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Creating a Graphic Organizer

Creating a Graphic Organizer

Author: Sydney Bauer

This lesson explains how to create a graphic organizer when reading.

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A great way to organize information from a reading is by using graphic organizers. Graphic organizers visually arrange the information on the page so that you can see the progression of ideas as well as the relationships between them.


There are several different types of graphic organizers, and each type has its own unique way of arranging the information.


The first step to creating a graphic organizer is to decide the main topic that you are organizing information about, the central focus of your graphic organizer. You might be reading a novel and want to organize the events of the plot, or the traits of each character. You might be reading from a textbook and want to organize the information from a specific chapter, or section, or even a specific concept from a section.


Once you’ve decided on the main focus, you’ll shape your graphic organizer around that topic.


Let’s look at the different types of graphic organizers.


The first two types of graphic organizers are probably the most common. They both work for almost any type of information, and they also double as study aids later on.


The Cornell Method: The Cornell Method uses the left 1/3 of the page to track main ideas, key terms and phrases, as well as any questions you might have while you are reading. The right 2/3 of the page is then used to fill in any definitions, examples, explanations, or answers to your questions from the left column. Finally, the bottom of the page is used to summarize whatever information is on that page of notes so that when you are looking through your notes you know exactly what notes are on each page.


When studying, simply cover the right column, and use the left column to quiz yourself. If you get stuck, read your summary at the bottom of the page. You can use the Cornell method to analyze characters, events, or ideas. Its format is easily applied to many different topics.


The Charting Method: The charting method divides the paper into three columns: what is it?; what does it mean?; and why? In the “what is it?” column, you’ll write the main ideas, key terms, characters, or main events (it’s a lot like the first column from the Cornell method). In the “what does it mean?” column, you’ll expand on the items you wrote in the first column by adding details, explanations, definitions, or evaluating its importance to the overall reading passage. In the “why is it important?” column, you’ll either provide examples, or make connections between the information from the various columns (or even between this and other charts that you’ve made for this particular reading).

Cause and Effect: You’ll want to use this type of graphic organizer when you’re focusing on the connections between events. Cause and Effect Type A focuses on the causes and effects of a single event. Cause and Effect Type B works best when there are multiple events to analyze; it allows you to isolate the events from one another and look at their individual causes and effects. Cause and Effect Type C works best for looking at a chain of events because it shows how the effect of one event can also be the cause of another.

Cause and Effect graphic organizers are similar to flow charts because they both show relationships between events.


Flow Charts: You can use a flow chart to show the chronological order of events, parallel storylines, or where a storyline splits. It can also be used to show the progression of ideas from the introduction to the conclusion in an argumentative or informative piece of writing.


Plot Development: This type of graphic organizer is really only used to look at the development of a plot from a work of fiction, but it can also be applied to non-fiction topics. This particular organizer shows the chronological development of the plot (and the role each event plays within the overall structure of the plot). It untangles the storylines of narratives that jump back and forth in time, so that you can see how each event unfolds into the next. The first diagram is just the blank structure of the plot, while the second diagram shows that you can leave room to add notes to make the diagram more detailed.


Analysis: Remember that analysis is the process of breaking down a subject into its parts and then making observations about how the parts and the whole are related. The analysis type of graphic organizer is useful for several types of information. The first diagram is an example of an analysis of a character; the second diagram is an analysis of an idea or argument.



Here are some tips to keep in mind—no matter what method you use to organize your information:

  • Color Code: Color-coding information helps you make connections, as well as distinctions, between ideas and details.
  • Use abbreviations, symbols, words, and phrases: don’t use sentences. You want these to be concise and easy to understand.
  • Make sure your color-coding, abbreviations, and symbols make sense to you: you want these diagrams to be useful, so it’s important that you know what they say.
  • Use numbers or arrows that show the sequence of events (when necessary): again, it’s all about making sure the information in the diagram is clear. 

Creating Graphic Organizers