How To Get Organized

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • Mar
  • 31
  • 2006

I’m taking suggestions! What kinds of graphic organizers do you find effective for your students? How do they work best? No matter what grade level and no matter what content area, your observations are welcome. Make yourself famous; leave a comment here or head over to The Tech Savvy Educator’s forum and write a reply there.

Where We’re Looking So Far

  • provides good resources, though you have to pay for access to full size versions of their organizers. When you click on the type of organizer to use, you have to scroll down the page to see all of their proposed methods of implementing that type of organizer. They’ve done a lot of our work for us, but we need things to be free for all teachers to use.
  • Byrd Middle School has an incredibly cool technology resource teacher who has created some good organizers over the last year. I’ve stolen several of those and plan to add them to our pile of possibilities.
  • Jim Burke’s Web site and his book Tools for Thought have come in rather handy. Purchasing enough copies of his book to hand out to the staff is a possibility and would encourage a good conversation about how to use these tools. I hesitate to do it, though, because the idea’s already out there that things like graphic organizers and general literacy promotion are all the English department’s responsibility. For the staff to have a book written by an English teacher about how to use graphic organizers could perhaps reinforce the foolish notion that English is responsible for literacy.

Not a big list, I know. We’re just getting started and there’s really only two of us looking into this. Each of us has a few graphic organizers that we created and use in our classrooms that we’ll add to the list. The joke is that we’ll put all of this together in a book, but it might not be a bad idea once we work through the process. The weakness I’m finding with existing publications (though I haven’t looked very deeply into this matter) is that they have a lot of narration, a supreme irony for any book about graphic organizers. I want to see a publication more like the site above, with chapters for each organizer and multiple versions of the organizer, ready to be put to use in different courses. Student examples of how the organizer helped the thinking process would be nice to augment each chapter.


In an effort to push school-wide literacy, we’re thinking of choosing 2 different graphic organizers to emphasize at each grade level. Every teacher would know what those organizers are and would use them in their classes whenever appropriate. This has the added benefit of giving our teaching a cohesion at least on the level of how we demand students organize their thoughts.

In high school, the different subjects are taught in almost complete isolation and, even within the subjects, concepts are taught in isolation. When I write, I rarely write completely within a single genre. It’s often a mix of persuasive, reflective, expository, narrative, and analytical styles. To write something entirely inside a single domain is unnatural. Yet, we teach those writing styles independently. To urge students into mixing the genres is saved for the advanced students and, even then, typically only the techniques of a single style are evaluated.

I imagine that similar issues exist in math, science, the arts, social science, and other content areas. In reality, the concepts from all these classes are connected and often used at once to solve problems, but high school presents them all as if there was nothing but the most tenuous connection between them.

I’ve written far too many times on how schools need to show connections between course content and life after academics, but schools also need to show how all courses connect into making sense out of the world. In social science, you can’t leave all the good writing techniques you learned in English at the door. In science, you can’t leave all of your math skills in a pile on the threshold. All of these things are related and if we’re all at least using the same organization strategies, those relations start to become clearer.


1. Ben says:

[4/1/2006 - 8:42 am]

I like the effort your school is putting forth (or at least your committee?) about using tools with students not only cross-curricularly, but across grade levels as well. The old elementary I worked at used Thinking Maps through K-5, focusing on just a few maps at each grade level and reinforcing maps that had been used in previous grade levels. They aren’t graphic organizers directed towards a particular subject with all the bells and whistles like those Tom created, but they are really good for general organization of thought across subject areas

The kids really enjoyed the bubble and double bubble map for simple description and compare & contrast respectively, but I really enjoyed the brace map for breaking an essay or project down into its parts and then further breaking those parts down into smaller steps.

In case you’re interested.

2. Todd says:

[4/1/2006 - 9:21 am]

The idea of “general organization of thought across subject areas” is exactly what we’re after and we’ll use any graphic organizers we decide on for that purpose. I’ve only glanced at it, but those Thinking Maps seem to be graphic organizers like any other. I really like their page of examples, showing how students have used them for different subjects.

They look like they’re trying to sell themselves as a different solution, but I don’t quite get it. How are they any different than just working on multiple ways to apply things like cluster diagrams or flow charts to different assignments? And, by the way, that’s what we want to do.

Can you tell me a little more about your experience with them?

3. Ben says:

[4/2/2006 - 5:26 am]

I’d be happy to share what I know about them. Unfortunately I didn’t take one of manuals with me when I left my old school (although I’m sure that would have been a no-no so I guess it’s alright I didn’t).

The charts themselves are exactly what you described; the usual graphic organizers, but the company has added an additional twist. Like Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences their school of thought is that there are several different ways of organizing information, each way unique and specific to the current task as hand. While I agree that there are different needs for different forms of information or at least the connections you’re trying to make between them, the maps are nothing spectacularily new in design.

I used the double bubble map extensively as the students seemed to very easily understand the concept of compare and contrast by sharing bubbles in the middle or putting bubbles out to the side with only once connection. That and they’re drilled on comparison/contrast since day one of Kindergarten so it was a nice reinforcement. I had a chance to use a brace map with a Webquest I did on healthy eating. We used the brace map to take the Food Pyramid and break it up into the food groups, then broke those food groups into the individual foods. IT was nice to see the food groups in a different format than the often misread pyramid, and the 3rd graders I used it with enjoyed coming up with the different examples. As for older students, the bridge map worked nicely as it uses the bridge as an analogy. The bridge forms the connection (whatever that happens to be) between the two terms. An example would be cat is to noun. Once the first bridge is created and the connection understood (in this case what part of speech is it) then the student can continue to work. It’s a bit hokey, as I’ve never found analogies to be difficult, but you never know. I know other teachers in the building used the flow chart for process writing, making sure that the students could flesh out their papers as an outline on the flow chart, then check to see if they needed to re-arrange any of them boxes before doing a rough draft.

I can post some more ideas and examples on the Tech Savvy site if you’d like. I’m trying to find some software similar to the Thinking Maps software we had, but it looks like there’s a demo you can try (can’t save or print) from the website. All of the maps can be easily re-created with any word processing and/or concept mapping software like Inspiration.

4. Debbie says:

[4/3/2006 - 1:53 pm]

I also have an entire book of graphic organizers that came with the Read 180 program. You’re welcome to come look.

5. Sarah Johnson says:

[1/13/2007 - 8:59 am]

I beleive in order to complete the thought process for young student, we as teachers must use more of our five senses. One idea I thought about is using the sense of smell to organize thoughts. I have a very strong relation to smell and certain thoughts.
My idea is this, use a lotion that students can put on their hands and smell and always use the lotion with teaching organization of thoughts. Have the students always do creative writing during this time or flow chart their ideas. If the connection in the brain is made in accosiation with the smell and the thought process it might make it click.
Just a thought. I only use it with my son.

6. twitter followers says:

[12/21/2012 - 7:34 pm]

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