March 6, 2015

The many functions of graphic organizers

Your children have undoubtedly used graphic organizers to brainstorm and organize ideas for writing assignments. However, graphic organizers are useful for far more than just pre-writing and planning. The necessity to organize and connect ideas pervades most academic assignments, from note-taking, to studying, to writing, to general learning and problem-solving. Graphic organizers combine traditional note-taking or outlining, with the visuospatial benefits of a diagram, helping students to both physically see and conceptually understand relationships between their ideas. Graphic organizers inform effective studying and learning processes, and are at the forefront of current educational strategies.

Why Graphic Organizers are effective tools:

Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, discussed further in our Learning Styles Blog, posits that the more neurological pathways you engage while acquiring information, the more likely you are to remember that information. That is–using several brain centers for a particular task (like visual, auditory, tactile, and linguistic pathways) lends more neurological resources towards the successful completion of that task. Similarly, Dr. Katherine Knight writes that, “since graphic organizers present material through the visual and spatial modalities (and reinforce what is taught in the classroom), the use of graphic organizers helps students internalize what they are learning.” And, because graphic organizers integrate “text and visual imagery, [they] actively engage a wide variety of learners, including students with special needs and English language learners.” Because of their multi-dimensional benefits, graphic organizers become an integral and effective tool in classrooms, for specialized education, and for executive function coaches.

Graphic Organizers and Graphically Organized Activities to Try at Home:

  • Relating Evidence to Main Ideas

A “Connect”graphic organizer, which your child likely has the most familiarity with, is designed to connect supporting details and examples to a main idea or thesis statement. These types of graphic organizers, which often look web-like in their appearance, are used most to organize a paragraph or essay. However, they can also be used to take notes, track themes in novels, and show conceptual connections between ideas. A “Connect” graphic organizer can illustrate the many different kingdoms of animals that are all considered vertebrates. It can relate three pieces of textual evidence that collectively support a controversial theory. No matter what it is used for, this type of graphic organizer shows connections, between an overarching concept and its individual subtopics or details.

  • Sequencing/Timelines

Any information that involves a process or sequence can benefit from the use of a sequencing graphic organizer or timeline. Students can organize the events that make up the plot of a story, the steps to complete a math problem,the dates of important world wars, or the sequence of molecular transformations that go into the Kreb’s Cycle. Students can draw or fill in a series of connected boxes or bubbles to graphically map out the individual steps from Point A to Point B. Sequencing graphic organizers are also excellent tools for determining the order of paragraphs in an essay plan, or how one idea connects to the next in logical or chronological order.

  • Compare and Contrast

Compare and contrast graphic organizers are also well-known, and are often represented by a Venn Diagram. Venn Diagrams allow students to categorize similarities and differences between two concepts into specific sections of two intersecting circles. They are useful in planning “Compare and Contrast” style essays, but can also help students to differentiate between similar concepts, or show similarities between seemingly disparate ideas. Students could use compare and contrast graphic organizers to differentiate between vocabulary words, to isolate thematic connections between two historical events, or even to compare and contrast the functions of two different mathematical equations.

  • Cause and Effect

Cause and effect graphic organizers are classic pre-writing tools. However, they can also be used to help your student understand historical events, biological processes, plots of novels, and more. Cause and effect graphic organizers not only ascertain the ordering of events, but also show causal connections between different stimuli and outcomes. For example, if your child is trying to learn the process of photosynthesis, they might use a cause and effect graphic organizer to show how the introduction of sunlight and carbon dioxide influence plants’ ability to create chemical energy. Your child may not be writing about this process at all, but they will have their ideas organized so well, into this classic pre-writing structure, that they will be prepared to ace their tests and explain difficult processes in class.

  • Four- Column Trigger Chart

Trigger charts harness the power of graphic organizers in a four-column, word-mastery system. The first column features the list of vocabulary words your student is trying to learn. The second column lists definitions of those words. The third column includes examples, based on a trigger, of those definitions at work. And the fourth column includes the all-important “trigger words” that will help your student connect their vocabulary words to their corresponding definitions.

Here’s an example of how the four columns work together to graphically and logically connect words and their meanings: The word “Mendacity,” meaning dishonesty, includes the word “Mend,” which might act as a trigger. Using the trigger “Mend,” my example might be that, “When someone lies to me, showing mendacity, I feel hurt and need mending.” In this way, when I look at the word “Mendacity” I am reminded of “mend” and a reason I might need mending: Dishonesty.

The added benefit of the trigger chart is that, when folded accordion style, it can be used as a quiz-yourself tool. The vocabulary word will show on the front, and the trigger word will show on the back. If your student gets stuck trying to remember their vocabulary, they can turn their chart over to see their trigger. If the trigger still doesn’t help them, they can open the chart completely, review their definition and example, then try again.

  • KWL Chart

KWL Charts present a unique way to use the structure of graphic organizers for tracking study progress and practicing self-monitoring. A KWL chart includes 3 columns, labeled from left to right with the headings “Know,” “Want to Know,” and “Learned.” Used in conjunction with a teacher’s “review sheet” or “study guide,” KWL charts help your child track which topics he does and doesn’t know. When his “Learned” column is full, and his “Want to Know” column has been mastered, your child will know he is done studying and ready to take his exam (Read more on KWL). Use this type of graphic organizing to prepare for tests or perform daily review sessions to solidify knowledge.

Finally, the Cornell Note-taking System uses a graphic organizer structure, and a process-oriented approach, to practice note-taking and encourage complete mastery of the subject at hand. The Cornell Method divides note paper into three major sections: a narrow “Cue” column to the left, a spacious “Note-taking” column to the right, and a brief summary box on the bottom of the page. Similar to a traditional graphic organizer, in which student organize “Main ideas,” “Supporting Details” and more, the Cornell Method helps students to categorically arrange their thoughts, and prepare themselves for effective review and study sessions later on.

All of these organizers and strategies can help your child take their study skills, writing, and planning to the next level. Your children will better understand the material they are studying when they map it out, whether they use a diagram, chart, or a great set of notes. Engaging Minds tutors use all of these methods to help each child find the best study methods for their unique learning needs. Try these graphic organizers at home to help your child succeed in writing and many other academic areas!