Studies Weekly Graphic Organizers

Graphic Organizers

Sep. 10, 2020 • Studies Weekly

Grade Levels: K-8

Social Studies Strands: Government and Civics, Geography, Economics, History, Culture

Why: (Purpose)

  • Graphic organizers align with deep learning by helping students develop critical thinking skills to make connections, identify patterns, and construct meaningful knowledge.
  • Graphic organizers increase student achievement by combining words and phrases with symbols and arrows representing relationships to help students build knowledge and become more strategic learners.
  • Graphic organizers increase student engagement by supporting all students, including those with learning disabilities and special needs.

What: (Description of the Strategy)

  • Graphic organizers come in a variety of forms and can be used in a variety of ways. They foster and facilitate specific thinking processes, including defining, describing, comparing and contrasting, sequencing, identifying causes and effects, classifying, and concept mapping, among others. They can also be used in combination with other instructional strategies to increase their effectiveness.
  • Context: Graphic organizers can be used before, during, after, and throughout the learning process and are often used as a living document so students can monitor and manage their learning.
  • Physical Environment: They can be completed by students individually, in groups, or by the teacher as long as students provide the terms to complete them.
  • Norms:
    • Model the process. Regardless of which graphic organizer students use, it’s critical that teachers provide explicit instruction on how to use the graphic organizer before asking students to use it themselves.
    • Keep it simple. Ask students to stick to words and phrases and avoid complete sentences to help them focus on what’s most important and enable them to use the tool efficiently.
    • Use, reflect, and repeat. Provide students with frequent opportunities to use graphic organizers and reflect on what they learned to help students internalize the thinking skills embodied in them.

How: (How to Set up the Strategy)

  • Determine the learning goal, the thinking process involved, which graphic organizer to use, and how to use it to achieve the learning goal.
    • Before the learning, graphic organizers can be used as a pre-reading or pre-writing activity to help students activate prior knowledge, prepare to read or write with a purpose, and organize their ideas.
    • During the learning, graphic organizers can be used for note-taking while reading a text, researching a concept, watching a video, or even listening to a podcast. They can also be used in place of an outline during direct instruction.
    • After the learning, graphic organizers can be used to scaffold class discussions by having students map out the concepts learned before sharing and comparing their thinking with others. They can also be used for assessment, as a supplement or replacement for a quiz, or for students to complete or create to illustrate the relationships between the concepts learned.
    • Graphic organizers can also be used as a living document throughout each phase of the learning, where students add to and revise their graphic organizers as they learn new information.
  • Model the use of the graphic organizer, and provide guided practice if students are unfamiliar with it.
  • Invite students to add to or revise the graphic organizer individually, in small groups, or as a class.
  • Finally, teachers can use graphic organizers as formative or summative assessments that provide feedback about what students know and still need to know in order to grow.

Digital Application of the Strategy:

  • In a virtual classroom, teachers can share a graphic organizer with students in a collaborative document like Google Docs or on an interactive whiteboard like Jamboard. They can add to the graphic organizer using words, phrases, and even images to make connections and show relationships between key concepts. Doing this in combination with a discussion strategy like Think, Pair, Share, using breakout rooms in Zoom or Microsoft Teams, can help students build knowledge and confidence by comparing their thoughts with their peers’ before sharing or submitting their work. Their work can then be shared with the class through a video chat or FlipGrid, where each student shares and compares their work with others. Regardless of the graphic organizer, digital apps and tools make them accessible for students in a variety of learning environments.


  • Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D. J., & Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom Instruction That Works
  • Fullan, M. G., Quinn, J., McEachen, J. (2018). Deep Learning: Engage the World Change the World
  • Hyerle, D. (1996). Visual Tools for Constructing Knowledge

Graphic Organizer Templates:

View more resources in Studies Weekly Online with a FREE trial.