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Types of Graphic Organizers & Tips on Using Them With Your Students

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Noreen Gunnell • updated: 2/8/2012

Graphic organizers have many uses in the classroom, from helping students write stronger stories, essays, and even responses to writing prompts. Learn the many types you can use and how to get the most from them.

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    T-Chart

    Let’s start with the simplest graphic organizer – the T-chart. Usually used to compare two objects, processes, or events, a T-chart can be drawn by making a large, lowercase “t” or vertical cross. The two areas at the top of the “t” are for headings, such as “alligators” and “crocodiles.” The two areas at the bottom of the “t” are usually larger and hold different facts about alligators and crocodiles. Each row in the chart compares one characteristic. For example, if one row says “lower teeth hidden when mouth is closed” under alligators, the corresponding area on the other side of the chart would say “lower teeth visible when mouth is closed.”

    The T-chart is the most basic form of a chart, but you can also make charts with multiple columns to compare several objects, processes, or events.

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    Venn Diagram

    A Venn diagram is a different way to show comparison and contrast. This graphic organizer consists of two labeled overlapping circles. In the overlap, you would write anything that is similar between the two headings. In parts of the circles that are not overlapping, you would write the details that are unique to only one of the two headings. For example, “lower teeth hidden when mouth is closed” would be included in the section of the circle under “alligator. “Sharp teeth” would be included in the overlapping area.

    If you need to compare and contrast three objects, processes, or events, consider using a triple Venn diagram. This graphic organizer consists of three overlapping circles. There are sections of the organizer in which only two circles are overlapping, and there is one section in which all three circles overlap. This last section would include any information that is true for all three headings.

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    Sequence of Events Chain

    This graphic organizer looks like several boxes connected by arrows. The leftmost box contains the first event in a chronological sequence, and the rightmost box contains the last event. This graphic organizer is perfect for writing or reading a short story, understanding the flow of a series of historical events, or understanding how flashbacks fit into a novel.

    An alternative to this organizer is a timeline, which shows the time that passes between events more clearly. Also keep in mind that you can easily tweak this basic graphic organizer so as to demonstrate cyclical events. For example, if you place the boxes in a circle and connect the last box back to the first, you can use the organizer for the life cycle of a frog.

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    Main Idea Web

    A main idea web is often the perfect tool for brainstorming ideas. To create one, simply draw a circle in the center of a piece of paper and write the main topic of your paper in it. Then draw lines from the circle outwards, and end each line in a circle. In these circles, write secondary topics that relate to your main topic. For example, if a student were writing a persuasive essay about why uniforms are important, she would write the words “uniforms are important” in the center circle, with reasons explaining why they are important in the surrounding circles. She would then add another layer to the organizer by adding lines and circles to each of the secondary circles as supports for her reasoning.

    Graphic organizers are important ways to help students understand what they’ve read and to help them organize their thoughts before writing. Introducing these graphic organizers correctly can help your students succeed.

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    Using Graphic Organizers for Writing

    Brainstorming

    Brainstorming is one of the steps of the writing process, but it is also a step that many students struggle with. In their minds, sitting and thinking is brainstorming. Graphic organizers for writing can help them structure their thoughts as they brainstorm, and can give them something concrete to refer back to as they move on through the writing process.

    Perhaps the most often-used graphic organizer for writing is an idea web, which is simply multiple circles connected by lines. Idea webs help you to free-associate about a topic, and they are most helpful in deciding what you want to write about. For example, if a student wanted to write a story about her summer vacation (a common assignment), she might not be sure just which aspect of her summer vacation to write about, and she may not even remember many summer events offhand. Using an idea web would help her brainstorm about what had happened that summer in a semi-structured way.

    (Incidentally, the same technique would work with a report about George Washington, in which the student may not be sure which aspect of George Washington she would like to write about.)

    Structuring

    Once a student chooses a topic and gathers ideas or information about the topic, it can be helpful for him to use a different graphic organizer to structure his thoughts. In this case, any graphic organizer that fits the subject of the writing would be appropriate. If he is composing a compare/contrast essay, a Venn Diagram or T-chart might work best. If he is writing a fictional story, a sequence organizer might be a better choice. Allow students to choose the organizer they want, but guide them in selecting one that will work well with the subject matter they’re grappling with.

    Restructuring

    Some students do not like to structure their writing beforehand. Instead, they’d rather dive right in and start writing. Allow students to do this if it feels most natural to them, but encourage them to use an organizer after they finish their first draft in order to make sure that the information is well-structured.

Graphic Organizers

Teachers have been using graphic organizers for years to help their children with reading, writing, vocabulary, and other skills. Take a look at this series to learn how to use graphic organizers in your classroom.
  1. Types of Graphic Organizers & Tips on Using Them With Your Students
  2. Lesson Plan: Reading with Graphic Organizers
  3. Learning Vocabulary with Graphic Organizers