How to Use Graphic Organizers for Reading Comprehension and Writing Assignments

You may have spoken with your child’s teacher and heard the term “graphic organizer.” A graphic organizer is essentially just a tool, usually on a worksheet or in digital form. It provides ways to arrange and keep track of information in a way that communicates through pictures, diagrams, charts, or other visuals instead of just text or spoken language.

There are many types of common graphic organizers. Among the most popular strategies are mind maps, Venn Diagrams, and KWL charts.

How can students benefit from using a graphic organizer?

For many children, reading comprehension and getting their thoughts down on paper a challenge.

They haven’t learned to visualize the text yet, they are facing vocabulary words that may distract them from the meaning of what they are reading, and they may feel overwhelmed by the amount work ahead of them. It may feel like they are doing a lot of things all at once, which is why they need a way to organize their thoughts.

Graphic organizers are the teacher’s best friend. They are quick and simple to make, they provide good visuals for students who need multisensory input, and they prescribe a structure for students to take notes.

Graphic organizers require students to stop and think about what is important while they are reading, and it also gives them something tangible to complete. Many types of graphic organizers can be easily converted into writing assignments after they have been completed. They have uses for students of all ages.

Graphic organizers can easily be implemented at home, as well. This blog will break down four examples.

graphic organizers for reading comprehensionKWL Charts

A KWL chart is best used for reading non-fiction, which is the type of reading that students tend to have the most challenge with in terms of comprehension.

It has three columns with blanks underneath, titled as “K,” “W,” and “L” at the top.  K stands for “Know” as in, “What I already Know,” W stands for “Want to Know,” or “Wonder,” and L stands for “Learn,” as in “What I Learned.”

The student fills out the first two section as a pre-reading activity but can add to the W column as new questions arise throughout the reading. This encourages interaction with the text, making predictions, and making connections.  This can be done in full sentences or in bullet points depending on what would benefit the individual student the most.

The L section is for after reading. This allows the reader to stop and reflect, process the information they just read, and decide what was most important.

concept map

Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is great for critical thinking and making connections. For younger children, you can start with a template that has several empty circles with lines connecting them.Older children can just use a large piece of blank paper and draw their own bubbles.

Concept mapping basically involves recording an important term, event, or detail in the reading into one circle, and then connecting it to another related term event, or detail in another circle. The student should always be thinking about how the terms are connected, and can write a brief description of how they relate on the connecting line.

Again, this method always forces the student to think about, process, and interact with information as it is being read. Interaction with the text is key for reading comprehension.

Inspiration and Kidspiration are two great software programs that can be used for concept mapping.

sequence chains

Reading Comprehension Sequence Chains

These graphic organizers are great for keeping track of the order in which things happened in the story. The organizer is basically a series of boxes or circles connected by arrows going from left to right, implying a sequence. In each box, the child would either write or draw important events in the order that they occurred in the reading. Again, this causes the reader to stop, process, and think about what is important.

Older students can create comic strips to represent what they read. This is especially good if you have an artistic child who is always doodling in their notebooks.

Another way to use Sequence Chains to promote critical thinking in older students is to alter the G.O. a bit to represent cause and effect instead of a sequence of events.

Anchor Charts

There are many variations of anchor charts.  An anchor chart is basically a blank worksheet with specific questions that the student should be answering as they go along. This works well for students who may have difficulty with abstract thinking or identifying important details.

A common anchor chart for storytelling is the “Who, What, When, Where, Why, How,” chart that we probably have all encountered at some point in our schooling. Again, this is great for students who have difficulty identifying the important pieces of information in their reading.

Another one I like is “Say, Mean, Matter.” With this chart, students first have to write down a quote or piece of information that they read about under “Say,” interpret what they read under “Mean,” and then think critically, make connections to other things that they have read, and synthesize the information under “Matter.”

Pinterest is a great place to find other examples of anchor charts that can help your child understand what they’re reading and appeal to their individual way of learning, or you can get creative and come up with your own!

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