What is a Graphic Organizer and how are they Helpful?

A graphic organizer is a visual display that is used to depict the relationships betweens facts, terms and/or ideas within a learning task. They form a powerful visual picture of the information and this allows the mind to discover patterns and relationships it otherwise may have missed. It uses visual symbols to convey meaning. Its purpose is to facilitate learning by presenting the most complete picture of all the available facts and the potential relationships that could develop among them.

Graphic organizers can be constructed with a number of different structures or designs. They are called by different names such as knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, cognitive organizers or concept diagrams. One of these organizers can make a curriculum more supportive of students and teachers as it allows them to actually see rather than have to imagine the possibilities contained within.

Time management is crucial to getting tasks accomplished and graphic organizers are well suited for arranging schedules and timelines. One particular type of concept map is called the "Series of Events" and is particularly good for setting up steps or stages to be completed. A calendar is actually a graphic organizer, perhaps the original. There are many different diagrams and arrangements, some more suitable for certain projects than others. For instance, there is a cycle map with no absolute beginning or discernible end. When the information needs to be organized as a hierarchical set a Thematic or Descriptive Map works well. It can hold as much or as little generic information as necessary. A hierarchical set with super-ordinate or subordinate elements is perfect for a Network Tree. If there is no hierarchy, a Spider Map works well.

These organizers can make assignments easier for students, first by giving them a lot of information to work with, then by narrowing the focus. The student can then eliminate non-essential elements of the map, leaving key facts to be incorporated into the assignment. It allows the student to structure the paper with the help of visual clues.

Young children can use graphic organizers to better understand how their ideas can be broken down and organized for easier communication. Teachers can use the concept maps to make comparisons of familiar concepts with ones that are new, giving the children a reference they can relate to. Teachers can keep a chart of a student's reading progress, discovering at a glance which strategies are working and which are not.

As the student becomes able to fill in his own chart with tools that him with his writing skills. The teacher can print an organizer with the goal of sequencing and the student can fill in the blanks with his story ideas. Another chart may break down into narrative story components or expository structure. Again, the spaces are left blank for the student to complete with his ideas.

In even later grades, a student can be given an assignment asking her for brainstorming on verb types or parts of speech. She can fill up the page with her own ideas and "clean it up" as she goes.

Students can also use these organizers to compare and contrast study techniques to help them decide which one would be the most effective. Perhaps for a reading assignment in a textbook, the PQRST (preview, question, read, study, test) would be best, but in reading narrative, a different technique would not be as interruptive, thereby making the reading more enjoyable.

Concept mapping is an especially effective tool for older students as it gives them freedom to brainstorm and then it forces them to go back and make decisions. They can actually see all of the choices available and choose the best ones. Graphic organizers clear out the clutter and effective use can result in cleaner, more readable writing.