Responsible Student Learning
Module Six

Dona Cruikshank - Course Designer


What is the best question you have posed to your students in the past few weeks?

What kind of response(s) did you get from students that leads you to conclude this was a good question?

Which hat(s) did students have to wear in order to answer this question?

Module 6 - Graphic Organizers

One of the most difficult parts of allowing our students to be more responsible for their own learning is allowing them to respond using different methods that are appropriate for them. We know from research that we all learn in different ways and that we have preferred methods of providing evidence of our learning. We also know that people construct meaning by making connections with prior knowledge and being actively involved in that process.

Graphic organizers are an important tool for both teachers and their students to provide visual organization for their learning and to encourage divergent thinking: “to think outside the box”. Ohio State has found graphic organizers to be such critical assessment and instructional strategies that they use them in their Grade Four Proficiency tests. Graphic organizers are especially useful to visual learners and to those students who have difficulty taking abstract ideas and making them concrete.

What is a graphic organizer? Graphic organizers are visual frameworks on which ideas are recorded to show how new ideas are linked to those already known. They can be simple or complex; used at any grade level and in any subject area. They show key points at a glance and information related to those points. For many students they facilitate recording and learning in a non-linear way.

When do you use graphic organizers?

Before a new learning situation to set the stage, address prior knowledge, develop background or essential learning and guide thinking;
During a new learning situation to categorize and/or organize information, raise questions for consideration, predict solutions or conclusions;
After a new learning situation, to confirm or reject prior knowledge, relate new information to what was already known, extend new learning to other situations ;
With material already learned, a simple way to organize or outline learning or ideas;
When developing a piece of writing, as an effective means to organize thoughts or ideas.

The graphic organizers we will be using in this module are:

• Webbing
• Venn Diagram
• Herringbone/Fishbone
• Matrix
• T-Chart
• Mind Map


Webbing is a simple way of showing connections between ideas, concepts or events. It can be used to recall prior knowledge or to brainstorm new ideas, or combine new and old learning.
A Web starts out with a central word or phrase, and ideas are recorded around that title or topic The order is not as important as getting lots of ideas on the page. Webbing can show how much students know before they begin a topic and also what they have learned at the end of unit of study. They are excellent for outlining and for showing how paragraphs are structured.
A variation of the web is to start with a central idea or topic and add some categories as branches to the web:

Venn Diagram

Venn Diagrams are great for comparing and contrasting. The Venn Diagram is made up of two or more overlapping circles. Students place what is "different" in the outside circles, and what is the "same" in the overlapping area. It can be used effectively in mathematics, science, language arts, and history to enable students to organize similarities and differences visually .

Herringbone/Fishbone Maps


Herringbone maps provide a way for students to visualize details when reading or writing narrative or expository text. This is a great map for writing news stories, organizing thoughts or defending points of view:


A variation on the herringbone map is used to consider the pros and cons of an issue and arrive at a solution or recommendations.


A matrix is similar to a rubric in that it has categories and criteria. These organizers are excellent for use over a period of time as students progress through a unit of work and add information as it is discovered or learned.

A. Novel Study

Character Occupation
Time period My Feelings
* * * * *
* * * * *


B. Science Lab

Experiment Prodedure Equipment Findings Conclusion Changes 
next time
* * * * * *
* * * * * *


C. Research Questions

After reading a nonfiction selection, students brainstorm a list of questions that they wish to learn more about. A matrix is then constructed listing the questions and informational resources to be researched for answers. Answers to the questions are placed in corresponding spaces.


* Question 1  Question 2  Question 3  Question 4
Books * * * *
Magazines * * * *
Encyclopedia * * * *
Dictionary * * * *
Atlas * * * *
Internet * * * *



This organizer has been used most frequently in cooperative learning activities to teach social skills “ What I Hear” and What I See”, but can be used anywhere students are looking at two different sides of an issue, character, or event. As a class or in small groups, students record their responses under headings.such as: "Cause-Effect," "Problem-Solution," "Pro-Con," "Then-Now," and "Looks Like-Sounds Like."

