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Graphic Organizers – Thinking Strategies for Classroom Use

  • brainstorming to generate ideas.
  • Convergent thinking is promoted by using such techniques as graphic organizers to provide a framework for the development of new ideas through analysis, reflection and display.

The ability to think creatively and critically is a crucial element in preparing students to become successful thinkers and learners. The use of graphic organizers is reportedly even more powerful when combined with thinking skills and cooperative group learning.

For thinking skills to be taught explicitly within course context, teachers need to understand the numerous tools which are available to assist them. Curriculum designers who emphasize a “thinking curriculum” are increasingly including tools, such as graphic organizers, into curriculum guidelines.

There are many graphic organizers. Some have almost taken on a life on their own in the amount and complexity of program design and professional development time given to them. Mind mapping comes to mind here. Pardon the pun. Mind mapping is an excellent tool but has taken on a complexity which can be off putting to some teachers. Some use it poorly, too. (c.f. Gardner’s misgivings about inappropriate use of MI).

Most graphic organizers are simple constructs, with powerful impacts, which can be used easily by teachers without being overwhelmed by the mystique surrounding some items.

Some Useful Graphic Organizers

In Parry and Gregory, graphic organizers are divided into four groups to more effectively target specific thinking areas. These groups also reflect the skills required for deeper thought (reflection and analysis). Additional organizers from the Victorian Essential Learning Standards (VELS) are included.

Brainstorm: Sunshine Wheel*, Concept Webs, Mind Map, Life Preserver, Flow Diagram, Storyboard, KWLH, Spider Map, Deployment Flow Chart.

Analysis: Venn Diagram, Ranking Ladder*, Fishbone Designs, Sequence Chart, Cross-classification Chart, Issues Map, Gantt Chart, Cause and Effect Wheel,T Chart, Affinity Diagram, PMI.

Reflection: Right Angle Diagram*, Mind Maps, Force Field Analysis, SWOT Analysis.

Display: Pie Chart, Target, Pie Chart & Target* Combined and most of the above.

There is insufficient space here to cover all listed organizers, so one organizer from each category is discussed below.

Example Graphic Organizers

Sunshine Wheel (Brainstorm) – Also known as a concept wheel, this graphic organizer consists of a circle with radiating lines like rays of sunshine. It is a useful tool for brainstorming or generating ideas about the attributes of a concept such as ” intolerance.” As ideas are generated, the attributes are placed on the rays. The information is examined through discussion.

Three to six attributes which typify the concept “intolerance” are selected. These are called critical attributes, or the minimum set of characteristics, that allow a particular example to belong to a particular group. After a discussion of these minimum characteristics, students write a first draft of their definition of “intolerance.” A sunshine wheel helps to broaden and deepen students initial understandings of a concept, such as “intolerance,” through discussion and visualisation of the attributes.

Ranking Ladder (Analysis) – As its name implies, this organizer is shaped like a ladder. It is used to help students rank or prioritise data. After brainstorming, or researching data on a topic, students need to refine their collected data and decide what is most important. They then use the Ranking Ladder to sort through the refined data in order to rank and prioritise the information. The most important data is placed on the highest rungs of the ladder. After ranking information, students then need to select the number of items they will concentrate on. This will depend on the purpose such as an essay, project, thesis etc.

Right Angle Diagram (Reflection) – This organizer is a reflective tool which has the two lines of a right angle. It is a useful tool which allows students to break any mind sets they bring to a problem. The items on the horizontal bar are the facts related to the problem or issue. The items on the vertical bar represent the students’ thoughts and feeling about the problem or issue. The organizer allows students to shift their perspective away from the facts to their feelings and vice versa. An excellent tool for examining literature, art, major events and issues.

Displaying Information (Display) – Many graphic organizers provide opportunities for both simple and complex arrays of information. These may include assessment of student’s work e.g. pie charts displaying percentages, assigning value to students work such as target displays or demonstrating student understanding of a range of concepts and ideas in course material.

More detailed information about graphic organizers can be found in Parry and Gregory, Woolfolk and Margetts and the VELS website.

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