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Student-Generated Graphic Organizers in the Language Classroom

Effective learning routines nurture students’ language proficiency and communication skills. We often think of the communication modes, proficiency levels and 90+% target language as the routines that we foster in the classroom.  I’d like to move the focus to another routine that supports these efforts. Student-generated graphic organizers are visual tools that offer a unique pathway for students to comprehend and engage with the target language.

The effectiveness of graphic organizers lies in how well they adhere to general principles of highly-effective learning routines. They are simple, versatile, and foster higher-level cognitive processes. They can be used across various age groups and content areas. I have personally found this tool to be indispensable in my teaching. There are lots of versions and options out there, but I want to share 5 that prove to be most useful.

Keep in mind that students creates these on their own.  They learn how to make them, what they are used for, and how to add in the language and details.  This creation process supports the critical thinking focus. The examples are color-coded to show where students write in the topic (orange boxes) and where they write in the supporting thoughts and details (blue).  The second image is what these organizers look like when students create them on their own.

Linear Details: Students us this organizer to illustrate the sequential order of events in a narrative. For example, students can create a flow map to outline the sequence of actions in a short story. This visual representation supports students in understanding a storyline with greater clarity.

Causes and Effects: Students use this organizer to analyze reasons, such as those that lead to historical events. For example, the students can highlight the French Revolution, with the causes that led to this moment in history and the subsequent effects  Students can grasp the intricate interplay between events and their ramifications. This organizer can also be use to look at and consider current events and those that happen in a story.

Brainstorming: This organizer is useful in coming up with quick details. For example, students can create a bubble map in the target language to write down topic details, describe an image, list activities, or assemble thoughts on cultural topics before writing or engaging in a speaking activity.

Comparing and Contrasting : Students use this organizer to compare and contrast various themes. For example, students can outline the similarities and differences in traditions and values among different cultures, fostering a deeper understanding of cultural diversity and nuances. This is also useful for comparing characters in a story before responding to to prompt in writing or engaging in a class discussion.

Categorizing: Students use this map to categorize vocabulary based on themes. For example, in a unit focused on food, students can categorize food items into groups such as fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, facilitating a more systematic approach to vocabulary acquisition.

These student-generated graphic organizers, created by the students themselves as part of the language learning process, not only deepen their understanding of the language but also hone their critical thinking and organizational skills. They stimulate critical thinking, encourage effective communication, and foster a deeper understanding of language and culture. By making the invisible visible, they empower students to navigate the intricacies of language learning with confidence and proficiency.

There have been many influences on my understanding of these concepts.  In particular Thinking Maps and Brain Frames have contributed to my more concrete understanding of how to use student-generated graphic organizers.