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Teaching Students to Use Graphic Organizers for Essays

written by: Jessica Cook • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 9/11/2012

Help your students use graphic organizers when they write their next essays. Get ideas for a variety of graphic organizer types and tips on how to incorporate graphic organizers into your lesson plans.

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    If you want your students to write good essays, first you have to teach them how to do it. For many students, even if they have written other essays before they may feel mystified by the entire process. Help your students write better essays by teaching them to use graphic organizers to order their thoughts and ideas before writing.

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    Using Graphic Organizers

    Help your students use graphic organizers properly. Here are a few key tips to remember and review with your students:

    1. A graphic organizer is not an essay. It should be written in note/fragment form, not complete sentences and paragraphs.

    2. A graphic organizer is not set in stone; if they write it one way they should feel free to change it around before using it as an essay guideline.

    3. A graphic organizer is a visual representation of the ideas in their head. They should use it visually as well; any sections that have fewer notes than others may need to be "beefed up" or eliminated before they begin to write the essay.

    4. Graphic organizers are not one-size-fits-all resources. Some students may really do well with outlines, while others will prefer webs or flow charts.

    Allow time in class to practice with a variety of graphic organizers before writing the essays. Show students how to use each type by completing one as a class, using your dry erase board or projector as a visual aid. Then let students select the graphic organizer format that works best for them when they write their essay. Have them turn it in as part of the essay grade; otherwise, several students will try to skip this step.

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    Types of Graphic Organizers for Essays

    For an expository essay, consider having your students complete an outline. This is where they will use Roman numerals to list the key topic for every paragraph, then capital letters for sub-topics underneath that and regular numerals for detailed information under that. This classic graphic organizer format is quick and easy to use, and can be adapted for almost any essay topic.

    For a persuasive essay, consider a flow chart format. Students will start with their thesis statement at the top of the page, then branch off into boxes for supporting arguments, and branch off further for the details or research that will support their supporting arguments.

    Other students might like to use a web, where they put their thesis in the center of a page and then add connecting pieces by drawing lines out from the center to include new information and supporting details.

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    Further Resources

    The web site ReadWriteThink has a variety of student interactive graphic organizers. The organizers on this site prompt your students to enter their ideas into the computer, then it organizes their thoughts for them. They can have the option of printing their graphic organizers directly from the site, or rearranging and deleting elements if they choose.

    Read over the types of graphic organizers in this helpful article. This will help you get an idea of the options available to you. Remember that graphic organizers are a great way to meet those IEP goals for students who need to work on organizing information and completing a task in a sequence of steps.

    Give your students a resource as well; these helpful tips will guide them through the process of using graphic organizers for their own essay writing purposes.

Graphic Organizers

Use graphic organizers to teach almost any subject and any skill. They help your students break down and synthesize the information they're learning in class, and can aid in every step of the learning process from introduction to assessment.
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