    Topic: A Learner Centered Classroom

Sounds Like
Looks Like


   Topic: Compulsory Sports in Secondary Schools



Mind mapping is similar to webbing in that it quickly generates many ideas, thoughts, and feelings around a topic. It is a method of putting down your thoughts as they occur to you with words, pictures and symbols without worrying how, or if they fit together. Start by putting down your main idea or topic and put a frame around it. Then start adding whatever comes out about the topic. Try to use as few words as possible. Use drawings, lines, shapes or whatever to add to the map. Circle ideas that link and/or draw lines to the main topic or to some other idea, if there seems to be a connection. Make short comments on the lines to add clarity or comment.

Keep adding ideas until you feel you have enough. When you feel your main ideas are out, go back and add different colours, lines, and shapes to connect ideas and clarify meaning. You may want to add sub-headings under your main ideas as well. There are no hard and fast rules for this organizer. It is more important to get your ideas out than to worry about the structure of the map.

This is a great organizer to brainstorm possible solutions or to review a learning process which has taken place over time.

Graphics Organizer Software

Inspirations is an excellent computer package to easily develop many graphic organizers. For those who do not have a copy of the software, demos are available on the website, “”.

Activity for this Module

A Possible Process

Select one or two of the organizers discussed in this module. Experiment with the organizers with your own information before you use them with students.
Explain to your students what a graphic organizer is and why you are using them. Show them your completed forms and explain how you completed them. Use overhead transparencies, flip charts or blackboard to demonstrate.
Use a completed organizer to teach a lesson or fill one in while teaching a lesson.
Let students complete an organizer while you work with them. This can be in groups, pairs or individually.
The key to success is the discussion that you and your students will have about the reasons why they responded as they did. We know from our previous modules the importance of reflection to the transfer and retention of knowledge and this is critical in the use of graphic organizers
After students are familiar with a few organizers, let them complete a task selecting their own choice for organizer and defend that choice
As with any new skill, practice, practice, practice.

Module Extensions and More information on Graphic Organizers:

Schools of California site with many Graphic organizers


For the product we are asking you to bring to the session you attend (April 30, May 1, or May 2), please:

Think of one thing you are doing differently this year as a result of anything connected with any of the modules for this course.

What is it that you are doing differently because of this course?

Bring to the session (April 30, May 1, or May 2) either:

1. an example of student work that reflects something you have done successfully because of your engagement in this course ( it could be a paper, graphic, exhibit, project, journal entry, etc.);
2. or, bring a brief written summary of what you have done and why you feel it has enhanced your success as a teacher. If you bring something you have written, please bring a typed copy that we can reproduce and distribute.

Additional Resources

provided by: Tara A. Demers - "4" Project

Brooks, J. G., & Brooks, M. G. (1993). Considering the possibilities. In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms (15-22). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

McCaslin, M., & Good, T. L. (1993). Classroom management and motivated student learning. In Tomlinson, T. M., Motivating students to learn: Overcoming barriers to high achievement (pp. 245-261). Berkeley, CA: McCutchan Publishing Corporation.

Treffinger, D. (1978). Guidelines for encouraging independence and self-direction among gifted students. Journal of Creative Behavior, 12(1), 14-20.

Understanding Learning Styles / Multiple Intelligences

Gardner, H. (1997). Reflections on multiple intelligences: Myths and messages. Phi Delta Kappan, 78(5), 200-207.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). What is a differentiated classroom?. The Differentiated Classroom (pp. 1-8). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). Elements of differentiation. The Differentiated Classroom (pp. 9-16). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). Rethinking how we do school-and for whom. The Differentiated Classroom (pp. 17-24). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). Learning environments that support differentiated instruction. The Differentiated Classroom (pp. 25-35). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Wolffe, R., Robinson, H., & Grant, J. M. (1998). Creating multiple procedures from multiple intelligences. Catalyst for Change, 28(1), 15-16.