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What Is a Graphic Organizer?

A graphic organizer is a visual and graphic display that depicts the relationships between facts, terms, and or ideas within a learning task. They are also known as knowledge maps, concept maps, story maps, cognitive organizers, advance organizers, or concept diagrams. It is a pedagogical tool that uses visual symbols to express knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas, and the relationships between them. The main purpose of a graphic organizer is to provide a visual framework to help learners grasp complex information, facilitating understanding and learning. By integrating text and visuals, graphic organizers enhance the learning experience and can make abstract concepts more tangible.

Research suggests that the use of graphic organizers can improve learning outcomes. For instance, a study published in the "Journal of Educational Psychology" found that students who used graphic organizers to learn scientific concepts were better able to generate accurate explanations and retain information over time (Nesbit & Adesope, 2006). These tools come in various forms, including Venn diagrams, flow charts, spider maps, and more, each tailored to specific types of information and learning tasks. They are widely used across educational levels and subjects because they can simplify complex information and promote critical thinking by visually organizing data, thereby enhancing comprehension and retention.

Alan Rankin
Alan Rankin

A graphic organizer is a tool for education and conveying information. It is a visual aid used to display a wide range of facts and the relationships between them. Teachers use graphic organizers in classroom settings to help students understand complex concepts. This is their most common use, but they can be employed in virtually any trade or situation. Their effectiveness in conveying complex information makes them useful in a wide variety of applications, including one-time meetings and ongoing production plans.

The simplest kind of graphic organizer is a diagram drawn on a piece of paper. The shape of the diagram is determined by the concept it is attempting to represent. The diagram simplifies the relationships between the different concepts and makes them easier to remember. For example, the diagram of a novel’s plot might have a space in the middle for the central character, with branches in every direction representing other characters or concepts and their connection to the main character. The food pyramid is a famous diagram designed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to explain important concepts in nutrition to the general public.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

A storyboard is a kind of graphic organizer widely used in film and TV production. Difficult or expensive scenes are meticulously planned out beforehand with drawings, a process called previsualization. These images are sometimes on individual cards that can be repositioned or removed, allowing the editing process to begin before a single frame has been shot. On major studio film shoots, previsualization can include computer mock-ups of important effects or shots. Played in sequence, this effectively becomes an advanced form of storyboarding.

Other types of graphic organizers abound; there is no limit to the possible ways information can be represented graphically. The concept of the family tree is one of the most famous uses of the graphic organizer. A flow chart is another common organizer that displays a step-by-step process to resolving a problem or question. Law enforcement officers sometimes use graphic organizers to keep track of ongoing investigations. Railroad route managers employ a computerized graphic interface that displays rail conditions in real time.

Students struggling with difficult concepts may find a graphic organizer will help them make sense of the subject at hand. It is important to remember that the graphic organizer is only a tool, not an end unto itself. If added information makes the structure unwieldy, it may be necessary to revise or create a new organizer rather than leave out important facts. In the words of philosopher Alfred Korzybski, “The map is not the territory.”

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Discussion Comments


What is the difference between a flow chart and a graphic organizer?


Any chance of an article on Korzybski who argued that "bad" language leads whole cultures away from sanity?

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      Woman holding a book