If You Teach Them a Graphic Organizer...They Will Draw It

I don't know about you, but I have a strong love affair with graphic organizers. They are multi-purposeful in my eyes. They can help my students be stronger writers, readers, and speakers. It allows me to see their thoughts and ideas, clear up any confusion, and help them strengthen their overall understanding of whatever we are working on. You can use them across content areas and best of all- they can be slightly modified to fit your needs, while keeping it accessible for the students. 
The first part of the year, I often gave students a pre-made graphic organizer for them to gather their thoughts while reading. This allowed me to see what they were able to do, and where I needed to step in and help more. They worked great and gave me a ton of information on my students, not to mention, it held them accountable during our independent reading time. We began to shift now to graphic organizers that we can create ourselves. The beauty of these: they can change to fit our needs. Here are 3 graphic organizers that we use often and just slightly tweak!

These can be used in many different content areas. We use them most often during our read aloud and independent work time to gather ideas to show our thinking and talk with others about our reading.

Some of the uses we've used this style for: Cause and Effect, Inferences, Multiple Pieces of Evidence

We used this graphic organizer last week when we focused on multiple pieces of evidence and patterns to give our character traits. We used this awesome book for our biography unit. 

If you have a chance to read it, I strongly encourage it. The students really connected to it due to what Steve Jobs created, but the quality of character is excellent too. We see Steve change throughout his successes and drawbacks and we had excellent conversations as to what caused these changes. Here are a few examples of how we tweaked this flow chart graphic organizer to show our thinking using text evidence.

(don't mind my chicken scratch...)

For this time around, we put events in the boxes at the top, then we jotted why the author would add these events in the middle, followed by a trait word. I choose the flow-chart style to show how these are all connected: the text, the author's ideas, and my ideas.

This allows me to see: 1) Can they identify important events 2) Can they identify the reason those events were included 3) Can they develop an idea of their own based on the events

For example, in the example where the student said Steve is careless, I'd like to meet with this student to discuss how we want two or more events that show the same trait. Crying himself actually shows me that he does care, but I agree with the student that Steve seems to care about things that seem little to the rest of us and ignores things that seem important. 
Some of the uses we've used this style for: Sequencing, Author's Purpose, Cause/Effect, Inferences

I love the timeline graphic organizer! I often use it during read aloud. Students divide their paper into half. On one side, they always jot important events in the story. On the other side, we change it up: Sometimes we write down our ideas to, "Why did the author add that part?" Other times, we write down, "What is my idea?"  It's great to keep events in sequence and to go back and look for patterns, cause/effect, and retelling. Here are some student examples. Some were done during read aloud- others were done during independent reading time.

You'll notice that the one on the left wrote down that the text is on the left and her idea is on the right. She did this during independent reading to be prepared to discuss at her book club. The one on the right was done during read aloud. We were focusing on events/text on the left and why the author would add that part on the right. I would simply tell them to stop and jot and they would pick out the events they found important and jot those down, along with their idea as to why the author would add those parts (this was for our mystery read aloud). 

Some of the uses we've used this style for: Narrative Elements, Genre Studies, Poetry, Close Reading

I pull this one out when I want to focus on many skills at the same time. I might want students to focus on the setting, characters, problem, and solution so each box would be labeled with those words or a quick picture to remind students. Or, I might want students to focus on things that stood out to them, questions, places that they stopped, and unknown words for book club meetings. I recently began using it for genre studies and test prep. We are taking our reading test on the computer this year, so we are learning different ways to keep track of our ideas. One way is through this 4 square box so that students can look at different things they've gathered across a text. (I'll be showing you more of this when we do some work on close reading with poetry this week.) Here are some student work samples that they did independently when preparing to discuss at book clubs.

Notice how this student wrote little pictures (that we learned) in each box to keep track of her different ideas. The stick person stands for character events/things that stood out; the ? stands for questions to ask my group or questions I had while reading; the "No" symbol stands for parts that were confusing and made her stop; and the W stands for words or phrases that are confusing to her.

I love putting the power into my own students hands to use an organizer that works for them to show their thinking. The scaffold of using pre-made organizers I believe was very helpful and necessary and made our journey to self-created ones easier.

What is your go-to graphic organizer? Do you use pre-made or student created one? I'd love to hear!


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