Using Graphic Organizers with English Learners

Graphic Organizers ELs

Graphic organizers are effective tools for teaching and learning since they are equally helpful for both teachers and students. Graphic organizers simplify teaching by putting content into a more interesting, visual format, while making the learning more interactive for students. These visual tools can help students tackle challenging vocabulary or help them organize and show connections between new concepts.

Graphic organizers are especially helpful in assisting English Learners (EL) grasp and master content in their second language. A dense piece of text can be overwhelming for ELs to tackle, but when a graphic organizer accompanies a text, the information becomes more accessible and easier to comprehend. By creating a visual representation of facts and information, graphic organizers support student learning by explicitly showing the relationship between concepts and ideas. The organizers help students to make their thinking visual and take a metacognitive approach to their learning.

Furthermore, graphic organizers can increase student engagement by encouraging them to interact with the content through conversation with peers. Have students complete a graphic organizer in pairs or small groups, and notice how the graphic organizer lowers stress while simultaneously requires students to collaborate and discuss the material together.

For ELs who need extra support, provide sentence stems/frames or a word bank to facilitate the use of academic language as they use the graphic organizer. If using a more complex graphic organizer, fill out some of the sections in the organizer to give students a scaffold for them to successfully complete it.

Below, I’ve provided a list of graphic organizers and how they can help ELs. They work across all grade levels and subjects.

Vocabulary Instruction

  • Vocabulary Instruction Chart – A super valuable pre-assessment to check how well your students understand new vocabulary words. It allows you to tailor the vocabulary instruction based on their needs and prior knowledge.
  • Frayer Model – An effective graphic organizer for teaching vocabulary. It has a section for an image representation, definition, examples, non-examples and a sentence. Students can complete the model with a partner and then present it to other students.

Compare and Contrast

  • Venn Diagram – A classic graphic organizer that is extremely useful for comparing and contrasting in any subject area. Two overlapping circles show students a clear visual representation of how two items or concepts are similar and different.
  • Top Hat Graphic Organizer – Students will organize their comparisons effectively with this chart in the shape of a top hat. Similarities go on the bottom while differences go on the top two sections.

Categorize and Organize Information

  • Bubble Map – A terrific general concept web, perfect for brainstorming, that can be used with ideas or information in any genre or subject area. Perfect for group exploration.
  • Timeline Organizer – Information is easier digested if it follows a sequential order. Use this timeline to help students make meaning of a story or a historical event.
  • T-Chart with 3 Columns – Sometimes a simple t-chart can go a long way. Use this graphic organizer to help students describe characters, explain solids, liquids, and gases, or discuss different groups of people during a particular time in history.

By Sarah Zegarra (M.Ed), educator and teacher leader who taught K-5 bilingual education (Spanish-English). She is passionate about project-based, whole-child, culturally responsive teaching, and integrating the arts into learning.

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