Which study skills strategies can improve students’ academic performance?
Page 2: Graphic Organizers
Students like Kyra who have difficulty processing information often have trouble connecting new ideas and concepts to their prior knowledge, identifying main ideas and important pieces of information, and ignoring irrelevant information. Graphic organizers, sometimes called webs or concept maps, can help these students more easily process information. More specifically, these tools allow students to:
See the relationships between ideas
More easily understand, remember, and apply information
Douglas Dexter, whose primary research interest is successful inclusion practices for adolescents with LD, has focused much of his attention on the effectiveness of graphic organizers. Listen as he describes three reasons that graphic organizers are effective for students with learning difficulties (time: 2:02).
Douglas Dexter, PhD Assistant Professor of Special Education The Pennsylvania State University
The good news about graphic organizers and in such content enhancements, they really benefit everyone. This isn’t just a tool for my students with high-incidence disabilities. This is a tool that’s going to really help everyone in the classroom. Why are graphic organizers so effective? We have three big ideas that we can focus on. The first one, graphic organizers make information extremely explicit and clear. The spatial arrangement of the main concepts or information on the graphic organizer make it very clear for the students how those facts or concepts are related. It makes those relationships very apparent. And when I talk about relationships, those can be temporal, having to do with time, spatial, semantic, sequential, hierarchical, or comparative. The second big idea for why graphic organizers are effective is because they serve as a bridge between new information and prior knowledge. So as a teacher if I present very general ideas of a new concept and compare that to a concept that I have previously taught my students, it’s going to better allow my students to understand that information and link it to their prior knowledge, which is critical for students to learn new information. This is much more effective than giving an introductory lecture or a text introduction to a new subject. And finally the third big idea for why graphic organizers can be so effective for students with LD and ADHD is because graphic organizers really minimize the stress on the working memory. Students with LD and ADHD, they have difficulty identifying those main ideas and supporting details. They have those issues with identifying and ignoring extraneous information. If we can cut that out for our students, really cut the fluff so to speak, we can really minimize the stress on the working memory, which is going to allow the students to learn much more about the subject.
The results of two research syntheses and one meta-analysis suggest that graphic organizers increase comprehension for students with learning disabilities across all grade levels. (Dexter & Hughes, 2011; Gajria, Jitendra, Sood, & Sacks, 2007; Kim, Vaughn, Wanzek, & Wei, 2004)
Graphic organizers, proven effective for students with and without learning disabilities across all grade levels, can improve reading comprehension and writing skills and increase learning in content areas. (Ellis & Howard, 2007)
Students with learning disabilities and ADHD who used graphic organizers outperformed those who did not use graphic organizers on a test of conceptual understanding of linear equations. This suggests that graphic organizers are effective tools for learning higher-level mathematics. (Ives, 2007)
A meta-analysis shows that middle and high school students with disabilities who used graphic organizers to learn science content displayed increased vocabulary knowledge and comprehension. (Dexter, Park, & Hughes, 2011)
Because there are many kinds of graphic organizers, teachers should carefully select those that will best convey the information and relationships they wish for their students to learn. The table below lists several of the most common types of graphic organizers and the purposes for which they can be used. Click on them to learn more as well as to see completed versions of each.
Students can use this type of graphic organizer to clarify the relationship between specific events and the outcomes deriving from them, thus illustrating the concepts of consequences, inevitability, and causality.
Romeo secretly attends the Capulets’ masquerade
Romeo falls in love with Juliet
Romeo slays Tibalt
The prince banishes Romeo from Verona
Friar John fails to deliver his message to Romeo
Romeo falsely believes Juliet to be dead
Problem and solution map
Obstacles, hindrances, and malfunctions often have a number of different possible solutions, and this type of graphic organizer can be an effective way to help students better visualize which of those will be most effective.
Cause Longer than usual period without rain
Cause Population growth increases demand for water
Problem Citywide water supply shortage
Fine residents for overuse of water
Purchase water from neighboring states
Offer subsidies to farms and industry to limit water use
Create program to encourage homeowners to use water more responsibly
Combined, these approaches help the city to make it through the remainder of dry summer months.
