Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Trading Spaces Tuesday- Using Graphic Organizers for Reading

Today's a special day where I'm trading blog spaces with some friends. You can find me over at Comprehension Connection, and Lauren is borrowing my blog with some great tips for using graphic organizers to scaffold thinking.

It is my absolute pleasure to be here today at Luckeyfrog's Lilypad with you, as I am participating in a "Trading Spaces Tuesday" with a few of my blogging friends!

I am Lauren from the elementary literacy blog~


Just like Jenny, I am an elementary reading specialist, although I have also worked in middle and high school.  In addition, I am a literacy coach, having coached and mentored teachers at the middle and elementary levels.  And, yes, I have three children and will soon have three furbabies!

I have used graphic organizers in the classroom since the late 1980's.  In fact, a large collection of graphic organizers for reading and writing was included in my county's ELA middle school curriculum in 1991.  Based on the work of Jay McTighe, we were encouraged to model their use, display in our classrooms, and use for both instruction and assessment.  Ever since, I have used graphic organizers with students of all ages and abilities, from the learning disabled to the gifted.

For this post, I will provide a review of implementing graphic organizers in reading instruction.

Frames by:  Teaching in the Tongass.  Fonts by KG Fonts

One of the best features of graphic organizers, in my opinion, is how versatile and flexible they are, as they can be used with any content area.  In fact, teaching the older learners to transfer their understanding of using organizers to another content area besides ELA, is important and effective learning. Moreover, applying reading skills and strategies to content area and independent reading is critical for reading to learn, which is the purpose of reading for students in grades 3 and beyond.  

For the primary age learners, the organizers are used as tool for understanding letters, sounds, word families, comprehension strategies, as well as learning to retell and summarize.  However, this is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg!  Not only can they be used to aid reading skills, strategies, and comprehension, but they can be used for note taking during reading and for brainstorming and pre-writing a written piece.  Students need to know the flexible uses and purposes of graphic organizers and that they are not just another worksheet, but an actual tool that can make learning easier, more effective, and more engaging!

Frames by:  Teaching in the Tongass.  Fonts by KG Fonts

How Can I Use Graphic Organizers?
  • To scaffold reading comprehension by presenting a visual framework of the text (e.g. a story map, or problem-solution text structure organizer for informational reading)
  • They can be used with students in kindergarten for learning the alphabetic principle, learning letters and sounds, phonemic awareness, and phonics (e.g., use a simple four-square organizer for the /k/ sound.  Draw a picture in each square of a word that begins (or ends) with that sound.
  • Can be used at any time during the reading process:  before, during, and after reading.
  • For before reading, they can be used to activate schema, set the reading purpose (read to find out the author's purpose, or message,theme), build prior knowledge, and front-load instruction (e.g., show them the story map they will complete after reading, giving them a visual map of the story's structure).
  • Use for assessment after reading independently, in Guided Reading, Shared Reading, or after a read-aloud.  For instance, students could complete a story map that asks the reader to write (or draw and label) the sequence of events and other elements of the narrative structure such as the characters and the setting.
  • Can be used with all grades from preschool to college!
  • Students can develop their own graphic organizer when note-taking or during a literacy circle (either literature or nonfiction).  I have had students as young as nine (grade 4) design their own organizers 
  • Can be used as a foldable. For example, take a piece of paper, fold in half hotdog/shower style.  Have students cut the top sheet to make flaps.  (See Diagram #1 below)
  • In a similar manner, they can also be used in an interactive notebook; in fact many of the interactive templates you will find are the same if not very similar to typical graphic organizers.
  • To further visual and tactile interaction, students can color code their organizer, not just to make it look pretty, but to aid in learning.  For example, when working on a cause-effect organizer, color all the "cause" squares blue and the "effect" squares green.
  • Fosters motivation, engagement, and active reading.  Completing an organizer during and after reading is usually much more interesting and a better use of time than answering questions on a worksheet. 

With all this being said, graphic organizers are not the end goal of instruction. The idea is to use a gradual release model, eventually having students use the organizers independently and then internalizing a variety of them so they do not have to use them at all. Of course this requires much modeling, explicit teaching, and time for guided practice.  Let me give you an example.
My middle son is in second grade.  One day a month or so ago he brought home a half sheet of paper to write a summary of a chapter from the book he was reading in Guided Reading. However, he could not just sit down and write a summary even though he appeared to understand the "gist" of the chapter.  So, I whipped out a "Somebody-Wanted-But-So-Then" organizer that I had laminated. I gave him an Expo marker and he dictated to me the ideas for each section.  I then showed him how to use the first block ("somebody") to write his first sentence and how to transfer his ideas from the organizer into sentences.  Next time, he wrote his ideas on the organizer, and now he is to the point where he just has to look at the blank organizer to write his summary.

Graphics by Creative Clips.  Font by KG Fonts

This illustrated the "cognitive load", where the teacher is doing most of the work at the beginning and then it transitions to the student working independently.

As a final thought, there are many ways that organizers can be differentiated to offer more of a challenge or to simply concepts for students who are not ready for an in-depth look and analysis of a text.  Just making the shapes or fonts larger and deleting some components can be a simple way to differentiate for those in reading intervention groups.
And the bottom line?  Eventually students will not need to use an organizer at all!  That is the ultimate goal, whether the organizer is being used in reading, writing, or another content area. 

As I write this, I am almost finished with a set of graphic organizers I created for reading literature that has a Christmas and winter theme.  It is perfect to use this week with your holiday reading, or to use when you return after winter break.  You can check out a sampling of this resource and download two FREEBIES by clicking the pictures below.  Enjoy!

When Readers Struggle:  Teaching that Works by Pinnell and Fountas, 2009

Wow! Lauren, thanks so much for stopping by today. Her blog includes lots more useful information just like this, so be sure to check it out here:


Today, you can find me blogging (with a freebie!) about teaching kids to read punctuation. It's such an important part of fluency and comprehension, so if you'd like a free PowerPoint presentation to help (and some tips!) stop on over to Comprehension Connection.

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  1. Lauren-I enjoyed reading on the history of graphic organizers. I didn't realize it, but I guess it was in the 90s when I started using them. Seems like they've been part of my instructional program since I started, and yet, I still seem to find new types which keeps learning fresh and fun. Great research too!
    Comprehension Connection

    1. Thanks, Carla! I read that they were used in the 1970's when I was in elementary and middle school, but I don't remember them. I love creating my own and seeing the ones the older students design! :-)

  2. Our district started using Thinking Maps, which are student created graphic organizers. I feel like there is definitely a place for graphic organizers because it seems the Thinking Maps don't always cover what I want them to. Love how you used "Somebody wanted" to help your son! Thanks for a great reminder of why we use graphic organizers!

    Reading Toward the Stars


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