I’m sure you’ve all used graphic organizers at some point in your life, whether it be for your own personal use or for teaching others, but just in case you haven’t, here is some helpful information that could make a difference in the lives of the children that you teach.  Graphic organizers are a popular research-based method which are used to improve executive function skills and concept understanding.  They help children make connections between various topics and organize their thoughts.

As you can see in the cartoon below, children often struggle with writing activities and have no idea what to write.  It is important to remember that it isn’t necessarily that they don’t want to write, but that they just can’t figure out where to start and how to structure all of their ideas.


There are numerous types and uses of graphic organizers and they can be used across content areas.

Most Common Types

  • KWL Chart
  • Fishbone Map
  • Spider / Web Map
  • Cause and Effect Map
  • Problem and Solution Map
  • Sequence Map
  • Cycle Map
  • Venn Diagram

Uses (Before, During & After Lessons)

  • Organization
  • Brainstorming
  • Activate background knowledge
  • Make predictions
  • Identify important details and patterns
  • Reflect and synthesize
  • Study aid
  • Develop a story map

Content Areas

  • Reading
  • Language Arts
  • Writing
  • Math
  • Social Studies
  • Science



  1. Discuss the purpose of graphic organizers (the benefits, the various types and uses….provide a basic overview).
  2. Choose a type (example: spider web, fishbone, etc.) to teach the class and consistently use the same one all year.  Remember, using multiple types, shapes, and seasonal themes can be confusing.
  3. Conduct a think-aloud lesson and fill in the graphic organizer on the board.  I recommend providing students a printed example for future reference.
  4. Co-construct a graphic organizer with the class.  Modeling is key.  Do this step a number of times until the students get the hang of it.
  5. Place students in groups and have them work together to fill in the graphic organizer.  Walk around while this is being done and assist as needed.
  6. Have students work independently to fill in the graphic organizer.
  7. Allow ample opportunity for students to practice and keep their skills fresh.


  • Content is easier to understand and remember
  • Information processing demands are reduced
  • Students become more strategic learners
  • Improves reading and writing skills
  • Universal
  • Research-based
  • Provides students with a visual representation of information
  • Often improves test scores
  • Able to use with all ability levels


  • Some teachers feel that graphic organizers don’t fit with their teaching styles
  • Some research shows that students are unable to appreciate the value of using graphic organizers (as cited in Hall & Strangman, 2002)


Video Examples




Free Graphic Organizers Link 1

Free Graphic Organizers Link 2


Multiple Intelligences / Learning Styles

  • Visual-Spatial: Helps students to think in pictures and create a mental image to retain information.  Visual learners learn best through visual representations such as charts and diagrams.
  • Logical-Mathematical: Students use logic to organize information, classify and categorize, make connections and build relationships.  Auditory skills are used.
  • Verbal-Linguistic: Helps students to organize words in a way that makes sense.  Information is presented auditorily through lectures / discussions, and think-alouds.


Barriers and Universal Design for Learning Strategies

Barrier UDL Strategy
Choosing the appropriate graphic organizer for the task. Provide background information on graphic organizers and their use (in printed and
digital format).
Writing the headings and brief explanations that go in the graphic organizer. Offer use of speech recognition, spell checker, and grammar checker when using graphic organizers; link from graphic organizer program to supports such as a thesaurus.
Organizing the headings and brief explanations to connect the different pieces of researched information. Offer students the option of inserting images
or sound clips to help organize thoughts and information before beginning to write the text. Provide links to background information that may help with the task of connecting pieces
of researched information. Provide models
of completed graphic organizers. Provide templates customized to the student:   some
will be partially filled in, some will provide tips on connecting information.
Task is too easy for some students Provide students who need more challenge with a list of more complex graphic organizers.
Task is boring for some students Offer students the option of incorporating images, audio, and video into the graphic organizer; show students how to customize the graphic organizer by using different colors and text styles.

Taken directly from Graphic organizers and implications for universal design for learning: curriculum enhancement report


According to the National Research Panel, graphic organizers are one of the seven instructional strategies that improve reading comprehension (as cited in Mentoring Minds, n.d.).  Gains in writing ability have also proven to be strong as a result of using graphic organizers.  It is important to remember that in order for them to be effective, they need to be used on a regular basis.  Explicit instruction and modeling are also pivotal to their success (as cited in Hall & Strangman, 2002).

In my opinion, graphic organizers are a great tool to improve student learning.  I think for optimal results it’s best to use them in connection with other research-based strategies.



Hall, T., & Strangman, N. (2002). Graphic organizers. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved March 2, 2012. From http://aim.cast.org/learn/historyarchive/backgroundpapers/graphic_organizers

Kaufman, C. (2010). Executive function in the classroom: practical strategies for improving performance and enhancing skills for all students. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Pub. Co..

Makes Sense Strategies. (2001). Using graphic organizers to makes sense of the curriculum. Retrieved March 2, 2012. From http://www.una.edu/faculty/onlineacademy/State/Adobe%20Reader/DO%20NOT%20OPEN%20program%20files/Using%20GOs/Program%20Files/GOs/FAQ@GOs.pdf

Meltzer, L. (2010). Promoting executive function in the classroom. New York: Guilford Press.

Mentoring Minds. (n.d.). Research on graphic organizers. Retrieved March 2, 2012. From http://www.mentoringminds.com/pdf/pdfGraphicOrganizersResearch.pdf

Strangman, N., Hall, T., & Meyer, A. (n.d.). Graphic organizers and implications for universal design for learning: curriculum enhancement report. National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Retrieved March 2, 2012. From http://www.k8accesscenter.org/training_resources/udl/GraphicOrganizersHTML.asp