However, with the realisation that all learners are, to some extent, visual learners, the focus on process rather than product, and with increasing emphasis on developing organisational and thinking skills alongside language skills, visual tools such as graphic organisers are being increasingly employed.
A graphic organiser (also known as a concept map, mind map or relationship chart) is usually a one-page form with blank areas for learners to complete with ideas and information which are connected in some way. Some organisers are very specific; others are versatile. Often, the information on a graphic organiser could just as easily be written on a form or list, but the organiser offers certain advantages:
Types and functions
Graphic organisers can be classified either in terms of their design or their function. Functionally, graphic organisers can be grouped into two categories: those that depict basic information structures (whole-to-part, cause/effect, etc.) and those that serve specialised needs (project planning, goal setting). For the language classroom, the most common functions are:
There are a wide variety of designs for depicting the same basic information structures, but all serving the same basic purpose of visually revealing to learners how the information is structured. Some common designs include:
Clock, Cluster/Word Web, Describing Wheel, E-Chart, Fact and Opinion, Five W's Chart, Flow Chart, Four-Column Chart, Goal-Reasons Web, Hierarchy chart, Idea Wheel, KWL/KWHL Chart, Ladder, Observation Chart, Persuasion Map, Planning Chart, Progress Report, Sequence Chart, Spider Map, Step-by-Step Chart, Story Map, T-Chart, Time Line, Tree Chart, Venn Diagram.
Choosing an organiser
Choosing the appropriate organiser involves consideration of function, purpose, the nature of the material/information, the classroom activity and personal preference. Some initial questions to consider are:
Six common designs and their functions are :
Download visual table 21k pdf
There is a very useful flowchart of how to choose a graphic organiser on the Enchanted Learning website: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/graphicorganizers/flowchart/
The teacher's role
Learners need to be trained to use graphic organisers and it is the teacher's job to introduce them gradually and systematically, beginning with simple mind maps to brainstorm topics and KWL charts to provide a purpose for reading a text.
|What I Know about ....||What I Want to find out||What I Learnt about .....|
Other typical uses include planning writing (the map or chart may be included in a portfolio), recording vocabulary thematically or in lexical sets, following the characters or story in a narrative and breaking down the content of a text.
Responsibility for graphic organisers can gradually be turned over to the learners. Typically, this happens in stages:
In the early stages, it is a good idea for the teacher to keep a selection of organisers at hand so that learners have a choice and can experiment with a wider range of designs.
Graphic organisers are as useful for teachers as they are for learners. They are a valuable tool in lesson planning, syllabus design, report writing and research as well as providing an insight into the individual learner's thought processes and learning style.
A graphic organiser generator is available on the Teachnology website:
Where to find graphic organisers
There are numerous educational websites which offer a wide range of graphic organisers to download (usually in pdf format) free of charge, with permission to print and copy for classroom use and advice on how to choose and best utilise them.
Written by Steve Darn, Freelance Trainer, Izmir, Turkey
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