Thanks to Amanda Pogany for contributing this article.
1. A visual organizer such as a map, web, chart, or diagram that shows relationships.
2. A tool used to arrange thoughts and ideas in an orderly fashion.
One of the biggest challenges we face in the classroom is keeping our student’s focus and attention, both during class discussions and during class work time. It is hard for students of any age to focus for long periods of time, especially if they are only being asked to listen. While some students are oral learners, very few can actually retain the information that they hear without doing something else with it. Random facts are quickly lost. However, the brain’s ability to store pictures is unlimited. Since the brain likes to chunk information, the graphic organizer complements the way the brain naturally works. Graphic organizers help student organize and retain information, and mostly importantly from a classroom management perspective- they also help students focus.
The question I always ask myself when preparing my materials is: “What will the students be doing?” What will they be doing while they are listening to a presentation by some other students? What will they be doing while they are learning a text in chevruta or reading p’sukimindependently? The real question is- what will they be doing in order to retain the information and stay focused on the task at hand.
Graphic Organizers can work for any age and for any level. They can be detailed and specific, like a chart with columns to fill in. This is useful for students who have trouble organizing their thoughts on their own. It can also be useful when a text is extremely challenging and students may have trouble figuring out the key components without teacher assistance. The teacher can be clear about goals and intentions guiding the students in what to look for. The graphic organizer in this case serves as a scaffold, to support the students in learning the material on their own.
Once students have been trained in high level note taking, they will need less from the teacher in terms of graphic organizers. It is useful to simply suggest that a student develop their own chart for a particular section of text. Or you can give students a series of empty boxes with arrows, helping them to see that there is a causative relationship in the text they are looking at, and they will need to figure it out. Simply setting up a place for translation and/or a place for reflection can serve as a graphic organizer. Give students the space to be creative and organize on their own when you can. Ultimately all students can get to this place, but they will need you to lead them there by teaching them how to organize their thoughts.
Graphic organizers can be used in all stages of learning. You can use them for brainstorming new ideas, organizing thoughts in preparation for writing, or reflecting on materials learned in preparation for a test or project. They can be used individually or in large groups. For example, some teachers like to create a class map to outline the structure of a Gemarah or develop a character map while learning a section of Tanakh. These tools are particularly useful in activities that require critical thinking skills.
When you are first learning a text in preparation for teaching, think about how you organize it or chunk the material in your mind to make sense of it. Your students may not be able to do that on their own. Creating the graphic organizer is assisting them in the process. With graphic organizers, you remove the words and focus on the connections.
The benefit of focused attention is, in my opinion, the best part of using graphic organizers. They send a message to students that this is work time, there is something to do. When students are listening to others give presentations, I always give them something to fill out. It could be three questions: 1. One new thing you learned, 2. One thing you liked, 3. One question you still have. It sends the message that while your friend is presenting, these are the types of things you should be listening for. With younger students, I would give them a chart to fill in with the name of the presenter and their responses to each of these. With older learners, who have been taught note-taking skills, I would ask them to take notes on these three areas for each presenter. You suddenly have a room of students who are all focused on the presenter.