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Written by Martin Smit, Educational Consultant, LDAO

Students with a learning disability (LD) often have difficulty keeping schoolwork organized. A visual display of information, thoughts, and ideas is extremely beneficial for a student with an LD.  Graphic organizers are useful tools for expressing knowledge, clarifying concepts, and showing relationships.  A graphic organizer can help students organize assignments into manageable pieces and guide them through the process to completion. 

Think of how a kitchen is organized: cutlery is placed in a drawer; plates and bowls are stored together; perishable food is in the fridge and non-perishables in the pantry.  Imagine how frustrating it would be to work in a kitchen that had these items mixed up - dishes in the fridgecutlery in various cupboards; and perishables in the pantry! This disarray is what students with learning disabilities may feel when trying to capture thoughts and ideas for an assignment. Using a graphic organizer helps to keep ideas and information visually sorted and makes written assignments much easier to begin and complete.  

The first step in using a graphic organizer is to understand the purpose of the assignment. For example, a novel study may require students to identify specific characters, plot themes, and make personal connections. While reading their novel, students can use a graphic organizer to sort and store information for future reference. 

Some graphic organizers are used to support specific concepts. To choose the best organizer for the task, students should consider the following questions: “What does this activity ask me to do?” or “What is the learning goal of this activity?” Although there are many commercially produced graphic organizers available, students can easily create their own. A graphic organizer can be as simple as dividing a piece of paper into three parts, labeling each part, and adding the information 

 Below are some common types and examples of graphic organizers: 

Comparison Organizers

When a student is required to compare and contrast two or more things, Venn Diagrams and Comparison Charts are very effective graphic organizers. 

Example: Compare and contrast two main characters in your novel. 

A Venn diagram is used to compare two characters in the example below. What traits do they have in common? What are their differences? Using three circles to sort characteristics, the middle circle highlights similarities between the two charactersAdditional circles are added when comparing more than two ideas and concepts. 

 

Venn diagram comparing characters from a novel

Comparison Chart  

A chart is another tool for comparing ideas and information: 

Compare two characters. What traits do they have in common? What are their differences? 

 

Character #1 - Traits 

  • old 
  • married 
  • poor 
  • loves animals      

 

      Common Traits 

  • smart                    
  • funny 

 

Character #2 - Traits 

  • young 
  • single 
  • rich    
  • scared of animals 

 

Who are you most likeHow would you get along with the other character?

 

Conceptual Organizers (Mind Map) 

When a student is asked to show a concept, organize ideas, and/or group similar or related ideas together, a conceptual organizer is useful. This chart’s organization may change as the assignment progresses.  More boxes, colours, and lines can be added to join like ideas.  

Example:  What were the causes and effects of the Great Depression in Canada? 

This example assignment is possibly leading to a written task such as writing a short story or opinion piece on the Great Depression.   

 Conceptual organizer listing the causes and effects of the Great Depression in Canada.

A mind map is often used to record ideas for a project or assignment.  It can keep similar ideas together and help give some structure. 

Example:  Write a three-paragraph essay on your pet. 

  Mind map of essay ideas about your dog. 

Descriptive Organizers 

Descriptive organizers are used to describe a concept.    

Example: Describe the setting of the novel you are reading. 

 

Setting  

Describe how the setting of your novel looks, smells, sounds, and feels. 

 

Looks Like 

 

 

Sounds Like 
Smells Like  Feels Like 

 

 

 

 

Math Problem Graphic Organizer 
What do I need to find out? 

 

What can I use to solve this problem? (formula, manipulates, etc) 

 

 

Problem 

 

My Answer 

 

 

How I know my answer makes sense? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

Sequential Organizers 

If a student is asked to order information, a sequential organizer is a helpful tool. 

Example: What are the stages of germination of a bean seedInclude pictures and text. 

 Sequential organizer with information on how a bean seed germinates.

Additional Resources 

A variety of graphic organizer templates are available online. Studenthandouts.com offers over 50 free, printable graphic organizers for cycles, hierarchies, lists, processes, pyramids, and more. 

Graphic organizers work well for all subjects, including mathematics, but math may require some specialized organizers to help build relationships, identify patterns, and make connections. A good website for helping with math is Understood.org. This site contains math specific organizers such as number lines, ones-tens-hundreds grids, coordinate and graphic grids, etc. Click here to visit the Understood.org webpage and download free graphic organizers for math. 

Online Programs and Apps for Creating Graphic Organizers 

There are many online programs and apps available for creating graphic organizers. Here are a few common ones: 

  • Mindly (Mind Mapping) 
  • Popplet 
  • IBrainstorn 
  • Mindomo 

To access these programs and apps, visit Google Play or the Apple App Store and use the search terms “mind mapping” or “graphic organizers”. 

Additional Resources on the LD@school website

For more information on graphic organizers, LD@school has some great resources: 

Click here at access the LD@school article, Graphic Organizers.

Click here to access the LD@school article, The KWL Strategy, which provides a graphic organizer for students to record what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learned. 

Click here to access the LD@school article, Mind Maps.