Ways to Use Graphic Organizers and Concept Maps

By: Mitchell L Dutch

Although students have seen tables and graphics in textbooks, they may not be familiar with graphic organizers or how they can be used as a learning tool. If students become familiar with graphic organizers, they may be able to improve their organizational skills. In order to begin using graphic organizers in an effective manner, students will need to understand how they function, and they will need to see them integrated into class lessons. In order to become comfortable with them, students will needed to see them used regularly. If students have an introduction at the beginning of the semester but do not see graphic organizers used, they may decide that there is little reason to incorporate them into their study skills.

When beginning a new topic, might be useful to introduce some of the major ideas with a concept map/cluster map which provides links to previous knowledge from earlier lessons. In subject areas like history, sociology, psychology, biology, or chemistry, a new chapter or topic could be introduced with an organizer indicating the main ideas. Depending on the complexity of the topic, some supporting details could be included, or the students could begin filling in supporting details as the lesson progresses.

Students may begin to adopt organizers once they see them used repeatedly in similar situations and begin to recognize relevant opportunities for application. It must be expected that some students may be reluctant to change habits and adopt new strategies. Therefore, it would be advisable to include assignments that use graphic organizers.

Simple applications might include such things as:
* Developing a map during a lecture and asking students to provide linking words during the lecture.
* Giving students an incomplete map and having them fill in concepts or linking words.
* Having students develop a concept map from information in the textbook after it has been covered.
* Assigning students to groups and having students develop a concept map from information in the textbook before it has been covered. Then have the groups explain the material to the class using the map.
* Assigning students a list of terms and have them construct a concept map.
* Giving the students a list of terms and have them construct a concept map as an exam question.
* Modify a graphic organizer that has been used in a lecturefor homework or exam review.

Graphic organizers can be a valuable component of students’ collection of study skills. Instructors can include graphic organizers as in class or homework assignments.

* Explain that the purpose of the activity is to develop a graphic organizer as a note taking device. Different organizers might be used to indicate a sequence of events, stages in a process, demonstrate similarities or differences, or record the characteristics of a literary character, plant, animal, or political philosophy.
* Provide the blank organizer to the students. The organizer could be demonstrated on a Web page or drawn on the board for students to copy.
* Have the students fill in the organizer during the lecture.

As students are beginning to learn about graphic organizers, it should be effective to begin with in class practice to assist students in learning to construct maps.

* Explain that the activity is ungraded and will provide practice organizing information in the lesson by generating an organizer.
* Divide students into small groups or pairs.
* Inform students of the topic.
* Have the groups decide which details should be included and then generate an organizer.
* The students should then present their organizers (on the board or an overhead projector).
* Discuss the organizers.
* Present a model version of the organizer and remind the students that there is no one way to design an organizer.
* Discuss of the similarities and differences between the student versions (and possibly the model version).

In a review of research studies on the effectiveness of graphic organizers, Daniel Robinson of the University of South Dakota suggested guidelines for the use of graphic organizers:

* Use only specific types of graphic organizers that can be easily constructed by amateurs. Teachers and students should not be expected to graphic design experience.
* Use tests that require knowledge of concept relations and that are similar to those that the teacher would use.
* Use texts that are similar in length to what students are required to read and study for a test.
* Use multiple graphic organizers. Most chapters have a complex structure that cannot be displayed in detail with one graphic organizer.
* Use delayed testing. Students are not usually tested immediately after material is covered.

Robinson, D.H. (1998) Graphic organizers as aids to text learning. Reading Research and Instruction. 37, 2: 85-105.

Source: Mitchell L Dutch’s page