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21:Graphic Organizers

Well-known lesson structures call for teachers to plan what must be done in advance of a lesson that calls for reading (pre-reading, before reading), what must be done to guide students during reading of challenging texts, and what must be done after the reading in order to focus, remediate, or extend students’ understanding of a text passage (e. g., Betts, 1946; Dechant, 1991; Graves & Graves, 1995; Vacca & Vacca, 2005).  Graphic organizers fit into the pre-reading, during reading, after reading model quite well, but as we have asserted in other parts of this book, we encourage teachers to use these tools with precision. A teacher who knows why a specific graphic organizer is appropriate and where it best works in the lesson plan as it relates to the reading students encounter is far more effective in encouraging the cognitive practices students need.  The KWL (Ogle, 1986) example in section is a good example of a graphic organizer, thoughtfully deployed.  The organizer helps students think about what they know in advance of reading (or other instructional input) and then predict what they may learn as a result.  Just as important, the KWL structure calls for students and teacher to return to the graphic organizer to make further sense of the material that was completed after reading is done.

However, other graphic organizers may be similarly useful.  The well-known Venn diagram is an example.  Students might complete a Venn diagram using background and prior knowledge in advance of reading that requires students to compare two different concepts, characters, or sets of information. A comparison matrix may point students in a direction that provides more depth to their thinking. Used in this manner, a graphic organizer may serve to help students make good predictions before or during reading.  Similarly, the graphic organizer might assist students to clarify predictions they made earlier during reading or after they have finished a selection from the text.

Using the organization students have imposed on their existing knowledge, students might then read a text passage with the intention of returning to the Venn diagram to reconstruct their knowledge given the new information they have obtained from their reading.  As students become proficient at using graphics to impose an organizational pattern on what they learn, teachers should gradually release responsibility for choosing and perhaps creating a suitable graphic organizer to assist in the learning process.  Students should know not just that they are required by their teachers to complete a graphic organizer; they should have an explicit understanding of why they use the organizer and why a particular organizer is selected.

Step by Step

  1. Choose a suitable graphic organizer that represents the organization pattern of the text students will read. Determine if it will work most efficiently at the pre-reading, during reading, or after reading phases of a lesson that includes reading material.  To encourage prediction, students might be asked to activate existing knowledge (sections 2.5 and 2.6) before they begin reading and use the graphic to give order to the material.  A blank or partially completed graphic supplied by the teacher may be required to appropriately scaffold the students’ experiences.  Students might also add to a graphic during reading if the length and complexity of the text suggests this approach.
  2. Assist students to determine why you have chosen a specific graphic organizer before or during reading. Doing so after reading may also be appropriate.  In this way, students learn to detect the organizational patterns of the text (see section 2.3) through scaffolding questions.
  3. As students become increasingly proficient with the use of the graphic organizers, permit them to choose the graphic organizer that seems most appropriate after previewing the material and examining headings, charts, and diagrams (see section 2.2). In this way, students learn to predict with increasing accuracy what they will learn and adjust their thinking when new concepts are encountered more frequently.

Applications and Examples

Sometimes what students believe to be so and what actually is so can create conflict in the mind that must be resolved if learning is to occur.  Students might believe that waves indicate that water is in motion, moving toward shore then away from shore.  A direct observation seems to confirm this idea.  But this rather evident conclusion is not correct.  The movement of the water is up and down, roughly perpendicular to the floor of the ocean floor underneath.  Scientists call this a transverse wave, and readers of this book might picture (visualization in section 2.12, remember) two people holding opposite ends of a rope with one person moving it rapidly up and down creating a wave in the string.  Notice that the string doesn’t move from one person to the other with the wave; instead the waves move up and down.  Waves on a beach do much the same thing.

A longitudinal wave, by contrast, moves in parallel to the medium which conducts it.  A sound wave is a good example of such a wave.  Now, suppose that you have a science text that describes these two-wave phenomenon.  In addition, you know that your students might believe, by generalization and observation, that the medium (like the water) moves along with the wave.  Before the students read the science text that describes these two types of waves, you will need to make several instructional decisions.  First, consider students’ background knowledge about waves.  What about that knowledge will need to change as a result of the learning activities including reading?  Second, how is the text organized?  Does it describe the transverse wave in one section followed by another section that describes the longitudinal wave?  If so, a graphic organizer (Figure 21.1a) might be in order that calls students’ attention to this structure before they begin reading.  Note that students can create this graphic organizer by folding a piece of blank paper into fourths saving the teacher time standing in front of the copy machine.

Figure 21.1: In his own words

Primary grade teachers often employ a technique termed the word sort.  Word sorts employ a simple graphic organizer, too.  Readers who have used a word sort to assist student learning to read or with spelling patterns recognize the graphic nature of the word sort right away.  But, you say, isn’t this book about prediction?  And, you’re right.  Word sorts are powerful tools that help students to make predictions about words.   A teacher who wants students to learn about the different correspondences between letters and sounds for the long /e/ might construct a graphic organizer like Figure 21.2.  As students work through words pronounced for them or presented on index cards, students must decide where to write the word to match the spelling pattern.  When students recognize the spelling pattern they are more able to predict unknown words they encounter in reading and to predict the spelling of words they have not encountered in print before.

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