Also called an Ishikawa diagram (after its inventor), this type of graphic organizer can be used to show a range of complex causes and interactions that lead to specific events.
This fishbone graphic organizer illustrates the various primary causes of World War I: Competition Among Nations, Diplomatic Errors, Complex Alliances, and Foreign Policy Events. Secondary causes of the war branch out from each primary cause. The secondary causes that fall under Competition Among Nations are Arms Race and Territorial Disputes. The secondary causes falling under Diplomatic Errors are Delayed Communications and Assumption of Bad Faith. The secondary causes that fall under Complex Alliances are Franco-Russian and Dual Alliance. Finally, the secondary causes falling under Foreign Policy Events are Balkan Wars and Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
Students can use a web to categorize or classify items.
In this web graphic organizer, the central term “literature” is divided into a pair of major categories: “fiction” and “nonfiction.” These categories, in turn, are broken into more specific units. “Nonfiction” leads to “autobiography,” “essay,” and “history.” “Fiction,” meanwhile, spreads out to “novels,” “short stories,” and “poetry.” The term “novels” becomes more specific yet, breaking down to genre categories like “fantasy,” “science fiction,” and “mystery.”
Students can use this simple organizer to sort or classify information or objects into different categories.
Types of Rocks with Examples
Obsidian Basalt Pumice Granite Mica Quartz
Sandstone Shale Fossils Limestone Gypsum
Slate Marble Quartzite Schist Gneiss
Named after their creator, Venn diagrams are a type of graphic organizer used to show the overlapping relationships between various categories of ideas, things, events, mathematical expressions, or logical concepts.
The primary nations that made up the Central Powers of World War I and Axis alliance of World War II
Students can use this type of graphic organizer to clarify what is the same and what is different about the selected people, places, or objects.
Unitary Parliament/ Constitutional Monarchy
Word webs are graphic organizers that help students to better understand a key vocabulary term by connecting it to related terms.
This vocabulary graphic organizer depicts different aspects of a word. In the center of the graphic organizer Today’s Word is listed. Today’s Word is “happy.” Under the word is the definition of happy: “having, displaying, or marked by pleasure or joy, adj.” Under the definition of happy are three examples of Today’s Word in sentences. The first example is “When I am happy, I smile.” The second example is “Winning at checkers makes me happy.” The third example is “The happy birds were singing a cheerful song.” To the left of Today’s Word are three synonyms for happy. The synonyms are “glad,” “pleased,” and “joyful.” To the right of Today’s Word are three antonyms for happy. The antonyms are “sad,” “miserable,” and “gloomy.”
This type of graphic organizer is used to help students develop more comprehensive vocabulary skills by offering not only a definition and examples of what a given person, place, event, or thing is but also a definition and examples of what those things are not.
A basic geometric shape; a closed plane form having three sides and three angles.
A triangle is a three-sided polygon with three vertices (or sides).
scalene, equilateral, isosceles
square (four equal sides), octagon (eight sides), circle (no sides)
Teachers can use semantic maps to help students to better understand the ways in which words, categories, and concepts are related to one another. This organizer is a type of web that allows students to add in descriptive information about the content.
A semantic map illustrates some of the ways in which words, categories, and concepts are related to one another. In this version of such a map, the key term “vertebrates” is surrounded by a number of specific examples: “amphibians,” “reptiles,” “fish,” “mammals,” and “birds.” Descriptive information has been added beside each of these examples. For example, “amphibians” has been annotated to read “cold-blooded, born in water, no scales.” “Reptiles” reads “cold-blooded, scales, born on land.” “Fish” says “only live in water, have gills and fins.” “Mammals” reads “warm-blooded, babies drink milk, hair on body.” Finally, “birds” is annotated “feathers.”
This common type of graphic organizer breaks down the important steps in a process or sequence and can be used to solve problems or clarify multipart procedures.
Have you developed a thesis for your paper?
Create a clear, straight-forward statement of what your essay is about.
Have you located references and resources for your paper?
