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How Graphic Organizers Increase Critical Thinking

by Christi O'Donnell

Graphic organizers help students at all levels process and arrange their thoughts in a concrete and visual way. Whether taking apart a story, preparing to write an article, ordering historical events or comparing world leaders, graphic organizers facilitate critical thinking by helping students see the ways in which ideas are interconnected. Most graphic organizers are used as tools to think critically about the work of others or to spur critical thinking in the creation of original work.

Untangling The Web

Word webs are one of the most commonly used graphic organizers, and they are suited for brainstorming independently or in a group and focusing on nonfiction topics. To create a word web, students start with a single word or idea by drawing a circle in the center of a piece of paper. Students then add related words or ideas in bubbles around the original word, each one connecting back to the original word with lines. In a very basic word web, all of the lines will connect back to the original word. In more advanced word webs, each word also branches off into its own set of connecting spokes, forming what looks very much like a spider web. This kind of graphic organizer encourages students to think critically about how topics and ideas are related to one another.

Putting it in Order

Sequencing maps are another popular graphic organizer. These maps are particularly useful when following the development of a story or placing historical events in chronological order, which helps students slow down and look at the relationships between important events in a fictional text, plan the order in which events will take place in a piece of original writing, recognize antecedents and results for historical events and make predictions. Sequencing maps are most often a series of rectangular boxes stacked vertically on a page with arrows pointing between the boxes from top to bottom.

Same and Different

Students learn to make venn diagrams in the earliest years of elementary school. These diagrams are used to compare virtually anything under the sun -- people, places, books, characters, objects, ideas -- and are found in every academic subject. A venn diagram is created by drawing two or more circles that overlap in the very center. In a two-circle diagram, the name for the items being compared are written above the circles. In the center, where the circles overlap, shared characteristics are listed. In the outer halves, students list the characteristics which make the topic unique. This encourages critical thinking about commonalities and differences between related or seemingly unrelated subjects.

Retelling a Story

Story maps are graphic organizers designed specifically to help students map the plot of a story, whether fiction or nonfiction. In addition to providing space to record the title and author of the book, story maps are structured to follow the arc of a story. Students will generally record the inciting incident, rising action, climax and falling action of the story. This kind of organizer is also frequently used to brainstorm ideas for a story during the prewriting phase of the writing process.

References

  • Differentiating With Graphic Organizers: Tools to Foster Critical and Creative Thinking; Patti Drapeau

About the Author

A lifetime resident of New York, Christi O'Donnell has been writing about education since 2003. O'Donnell is a dual-certified educator with experience writing curriculum and teaching grades preK through 12. She holds a Bachelors Degree from Sarah Lawrence College and a Masters Degree in education from Mercy College.

Photo Credits

  • Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images