3 Tips For Teaching K-2 Students To Use Graphic Organizers

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Graphic organizers come in handy when you’re working with Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students. But first, if you’re not 100% familiar with graphic organizers, let me explain what they are! Graphic organizers are any sort of visual tool or representation used to organized ideas. They can help take really complicated concepts (such as planning an opinion piece of writing or determining a theme of a story) and simplify them visually.

For instance, after having read a text, a teacher might have her 2nd grade students fill out a Venn diagram to compare similarities and differences of two characters. Another example – having Kindergarteners plan out a narrative story using a beginning, middle, end graphic organizer before they actually begin writing.

When it comes to graphic organizers, the possibilities are endless!

Here are just a few (of many more!) types of graphic organizers:

  • planning out any piece of writing
  • sequencing a story
  • cause and effect
  • main idea and details
  • story elements (characters, setting, problem/solution)
  • diagramming a new vocabulary word
  • life cycles

(If you want to read more about having students respond to writing prompts using graphic organizers, I talk a little bit about it here: “5 Tips for Helping K-2 Students Respond to Writing Prompts.” )

In this post, I have a video (and transcript, if you prefer to read) with 3 tips for effectively teaching your K-2 students to use graphic organizers!

In this post, I provide tips on how to get Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students to use graphic organizers in both reading and writing.
photo credit: MidoSemsem

Transcript if you prefer to read:

“Hey, I’m Alison from Learning At The Primary Pond. I’m a literacy specialist. And in this video, I’m going to give you three tips for having students effectively plan their writing by using graphic organizers. Before we dive in, if you haven’t subscribed to my channel yet, make sure to do that now. And then, also, hit the little bell so that you’re notified every time I post a brand-new video about teaching literacy in K-2.

Let’s talk graphic organizers. You might be familiar with things like a Venn diagram, or a T-chart, or sequence of events, cause and effect. There are different types of graphic organizers. But regardless of which one you’re using, generally speaking, a graphic organizer is a type of tool that visually represents and organizes ideas. And, sometimes, they can make more complex ideas easier for students, and even adults that aren’t students, to understand. So graphic organizers are super helpful. And you may have used them in different subject areas for different purposes.

For example, maybe you read a story to your second grade students and there’s two main characters. And then you take a Venn diagram, and you have the kids compare and contrast the two main characters, and their character traits, by using the Venn diagram. Or maybe you teach kindergarten, and you’re at the point in the year where the kids are planning little stories and writing little stories. And so you’re working on beginning, middle, and end. And so you have your kids draw pictures, one picture for the beginning, one for the middle, and one for the end, before they actually go and write. So those are just two examples. There’s lots of great ways to use graphic organizers. And, actually, I would love to know in the comments, do you use graphic organizers in reading? Do you use them in writing? Do you use them in both? Maybe other subject areas? Would be really curious to know because I feel like all teachers are a little bit different.

For today’s video, we’re going to focus, specifically, again, on having kids use graphic organizers to make a plan for writing, as opposed to just diving in. Because, sometimes, when kids get started on their writing and they don’t really have a plan, if you’ve been teaching writing for any length of time, you know things might just not turn out the way you would like them to. Maybe not as organized, or a story just goes on forever. So the graphic organizer can help them get focused.

My first tip is to model, model, model. So when you’re teaching kids how to plan a piece of writing, you might think like, ‘Oh, well, maybe I can just talk through the graphic organizer and tell them what to do.’ No. What we want to do, especially with our little ones, is actually either draw pictures, depending on the level of the kids, or write. It doesn’t have to be complete sentences, but write little phrases and words to show them, specifically, how we would plan. And we might worry like, ‘Oh, are they going to copy us?’ And some of them, yeah, they might copy or come up with something very similar. But the modeling is necessary. I didn’t do enough modeling when I was first learning how to teach writing, but I quickly saw how important it is. So even if you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, they might copy me,’ well, encourage them not to. But the modeling is just something that we have to do. And if you’ve modeled writing for your kids, you’ll see the huge impact that it has on them.

Now, I’m going to be showing you some things from my structured graphic organizer set for kindergarten, first grade, and second grade. And I will include the link for that along with this video. These are a type of graphic organizer that has a lot of support for kids with their writing. Often, I will just use simple things like a square for beginning, middle, end, and they can draw and write in there. But these structured graphic organizers give them a lot of support and guidance so that they’re really clear on their ideas. They have a little bit of help with the language, vocabulary. And so this is not something that I would necessarily give to my students every single time they’re going to plan a piece of writing. But at the beginning, maybe, of a unit on, for example, personal narratives, this is something that you could try. Or maybe you only try it with some of your students to give them that support. But anyway, for the structured graphic organizers, I’ll include the link.

