The Power of the Graphic Organizer

by Stacey Lloyd 

Ever set students a task - reading or writing - and then observed as some just sit there, staring at the page, their eyes glazed over? Or they immediately become distracted, or even worse: disruptive? These reactions aren’t because students are unwilling, lazy, or defiant: more often than not, it is because they don’t know how to begin. They don’t know where to start. 

And this is why I am a huge fan of the powerful graphic organizer. 

Simply put, a graphic organizer is a visual tool which can help students find relationships between ideas, create links between facts and concepts, and help generate ideas. But to me, they are more than that: they are tools which:

  • Help students get started
  • Break down complex tasks into manageable chunks 
  • Scaffold the process of knowledge creation
  • Assist students in generating ideas
  • Build students’ confidence and competence

Graphic organizers have long been used to aid students with learning disabilities, and research has shown their efficacy (Dexter & Hughes, 2011). Yet, I strongly believe that they work for all students, and can be an effective tool for differentiation, as they help to remove any barriers to learning, to give every student the opportunity for success. In this way, graphic organizers can be assistive in implementing a UDL (Universal Design for Learning) approach in the classroom (read more about UDL here). 

There are so many graphic organizers out there to use, and you may even decide to create your own: but how do you know which one to use? You see, as with most practices, it is important to be really intentional when selecting the most effective graphic organizer out there for the task. Venn diagrams are great for helping students with making comparisons, but would be ineffective when it comes to understanding cause and effect. 

Before using any graphic organizer, ask yourself: What is the goal of the task, and how will this page help students reach that goal? Make sure that you have a range of different organizers which you use in the classroom, to really fit the task at hand. You may be interested in my bundle of over fifty different organizers to suit a range of purposes, from reading comprehension, to essay writing.

Honestly: the list is extensive. Any time my students are set a reading, writing, or research task, I could probably think of a graphic organizer which would be effective in assisting them, and helping them reach the learning goal. But here are just a few examples: 

  • Generating topics for a narrative essay [mind maps] 
  • Organizing content for an analytical essay [a PEEL paragraph table]  
  • Analyzing poetry [Imagery observational chart]  
  • Reading & comprehending a non-fiction text [Who, what, where, when, why chart]  
  • Writing an essay, comparing two texts [a Venn diagram]  
  • Analyzing an informational text [a KWL chart]

Often, I find that graphic organizers are a great first-step in a longer process, and they help to guide students through that process. For example, instead of just giving students an essay question and instructing them to write the essay, I may present the question and ask them to complete a graphic organizer first. Then we will discuss, and move into taking what they produced on the page, and working it into a plan or first draft.


One of the most important things I focus on in my own classroom is teaching students to reflect on their own analytical / writing process; empowering them to think for themselves, and self-identify what works for them specifically, and and really helps them. This is no different when it comes to using graphic organizers. 

In this way, I always have a folder with a range of different organizers available to students, so that they can go and access what they need, when they need it. In this way, they take ownership of their own process and learning.

One way to really deepen the learning process when using graphic organizers is to include verbal feedback and interactive dialogue (Baker, Scott, et al. 2003). Students will gain so much more from the process of completing a graphic organizer if they spend time explaining their thought processes, reflecting on their contributions, and verbally expressing their understanding. This can be done through mini-conferences with you, or through peer feedback and exchange. 

For example, download this free graphic organizer for helping students generate ideas. This can be used whenever students have to write an essay or answer a prompt, in preparation for a class discussion, or as a first step in a project-based learning task. While the process of completing it is assistive on its own, if you go one step further by having students verbally explain their ideas on this page and receive feedback, you will deepen the learning process. That extra step is important. 

When using graphic organizers in the classroom, remember the following:

  1. Be intentional in picking the most effective organizer for the task: always articulating the goal to students.
  2. Have a wide range of possible organizers readily available, for all types of tasks and levels. 
  3. Allow students to choose graphic organizers which are most assistive to them, and their individual needs; thus encouraging them to reflect on what works well for them.
  4. Include discussion and feedback into the process by having students explain their thoughts and ideas once they have completed the graphic organizer: this will deepen the learning.

I do hope that's helpful; don't hesitate to get in touch if you have any questions about how to successfully implement the use of graphic organizers in your own classroom.

If you are looking for other Graphic Organizer resources, do check out: 


Baker, Scott, et al. “Teaching Expressive Writing to Students with Learning Disabilities: Research-Based Applications and Examples.” Journal of Learning Disabilities, vol. 36, no. 2, Mar. 2003, pp. 109–123, doi:10.1177/002221940303600204.

Dexter, Douglas D., and Charles A. Hughes. “Graphic Organizers and Students with Learning Disabilities: A Meta-Analysis.” Learning Disability Quarterly, vol. 34, no. 1, Feb. 2011, pp. 51–72, doi:10.1177/073194871103400104.

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