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What Is a Graphic Organizer?

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