Then, let me talk about this example of how it’s set up. So I don’t know how well you can see this on the screen, but it says, ‘When I Got Hurt’, Personal Narrative Writing Planner. It’s a good topic because most kids have gotten hurt at one point or another, whether they fell off their bike or just fell down, something like that. It’s a pretty common occurrence. So the organizer gets started by saying, ‘One time I hurt my…’ And then, they check off which body part. It says, ‘I got hurt by…’ So how did they get hurt? And it says, ‘First…’ there’s not a ton of space to write or draw. So it’s just maybe they draw a little picture, write a couple of words. Then it says, ‘Then…’ And it says, ‘Last, I got better from a Band-Aid, an ice pack, a cast,’ whatever else. Or they can write their own.

Basically, what this is doing is, it’s helping them get very clear on naming for their reader… Because they’re writing this and somebody, in theory, is going to read this. Exactly what happened and, then, the order of events. So, again, this is a lot of support. And I don’t always use this level of support. But, for some kids, they need it. And, for some kids, at the beginning of a writing unit, it’s especially helpful. So, anyway, model, model, model, whether you’re using this type of organizer or a different organizer.

Tip number two is to have students work with a partner on filling out their graphic organizer. Now, I don’t have an example of one here, but I just want you to imagine a graphic organizer that has space for beginning, middle, end. Very simple, but it’s something that I use often. And so, before the kids write, I might have them turn to a partner. And say, ‘Okay, I want you to talk about what you’re going to draw or write,’ depending on the level of the kids, ‘in each part of the organizer. I want you to tell your partner what you’re going to do.’ So getting that language use going can help them figure out what to put in on the graphic organizer in the first place.

Also, at the end of it, once they’ve filled out the graphic organizer, it’s a good idea to have them show it to a partner again. Their partner can ask questions which might help them figure out if they’ve missed a part, or if something isn’t clear. So just having that perspective is really helpful for kids, both before and after their planning. So tip number two, have students work with a partner.

Tip number three is to explicitly teach, or explicitly model rather, how to take the graphic organizer and turn it into their writing. I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but sometimes I’m like, ‘Okay, we’re going to do this graphic organizer. And it’s going to be great.’ And the kids do a great job of filling it out, but then, they think they’re done. And I’ve actually had kindergartners, maybe first graders too, take the graphic organizer and be like, ‘Okay, I’m going to put this into a little book.’ But they write a completely different story. It’s like they don’t get that they’re doing it twice.

It takes a little bit of time for them to catch on, and that is totally normal. But that’s exactly why we have to show them. And a document camera is a really great tool for this. Or just projecting something so it’s enlarged so the kids can see, ‘Okay, this is the graphic organizer that I filled out. Now, here’s how I take it and I expand upon it. I’m going to write in complete sentences. I’m going to add more detail. I’m going to write more, write add-on sentences.’ So they actually need to see you do it and think aloud. Like, ‘Oh, in this part, I plan to write this. I’m going to write that. Okay, now, how can I give my reader more details? I’m going to add this.’ So they need to see you do this, take this to your writing paper, whatever kind of thing you want them to do, so that they understand what that process looks like.

Something that I find is very helpful…you might be able to do it with this graphic organizer. This one is The Best Vacation Writing Planner. ‘If I could choose any vacation, I would go camping, to the mountains,’ whatever. ‘On my vacation, I would…’ Some activities. And then, ‘This is the best vacation because…’ So it has three parts. And when I’m first teaching kids to transfer from a graphic organizer to normal writing paper, I like the paper to mimic the organizer as much as possible. So here’s an example. I didn’t staple it, but I would staple this little three-page book where the kids take the first part of the graphic organizer and that goes on page one. And then they add some more details. And then the second part of the graphic organizer goes on page two. And the third part on page three. So it’s a very clear transfer for them from organizer to writing.

Kids don’t always need to have it be exactly like this. But I really feel like this procedure is helpful when you’re working with kids that are getting used to graphic organizers. Or you’re doing beginning, middle, end. It just transfers really nicely when the paper matches. And then, just like I said, with the modeling, it’s important for them to understand that and see you add on more details. So it’s not just like, ‘Oh, I’m just going to copy from the graphic organizer and not do anything else.’ This is just like the framework, and then we want to see them add more detail.

I hope that this video was helpful. Again, I’m going to include a link for the K-2 structured graphic organizers. Which, again, provide a lot of support, but some students really need this. I’ll include that link. Thanks so much for watching. Hope this was helpful. Don’t forget to hit the like button, subscribe, and I will see you in my next video.”

Conclusion

I hope you found these tips on graphic organizers helpful! For a free resource that comes with a few graphic organizers, click here for “Narrative Writing Lessons for K-2.” Here are some examples of graphic organizers included in this freebie:

I also have a product solely devoted to graphic organizers! My “Narrative, Informational, and Opinion Writing Graphic Organizers for K-2” can help students who may struggle to respond to writing prompts or write independently. Check those out HERE!

Happy teaching!

Alison

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