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Using Graphic Organizers to Understand High School Novels

written by: lauraleemoss • edited by: Donna Cosmato • updated: 4/5/2012

Students may understand high school novels better with a story map, graphic organizer worksheet.

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    A story map is a type of graphic organizer. Some story maps simply outline the story and help students with general comprehension. For particularly long stories, each chapter may have its own story map. Other times, story maps are more specific and look at different parts of a story.

    A story map can be as simple as having students make a list of what happened in a novel or as complex as worksheets designed for individual novels and their components. An important part is that they are student-friendly, so that students can easily complete the sections. They should also be versatile so students can adapt them for their own needs. Images often add dimensions to a graphic organizer. For instance, in To Kill A Mockingbird, create a graphic organizer in the shape of a tree or jail.

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    A story map has many uses. Students most commonly use them while reading, as a form of note taking. Teachers can use them as aids in class discussions, as review or as group work. They can also be quizzes. For example, make a character list from The Grapes of Wrath and have students complete a description beside each character's name.

    Later, students can use a story map as a review for the test or as pre-writing for a paper. Story maps are overall tools to help students with any activity concerning a novel.

    Most importantly, a story map will give students confidence while reading sometimes daunting novels. Famous, long, complex and much anticipated high school novels may leave students confused. A story map is simply a tool to help students succeed.

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    Common Examples

    Common high school novels lend themselves well to a story map.

    1. Literary terms abound in John Knowle's A Separate Peace. Teachers explore conflicts, flashback, themes and types of narrators which may overwhelm some students. Use a story map for each literary term.

    2. Students should use a story map to record historical aspects and unfamiliar settings in novels such as Elie Wiesel's Night or Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.

    3. The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald) contains new symbols in every chapter. Create story maps that use visual reminders for different symbols.

    4. To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee) creates many instances of suspense. If students map out the suspenseful parts as they read, they will eventually see how the parts lead to the climax.

    5. Still some high school novels need clarification, even though students may overall do well with comprehension, such as in William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Students will benefit from having a story map for each chapter.

    Different books call for different techniques. 

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    Final Ideas

    Encourage high school students to take an active role in their story maps. This prompts them to consider other forms of graphic organizers and note taking methods.

    High school students can benefit on so many levels from novels. Too often, students do not understand them and simply quit trying. A story map (a simple graphic organizer) is a useful tool in helping students understand and appreciate novels.

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    Author's personal knowledge and experience.

    Photo Credit: Every Stock Photo: