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Use Graphic Organizers for Effective Learning

Dr. Katherine McKnight


graphic organizersMy 10-year-old has several learning and processing disabilities but his greatest learning strength is that he is an incredible visual learner.  When my son can see and organize information, his ability to learn and comprehend it increases significantly. 

I am sure that you know kids like my son, Colin, and we have all taught students like him. Using many modalities, especially visualization has been linked to greater learning and reading comprehension.

Graphic organizers are important and effective pedagogical tools for organizing content and ideas and facilitating learners’ comprehension of newly acquired information. Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences posits that students are better able to learn and internalize information when more than one learning modality is employed in an instructional strategy. 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.

For today’s classroom, nothing is more essential to successful teaching and learning than strategy-based instruction. It is through the use of specific teaching strategies and learning tools that students can be more successful learners. Graphic organizers are teaching and learning tools; when they’re integrated into classroom experiences, students are better able to understand new material. Creating a strong visual picture, graphic organizers support students by enabling them to literally see connections and relationships between facts, information, and terms.

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Reaching All Learners with Graphic Organizers

By integrating text and visual imagery, the graphic organizers actively engage a wide variety of learners, including students with special needs and English language learners. Graphic organizers can be used for any subject matter and are easily integrated into course curriculum.

We know from learning theory that the human mind naturally organizes and stores information. Our minds create structures to store newly acquired information and connect it to previous knowledge.  The graphic organizers are visualizations of these mental storage systems, and serve to support students in remembering and connecting information.  When students are able to remember and assimilate information, they can delve into more critical thinking.

Numerous studies have found graphic organizers to be effective for teaching and learning, and many support the effectiveness of graphic organizers for gifted children and students with special needs. Textbook publishers have taken note of the research that supports the importance of graphic organizers for teaching and learning, and regularly feature them in textbooks.

Since graphic organizers are widely successful, these learning tools are used at all grade levels. Commonly used in the k-12th grades, they are also effective for adult learners.  Community colleges and corporate entities use graphic organizers to present information in similar instructive contexts.  Often, you will see college level textbooks and corporate instructional materials use graphic organizers.  The visually stimulating nature of graphic organizers draws the learner’s attention.  As learners, we attend to what is novel and visually intriguing because the brain is more equipped to process images rather than text.  Since graphic organizers integrate text and visual images, learners are having more whole-brain experiences.

Here are two videos that further discuss the importance of graphic organizers in learning.




You can also check out Dr. Katherine McKnight's books, Teacher’s Big Book of Graphic Organizers: 100 Reproducible Organizers that Help Kids with Reading, Writing and the Content Areas (2010, Jossey-Bass).


Share your graphic organizer tips and resources in the comments section!

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