Thursday’s Tip: Graphic Organizers

All of us use graphic organizers with our students to organize and compartmentalize their thinking. The trouble is that we typically get stuck in using the same old graphic aids and for the same old purposes. Below are some tips for mixing up the kinds and purposes for using graphic organizers in your classroom:

  • Consider using graphic aids as assessment. A summative assessment might demonstrate all the content a student has gathered over a unit of study, but relationships between concepts can take that learning deeper. Formative assessment can also be aided throughout a unit as a way to check in with students’ understandings.
  • Here is a great rubric for graphic organizers. Graphic organizers like most any product students create in class can have specific guidelines to follow while still maintaining an open-ended possibilities.
  • Sometimes it’s great to have a large collection of graphic organizers to print out an allow students to freely use in order to organize their thinking. Teacher Vision provides a rather comprehensive collection of graphic aids you can print out and have at your disposal. (Also, see Holt.) If you want to personalize your graphic aid print-outs, try Teachnology’s collection of generators.
  • Would you rather save paper? There’s always software such as Inspiration or SMART Ideas, but there are also some online options. There’s Webspiration,, Cacoo, Gliffy, or Grapholite. If you like free like the previously mentioned web apps but would prefer a download, try Cmap. These tools and many others can be found at Lee’s Summit (MO) IT page for graphic organizers.
  • A great way to use graphic organizers in an inquiry-based classroom is to create the graphic without labels. The students can use some deductive reasoning in order to define the parameters of the graphic aid. For example: Place a list of spelling words with similar patterns in two different circles. Have the students figure out what the rule is for each group and why the words are separated.
  • Provide students with multiple graphic organizers from which to choose. Then, have them justify their choices as part of the learning process.
  • It is important to remember that graphic organizers can be useful to all types of learners. Higher order thinking can be involved as students purposefully consider the relationships between concepts. Graphic organizers can also be a way to make more complex ideas clearer for struggling learners. Plus, graphic aids can be a pleasant alternative for those students who are more visually-inclined.
  • Check out eThemes for more resources on graphic organizers!

Remember that graphic organizers can be used in a multitude of ways for all grade levels and subject areas. How do you use graphic organizers in your classroom?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.