Graphic Organizers

What is a graphic organizer?

A graphic organizer is a visual representation of knowledge that structures information by arranging important aspects of a concept or topic into a pattern using labels (Bromley, et al., 1998). They are effective tools for thinking and learning as they help students to: 

  • Represent abstract ideas in more concrete forms,
  • Depict the relationships among facts and concepts,
  • Organize ideas, and
  • Store and recall information (Billmeyer & Barton, 1998)

How can graphic organizers help your students?

Graphic organizers can be used before a lesson to activate prior knowledge, guide thinking, and to develop vocabulary. During a lesson, the graphic organizer can help students organize information and stay focused on the content material. After a lesson, the graphic organizer allows the students to confirm or rethink prior knowledge and to relate the new concepts to the old. 

How can you implement graphic organizers in order to effectively meet the diverse learning needs of students?

Baxendell (2003) has established the following three principles in order to guide the effective use of graphic organizers in the classroom, which are referred to as the "three Cs".


  • Create a standard set of graphic organizers
  • Establish a routine for implementing them in a classroom


  • Provide clear labels for the relationship between concepts in graphic organizers
  • Limit the number of ideas covered
  • Minimize distractions


  • Use during all stages of lesson design
  • Incorporate during homework and test review
  • Add illustrations
  • Implement with cooperative groups and pairs

What are the different types of graphic organizers?

  • Hierarchical organizers, present main ideas and supporting details in ranking order,
  • Comparative organizers, depict similarities among key concepts,
  • Sequential organizers, illustrate a series of steps or place events in a chronological order,
  • Diagrams, depict actual objects and systems in the real world of science and social studies (Marchand-Matella, et al., 1998),
  • Cyclical organizers, depict a series of events that have no beginning or end,
  • Conceptual organizers, include a main concept with supporting facts, evidence, or characteristics
    (Bromley, et al., 1998).

How do you decide on what type of graphic organizer to use?

The content and organization of material usually determines the type of organizer to be created. Another factor is the learning or cognitive style of the person creating the organizer. Individuals will often have a preference for one type of graphic organizer. For example, the nonlinear and open-ended quality of the conceptual organizer is often appealing to more holistic, creative thinkers, as opposed to a more sequential thinker who might prefer the super-ordinate structure of the hierarchical organizer and chronological structure of the sequential organizer. Most importantly, however, is having experiences with a variety of organizers to allow you and your students to pick and choose the type most appropriate for the subject and purpose (Bromley, et al., 1998).

How do you construct your own graphic organizer?

  • Analyze the information to be taught and highlight key words and phrases. Key concepts will provide the categories under the big idea, while key word/phrases provide the elements that are the most important for students to understand. Note that a concept typically identifies a class or category of things, ideas, or processes which fall under a big idea. These categories have characteristics in common, while a fact can be an example or characteristic of a concept.
  • Identify the relationship among concepts and facts. The relationship will help you decide on the format of your graphic designer. Some possible relationships and related graphical organizer forms are...

    If you want to show...

    then use...

    series of items

    lists or sequential framework, cycle diagram

    a comparison

    parallel lists, Venn diagram, t-charts

    super ordinate/subordinate

    branching, web diagram


    web diagram, matrix, t-chart

    data reporting


    part to whole

    pictures, branching

    cause and effect

    fishbone, cycle diagram, flow charts, matrix


  • Arrange information into a logical order.
  • Prepare the graphic organizer (whole first, then delete for partial, and blank). Think about the purpose of the organizer (Is it for presenting information without much instruction, as a learning guide for students, or a guide for taking notes?).

    -If using as a presentation technique ... it must not be too cluttered, and it must be big enough for all to see (at least 24 pt font). Empty spaces that are filled in as the presentation occurs (i.e., scaffolding) can encourage active participation by students.

    -If posting information ... it must be clear, with key words and relationships identified. Color can be used to capture interest and cue the student to key components.

    -If using as a learning or note-taking guide ... provide spaces with enough room to write all key information.

  • Add pictures, icons, etc. to "grab" students' attention/interest and make vague concepts more obvious.
  • Remember to think about student abilities so that the form and complexity of the graphic organizer facilitates understanding rather than causing confusion.

Where can you find more information about graphic organizers?

Research Articles

DiCecco, V., & Gleason. M. (2002). Using graphic
organizers to attain relational knowledge from
expository text. Journal of Learning
Disabilities, 35(4), 306- 320. 
Griffon, C., Malone, L., & Kameenui, E. (2001).
Effects of graphic organizer instruction on fifth-
grade students. The Journal of Educational
89(2), 98-107.
Fisher, J., & Schumaker, J. (1995). Searching for
validated inclusive practices: A review of the
literature. Focus on Exceptional
Children, 28(4), 1-20.

Descriptive Articles

Baxendell, B. (2003). Consistent, coherent, creative:
The three c's of graphic organizers. Teaching
Exceptional Children, 35(3), 46-53.
Brunn, M. (2002). Teaching ideas: The four-square
strategy. The Reading Teacher, 55(6), 522-525.
Marchand-Matella, N., Miller, T., & MacQueen, C.
(1998). Graphic organizers: Presenting a simple
but effective tool to help students
grasp key concepts. Teaching K-8,
Merkley, D., & Jeffries, D. (2000). Guidelines
for implementing a graphic organizer The 
Reading Teacher, 54(4), 350-357.


Billmeyer, R., & Barton, M. (1998). Teaching
Reading in the Content Areas: If Not Me, 
Then Who? Aurora, CO: Mid-Continent
Regional Educational Laboratory.
Bromley, K., DeVitis L., & Modlo, M. (1999). 50
Graphic Organizers for Reading, Writing & More. 
New York: Scholastic Professional Books.


Education Place
This site allows you to download, print, and make copies of over 40 different graphic organizers for use in your classroom.

The Graphic Organizer
This site contains resources you might find useful for writing and using graphic organizers. Especially helpful are the links to articles and books on the web.

Make your own graphic organizers on this site by filling out a simple form. The materials are made instantly and can be printed directly from your computer.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL)
The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (NCREL) is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping schools - and the students they serve - reach their full potential. NCREL specializes in the educational applications of technology. Use the search function on the home page to search the site for useful information on graphic organizers.

ProTeacher is a professional community for elementary school teachers, specialists, and student teachers in grades preK-8. The open membership includes visitors from across the United States and guests from around the world. The site features over two dozen active discussion boards and an extensive archive and directory of teacher-selected lesson plans, teaching ideas, and resources.


Inspiration 7.0
Powered by the proven techniques of visual learning, Inspiration 7 supports improved achievement for students grade 5 to adult, strengthening critical thinking, comprehension, and writing across the curriculum. Students use Inspiration to tap creativity, build new knowledge, analyze complex topics, and improve organizational skills. Educators use Inspiration to customize instruction, achieve standards, assess student progress, and energize learning.

Kidspiration, the tool to help young students build strong thinking skills with visual learning, supports visual and auditory learners using pictures, words, and audio. 

Kidspiration is designed to help students: 

  • Brainstorm ideas with words and pictures
  • Organize and categorize information visually
  • Create stories and descriptions using engaging visual tools
  • Explore new ideas with thought webs and visual mapping

For more information on Inspiration or Kidspiration:
Engaging Minds
Tel: 541-593-9339
Toll Free: 866-593-9339
Fax: 707-215-7713
PO Box 2007 #111
Sunriver, OR 97707

Examples of Different Types of Graphic Organizers

Spider Maps 

Compare and Contrast Diagram 

Venn Diagram 

Cycle Diagram