Using Graphic Organizers for Reading Comprehension

What is a graphic organizer?

Graphic organizers are a visual representation of information in text (Jiang and Grabe, 2007). They are also a type of advanced organizer that activates prior knowledge and depicts the organizational pattern of a reading selection by focusing on key terms.

Students who have learning disabilities (LD) often have difficulty in deriving meaning from written texts. Graphic organizers have been found to help LD or low-ability students comprehend and recall important information in a text. Struggling readers have difficulty in text comprehension and successful task completion, especially with long and difficult passages (Manoli and Papadopoulou, 2012).

Graphic organizers approach reading differently than the traditional, linear text presentation which has been found to be more effective for reading comprehension, especially in students who struggle to understand text when reading. Graphic organizers are also known as advanced organizers, concept maps, and cognitive maps. Based on the specific function of the graphic organizer, there are many different varieties including story maps, matrix, semantic maps, knowledge maps, tree diagrams, and Venn diagrams.

Story Maps

Story Map Graphic Organizer

Story Map Graphic Organizer

Story maps are one of the most common types of maps used in narrative text. Story maps bring attention to the main element in stories, such as characters, time, setting, and plot. They visually represent key information in narrative texts using a specific structure (Boulineau, Force, Hagan-Burke, & Burke, 2004). They also highlight significant relations within a story which leads to deeper understanding of the passages read.Story maps are used to facilitate comprehension of narrative texts, whereas the other types of graphic organizers are used to enhance comprehension of expository texts, which pose more challenges to students because of their unfamiliar vocabulary and the more complex relationships between characters and plots.


Matrix Graphic Organizer

Matrix Graphic Organizer

Expository text is more information driven and many times students struggle with comprehending this type of text. One of the common graphic organizers is a matrix. A matrix is an input table which keeps all of the information within its square and quickly shows similarities and differences between two or more people, places, things, or events. The first to developing a matrix is to determine which main aspects that are to be focused on and what types of relationships are to be highlighted (Graney, 1992). The main purpose of a matrix is to communicate comparisons among concepts and coordinate concept relations.  

Semantic Map

Spider MapA semantic map is a web-like organizer and also goes by several other names including: spider map, sunburst, or mind map. This type of map has a circle in the middle with lines radiating from the circle like a sun. This type of diagram is used to represent words, ideas, or other central items. It is also useful for representing knowledge in any area where the goal is to organize material and be able to recall the information. Semantic maps are able to represent multiple relationships in a non-complex visual way.

Knowledge Map

Knowledge Map

Knowledge Map

Knowledge maps vary from all other graphic organizers because this type of map uses arrowheads to link key ideas and relationships. Knowledge maps can look much more complex than some of the other graphic organizers because of the node-link-node assemblies which specify relationships and directionality. This type of map accentuates the way concepts and ideas relate to an overall structure and help students recall macro level ideas.  

Tree Diagrams

Tree Diagram

Tree Diagram

Tree diagrams are part of the hierarchical organizers and visually portray the main ideas of a text. This type of map shows the relations of different elements that exist in a passage, such as general to specific or specific to general through hierarchically describing the relationships of the different elements of the text. Tree diagrams are typically used to describe the construction of a sentence, structure of societies, classes, institutions, taxonomies, and various hierarchical models (Guri-Rozenblit, 1989).  

Venn Diagrams

Venn Diagram

Venn Diagram

The Venn diagram is part of the linear organizers. It is organized by two or more overlapping circles used as a framework to make comparisons between two or more concepts. It was created by John Venn in 1880, for use in math.

Graphic organizers are also able to communicate relationships directly with visual cues rather than wordy text and can be used as a form of informal assessment. If used in the pre-reading stage, graphic organizers are brainstorming tools used to generate ideas, activate prior knowledge, and provide a purpose for reading. When used as a post-reading tool, graphic organizers can be used to assess the student’s understanding, enhance recall and retention, and be used to organize materials for writing tasks. Research has shown that using graphic organizers as a post-reading tool is the most effective method (Manoli & Papadopoulou, 2012). Either way, graphic organizers are a valuable strategy for reading comprehension.

Boulineau, T., Force, C., Hagan-Burke, S., & Burke, M. D. (2004). Use of story-mapping to increase the story grammar text comprehension of elementary students with learning disabilities. Learning Disability
Quarterly, 27, 105-121.

Graney, M. J. (1992). A framework for using text graphing. System, 20,161-167.

Guri-Rozenblit, S. (1989). Effects of a tree diagram on students’ comprehension of main ideas in an expository text with multiple themes. Reading Research Quarterly, 24, 236-247.

Manoli, P. & Papadopoulou, M. (2012). Graphic organizers as a reading strategy: Research findings and issues. Scientific Research, 3(3), 348-356.

Jiang, X., & Grabe, W. (2007). Graphic organizers in reading instruction: Research findings and issues. Reading in a Foreign Language,19, 34-55.


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