Great Idea: Graphic Organisers

What are graphic organisers?

Graphic organisers are also sometimes known as key visuals. They are not simply images, they are ways of presenting information visually. There are many different types of graphic organisers. Some of the main ones are:

  • Table, chart, grid, matrix
  • Ishikawa diagram (fishbone), Venn diagram
  • Bar chart, pie chart, pictogram
  • Pyramid, ladder
  • Cycle, flow chart, timeline
  • Concept map, web (star), KWHL chart (what I know, what I want to know, how I am going to find out, what I have learned)

Examples of activities

Graphic organisers are useful for learners at a range of different levels of English language proficiency. For example, for learners who are New to English, they can help them to understand the context of the lesson and thereby build on their prior knowledge of the topic. For EAL learners who are at the Competent or Fluent stages they can help them to clarify or organise their thoughts on a topic before concentrating on the academic language they will need to speak or write about it.

1. Sequencing:

To provide scaffolding for learners to re-tell stories, recount events or describe processes, flow charts, timelines, cycles and action strips are useful. For example in Charles Dickens barrier game the learners ask each other questions so as to be able to complete a timeline of Dickens’ life.

2. Explaining cause and effect:

To help learners explain and answer ‘Why?’ questions, useful graphic organisers include Ishikawa diagrams and tables. For example in Physical and Chemical Changes learners complete a chart by sharing information about things that happen to a car and deciding whether they are physical or chemical.

3. Prioritising:

To provide scaffolding for a discussion activity where learners are asked to rank different ideas in priority order, useful graphic organisers would be pyramids, ladders or diamond shapes.

4. Classifying:

To enable learners to discuss the characteristics or properties of objects / substances / animals etc., useful graphic organisers include tables and matrices. For example in Flag by John Agard, there is an activity classifying ideas about the poem into different columns in a table, according to whether they are about mood, structure, imagery etc.

5. Comparing and contrasting:

Useful graphic organisers include Venn diagrams, fact files and grids.

How graphic organisers work

  • Graphic organisers are useful for EAL learners to be able to access information and then focus on transferring it into speech or writing
  • Alternatively, learners can be asked to read a text and analyse it, using information from it to complete a graphic organiser
  • Graphic organisers are ideal as a basis for collaborative pair or group work, so that EAL learners are working together to interpret or complete the graphic organiser
  • For a more challenging activity, learners could create their own graphic organiser from a text

Top tip: When selecting what type of graphic organiser to use, it is important to think about the language function you would like the learner to practise. For example, if the task requires the language of comparison, a Venn diagram might be appropriate. If the target language function is sequencing, a flow diagram or cycle would be more effective.

Why are graphic organisers a Great Idea for EAL learners?

Graphic organisers provide a means whereby learners can organise their ideas, before going on to express their thoughts in speech or writing, as recommended by Lev Vygotsky in his work on the relationship between thought and language. This was built on by Bernard Mohan in his work on knowledge frameworks. They can provide EAL learners with curriculum content in an accessible format, which links to Stephen Krashen’s theories about comprehensible input and they can be used to support the development of academic language.

Graphic organisers are excellent for scaffolding learning so as to keep the cognitive challenge of a task high while keeping the language accessible, as suggested by many EAL practitioners and researchers, e.g. Jerome Bruner, Pauline Gibbons and Derryn Hall. Used as a basis for collaborative tasks, they can allow EAL learners to practise target language in a meaningful context as suggested by socio-cultural theorists such as Gordon Wells and Neil Mercer.

Research into the effectiveness of graphic organisers includes Tang 1992, Bellanca 2007, Kim et al 2007, Manoli and Papadopoulu 2012, Uba et al 2016, Uba et al 2017.

References

Bellanca, J.A. 2007, A guide to graphic organizers: Helping students organize and process content for deeper learning (2nd ed.), Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Kim, A.H., Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., Wei, S. 2007, Graphic organizers and their effects on the reading comprehension of students with LD: A synthesis of research, Journal of Learning Disabilities, (37) 105-118.

Tang, G., 1992, The effect of graphic representation of knowledge structures on ESL reading comprehension. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, (14) 177-195.

Manoli, P. and Papdopoulu, M. 2012, Graphic organizers as a reading strategy: research findings and issues. Creative Education, (3) 348-356.

Uba, E., Oteiku, E., and Abiodun-Eniayekan, E., 2016, Towards embedding graphics in the teaching of reading and literature in Nigeria. International Journal of Education Investigations, 3(7), 106-119.

Uba, E., Oteikwu, E., Onwuka, E., and Abiodun-Eniayekan, E., 2017,  A Research-Based Evidence of the Effect of Graphic Organizers on the Understanding of Prose Fiction in ESL Classroom, SAGE Open, Vol. 7 Issue 2.

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