Graphic Organizers 101: Why and The way to Use Them

Even if you’ve never heard of graphical organizers, chances are you’ve used them in one form or another throughout your life. That list of pros and cons that you made before making a big purchase? The family tree you are working on? Your school’s organizational chart? They are all graphic organizers. Here’s what you need to know about using this powerful tool with students of all ages.

What are graphic organizers?

Source: @thecomfortableclassroom

Put simply, graphical organizers are a way to visually organize information so students can understand and remember it. They are tools that children can use to connect, create a plan, and communicate effectively. A good organizer simplifies complex information and presents it in such a way that it is easier for the learner to digest. Graphic organizers may include text and images depending on the student’s purpose and learning style.

How do I use it?

Source: @yourteacherbestie

You can provide preprinted organizers for students or encourage them to draw their own. In either case, teach students how to use them by modeling the behavior first. Consider creating anchor diagrams for commonly used types so that students can refer to them as they work.

Work with younger students to help them understand how to choose certain types of organizers based on their goals. For example, students who take notes while studying may find a concept map most helpful. When comparing two subjects, a Venn diagram or T-chart is likely your best bet. Here are some ways to use graphic organizers on different topics (and explanations about them below).

Language art

  • Use a story map or story mountain to represent the characters, the setting, and the main plot points.
  • Try a web organizer to keep track of relationships and connections between characters.
  • Learn vocabulary using a Frayer model that includes meaning, synonyms, examples, and illustrations.
  • Determine the topic, main ideas, and supporting facts of an essay before you start writing.
  • Use a story map or mountain to plan creative writing.

Math and science

  • Use a Frayer model to define and understand terms and formulas.
  • Use a Venn diagram to compare two or more concepts (such as area and perimeter).
  • Create a visual representation to solve a story problem.
  • Schedule an experiment with a sequence organizer.
  • Start exploring a new topic with a KWL organizer to understand what students already know, what they want to learn, and what they are learning.


  • Draw a timeline to understand the order of events in the story.
  • Use idea websites or concept maps to keep track of information as you read and to help you learn.
  • Dive deeper into a topic with a cause and effect organizer.

What types of graphic organizers should I use in my classroom?

Graphic organizers come in a variety of styles. Here are some of the most common types that you can try with your students.

Story card

Source: Mrs. Byrd’s learning tree

This is one of the first organizers that many children learn to use. For the little ones, story maps are simple and set the environment, characters, and the beginning, middle, and end. Older students can expand the map to learn more details.

Timeline and course of events

Source: Growing Children

Here are two more common organizers that kids will recognize. Timelines are commonly used in history and social studies classes, but they can also be helpful when reading books. Use sequencing organizers to pinpoint the steps of a procedure or scientific experiment.

Story mountain

Source: @goodmorningmissbagge

A mountain of stories is helpful for both reading and writing. Students design a story from beginning to end, building to a climax and back to graduation.

KWL diagram

Source: Mrs. Kurt’s All Star Kindergarten Blog

KWL (What I? Know what i? W.on what i? L.Deserved) charts are a great way to help kids think about what they want to learn about a topic and hold them accountable for actually figuring out that information. The first column is a list of everything you already know. The second column lists what you want to learn, and the third provides any new information you have learned in the process.

Web idea

Source: Krazy for Kindergarten is in third grade

When you need to memorize a lot of information about a topic, idea websites are a great way to keep everything organized. It’s a more interesting way to explore a topic than just making a list or taking notes, and it’s more likely that kids will actually remember the information.

Concept map

Source: Evidence-Based Teaching

A concept map takes a network of ideas to the next level. It is really a series of networks of ideas between which connections are drawn. These can get very large, so encourage older students to explore online programs that can help them make useful diagrams.

District map

Source: Joyful learning in the KC

Circle maps are great for brainstorming or for a thorough understanding of a particular concept. In some cases, circles can expand further outward. For example, a county map could start with your hometown in the middle, a larger circle for your state, another for your country, then for your continent, and so on. In each circle, students write information relevant to that topic.

Attachment card

Source: A Learning Journey

Graphic organizers are especially useful if you plan on doing any type of writing. OREO and hamburger models are common, but you’ll find plenty of other options too. The key is to make sure the organizer is helping students define their main idea, gathering supporting evidence, and drawing a conclusion that is backed by the facts.

Frayer model (vocabulary)

Source: What I Learned

The Frayer Model has many uses, but it is most commonly applied to vocabulary. The term is in the middle, with four sections surrounding it for definition, properties, examples, and non-examples. Another version includes sections for definitions, synonyms, an illustration, and the use of the term in a sentence.

Cause and effect graphic organizer

Source: All about the Kampfire

If you want students to dig deeper into the material, try a cause and effect organizer. You can use it in pretty much any topic to make connections between actions and results.

T chart

Source: @ ducksntigers13

The AT chart is a very easy way to compare two related topics. Lots of people use these all the time, especially when writing pros and cons lists.

Venn diagram

Source: Teach With Me

A Venn diagram is another way to compare and contrast material to look for similarities and differences. The simplest version has two overlapping circles, with more overlapping circles being added for more complex topics.

Where can I find free printouts for graphic organizers?

While you don’t have to use a preprinted organizer every time, they can be especially helpful for younger students as they learn how this valuable tool works. The internet is full of graphic organizer printouts, both free and for purchase from websites like Teachers Pay Teachers. Here are some free options we created for teachers.

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Plus, Anchor Charts 101: Why and How to Use Them.

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