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Graphic Organizers

A graphic organizer is a visual learning tool that helps students and teachers organize their thoughts, either alone or in a group. A graphic organizer visually chunks a task into manageable segments or steps, guiding a student to think-through each step in the process. Graphic organizers can be content specific such as writing graphic organizers or more general such as planning or teamwork graphic organizers. The key to supporting differentiated learning processes is to purposefully select graphic organizers that meet the needs of each learner. The end goal of a graphic organizers is to work itself out of a job! Once students begin to appropriate a learning process, they no longer need the support of an organizer.

When do I use a graphic organizer ?

When is it NOT advised to use a graphic organizer?

Is 'graphic organizer' the 'new' term for stencil or black-line master?

How can I introduce a graphic organizer to my students?

Where can I find graphic organizers?

When do I use a graphic organizer?

A graphic organizer can be used at any time during the learning process. Traditionally, teachers use graphic organizers at the beginning of a task to help students plan their learning. However, a graphic organizer can be used to support a student at any point in her or his learning process. Unlike other learning tools, graphic organizers are versatile and provide opportunities for endless applications across various contexts.

When is it NOT advised to use a graphic organizer?

A graphic organizer can be a great source of frustration for a student who does not need one. For instance, if a student prefers to free-write as a way of organizing her or his thoughts, a graphic organizer might hinder her or his writing process. Also, a student who has always used some type of graphic organizer in previous learning situations, may at some point, depending of the task, no longer require its use--this is the goal.

Is 'graphic organizer' the 'new' term for stencil or black-line master?

No, here is the difference: a stencil's purpose is to guide a student with a question or prompt which seeks a particular answer. The purpose is most often to ask a close-ended question seeking a particular, correct, answer. Most commonly, students will complete the same stencil.

Stencil vs  Graphic Organizer
 seeks a correct answer    guides thinking processes
 one type used for all learners    each learner can use a different one
 task with a beginning and end    can be used throughout learning task
 text based    visual and text
 content centered
   user centered


Stencil prompt: What happened after Jonah left the community building?
Student response: He got on his bike and went home.

Whereas a graphic organizer is used to help students organize their thoughts, without the expectation of one particular, correct answer. Graphic organizers are selected according to the needs of the student for a particular task, each student may use a different graphic organizer.

How can I introduce a graphic organizer to my students?

Introducing graphic organizers to students is a simple three step process:

1. Model

2. Together

3. Choice


When introducing students to a new graphic organizer, teachers should describe its purpose, model its use, and provide students with opportunities for practice.

  1. Place a copy on the board, project it on a screen, or re-draw it on chart paper so that the students can easily see the graphic organizer. Ask the students to look and listen because they will be asked to do the same thing later.

  2. Talk out loud (cognitive walk-through) as you fill in the various sections. Let your students hear your thinking processes.

  3. Write on the organizer, modeling what you expect of the students (e.g. point form words, phrases, images)

  4. Reflect out loud on how you worked on the organizer, invite students to


Although graphic organizers are meant to be differentiated according to each student's learning situation and need, when first introducing students to the concept of a graphic organizer, some teachers model the use of a single organizer and guide the entire group to use the same organizer. This allows students to learn from one another and focus on the learning task rather than getting bogged down on how to use the organizer.


When students have had some experience using graphic organizers, you can begin to offer them choices of organizers they would like to use in order to complete a task. This is a key step in the path of competency development learning. For instance, in planning out a web search, some students may use a detailed organizer that breaks down the learning steps and other students may select a graphic organizer that simply keeps track of their research path. See below:

Once students become comfortable with using various graphic organizers, they can be encouraged to develop their own or they may no longer need to use one at all.

Where can I find graphic organizers?

LEARN has published various materials which incorporate the use of graphic organizers |

Differentiating Writing Across the Curriculum: Multiple Genres, Multiple Ways

Focus 1 | Focus 2 | Focus 3

Focus Secondary