comprehension and concept learning.

Armbruster, B. and Anderson, R. (1980). The Effect of Mapping on Free Recall of Expository Text (Technical report 160). Center for the Study of Reading, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

This study examined the effectiveness of the use of "mapping" techniques for eighth grade students. The results showed that students who mapped short expository prose passages recalled a greater number of ideas from the passage after a twenty-four hour delay than did the control groups. The probability of recalling ideas that have been organized into a map was significantly greater than the probability of recalling ideas that were not organized in this fashion.

Chi, M. (1985). Interactive roles of knowledge and strategies in the development of organized sorting and recall. In S.F. Chipman, J.W. Segal, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, Vol. 2: Research and open questions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The author reviews research with children and adults demonstrating that "category clustering" (grouping items based on perceived similarities) leads to greater recall, and that children as young as 3 years old have some ability to use clusters to aid recall. The research studies presented here, working with children ages 4-8, demonstrate that the more one's knowledge is organized into schemas, or organized frameworks, the easier it is to remember and extend that knowledge.

Dansereau, D.F. (1985). Learning strategy research. In J.W. Segal, S.F. Chipman, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, Vol. 1: Relating instruction to research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

This research involved college students in a "Techniques of College Learning" class. Two matched groups of students studied a passage from a geology text. Students in the experimental group received instruction on conceptual frames for understanding scientific theories (a "knowledge schema"); control group subjects received instruction in concentration management. Students in the treatment group outperformed control subjects on an essay-format post-test that assessed recall and comprehension of the text material.

Hagan-Heimlich, J. E. and Pittelman, S.D. (1984). Classroom Applications of the Semantic Mapping Procedure in Reading and Writing. (Program Report 84-4).

This report reviews the theory and research relevant to semantic mapping and gives examples of classroom applications.

Jones, B.F., Amiran, M., & Katims, M. (1985). Teaching cognitive strategies and text structures within language arts programs. In J.W. Segal, S.F. Chipman, & R. Glaser (Eds.), Thinking and learning skills, Vol. 1: Relating instruction to research. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

College students and seventh-grade students who had received training in "matrix outlining and analysis" (a form of graphic organizer) outperformed control subjects in both recall of unordered information about a topic of instruction and essay writing on that topic.