Locate books, journals, and newspaper articles.
Have you created an outline for your paper?
Break your essay into parts to create a smoother and more logical flow of information.
Series of events chain
Similar to a timeline of events, this type of graphic organizer can be used to demonstrate how a linear sequence leads to a specific outcome.
Odysseus and his men land on the Island of Cyclopes.
They are soon captured by Polyphemus and trapped in his cave.
Odysseus affects an escape, blinding Polyphemus as part of the ruse.
Polyphemus prays to Poseidon, who greatly lengthens Odysseus’ journey home.
This variety of graphic organizer can help students to more fully comprehend series of events or phenomena that take on recurrent patterns.
This simple and familiar type of graphic organizer arranges events in chronological order to help students better grasp the relationship between historical occurrences or developments.
This timeline graphic is shaped like a double-headed arrow and is divided into single-year increments, a few of which are labeled with some of the major events leading up to the American Revolutionary War. Beginning with 1765, the timeline highlights the Stamp Act then proceeds to similarly spotlight the Boston Massacre in 1770, the Boston Tea Party in 1773, the First Continental Congress in 1774, and the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Douglas Dexter discusses the importance of consistently using the same graphic organizer for similar tasks (e.g., comparing and contrasting), what he refers to as the “verbal structure” of the lecture or text (time: 2:06).
Douglas Dexter, PhD Assistant Professor of Special Education The Pennsylvania State University
I think it’s very important that teachers pick out graphic organizers based on the verbal structure of their lecture or their text. It doesn’t matter which one you pick. The big idea is as long as you are making those relationships very clear and very explicit, just keep using that same organizer time after time. Then you’re optimizing your instructional time because the students—after you’ve modeled it for them for a while and they’ve gotten some practice with it—they can do that much more independently. And so you’re going to get a lot more time to cover the content, and the students are going to be able to absorb that content again through their working memory. They’re able to encode this information much more efficiently if they are using organizers that they understand. What’s going to happen after several months of using these in the classroom, the students then become much more independent. They become self-reliant, and they become self-regulators, and what we see is they can effectively pick out, and they know which organizer to use. So they can see a text structure, and they can say, “Okay, I see what’s happening here, and this is the organizer that we’ve been using in my class, so I will pick that out.” And the good news here is it’s never too late. Of course it would be wonderful if we got our students thinking in this way even before middle school, but even if I’m teaching an eleventh grade English class or twelfth grade English class, if I introduce this to my students, they’re going to be able to get this and it’s going to benefit them for a very long time. In my longitudinal research, what I find is even when students leave the classrooms that we are in and move up in grades, move up from middle school to high school, they’re going to other classes, and they’re using these same graphic organizers because it really cuts across all of the content areas. And getting students to think this way—and especially our students with learning disabilities and ADHD—really will give them a great benefit and a leg up in being very successful in the secondary level.
Regardless of the graphic organizer the teacher selects, it must clearly demonstrate the relationship between pieces of information.
Hannah, Erin, and Kyra were asked to read a brief article about sand dunes* and to use a graphic organizer of their choice to organize the information. All three students chose to use a web. Click here to view their graphic organizers. Select a graphic organizer of your own to compare and contrast the information in the students’ graphic organizers.
For this example, we chose to use a compare-contrast matrix to compare and contrast the information in the students’ graphic organizers. The information included highlights some of the main differences, though it should not be seen as all inclusive.
Clusters related pieces of information under subheaders (e.g., types of sand dunes)
Color-codes each subheader and related details
Spaces information, making it easy to read
Clusters related pieces of information under subheaders
Does not leave ample space between different subheaders, making it somewhat difficult to read
Includes multiple pieces of information (e.g., vocabulary terms) in the same bubble
Does not organize information by subheaders but instead links most pieces of information from the main topic
Identifies all main ideas
Identifies all main ideas
Includes some main ideas but misses many
Includes all relevant details
Includes most relevant details but also some irrelevant details
Includes few relevant details
*U.S. National Park Service. (2007). Fact sheet #2: How do sand dunes move?