Graphic Organizers: Definitions and Uses

Introduction to Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are varied in form and use, appearing as flow charts, webs, Venn diagrams, compare and contrast diagrams, and more. As such, they can deal with a single, or multiple main ideas and can illustrate the various connections and relationships between these ideas.

Typically, these are used as a teaching resource that engage students in analysing the relationships between concepts or ideas: a semi-complete diagram is produced by teachers in order for students to fill in blank sections. This exercise tests and develops the user's knowledge on a particular subject, by encouraging them to classify groups of information surrounding a main idea or multiple main ideas. Graphic organizers demonstrate analytical thinking for users to internalise and use as a lifelong skill.

Definition of a Graphic Organizer

A graphic organizer is a visual display that demonstrates relationships between facts, concepts or ideas. It specifically guides the user's thinking as they build up and fill in the graphic organizer.

Benefits of Graphic Organizers

  • Helps students to classify ideas and examine relationships
  • Improves students' reading comprehension by making information digestible
  • Understand how processes work by systematically showing cause and effect

A Quick Guide on Types of Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers have a variety of uses in a range of different subjects and disciplines. They can be used to develop a student's knowledge on ideas, topics or processes. Accordingly, they will appear in whatever form best suits the goal of the task to be carried out. Here are some graphic organizer examples:

Compare and Contrast:

Compare and contrast diagrams encourage students to analytically compare two topics or subjects.

For example, if an English lesson was based on a comparison between two novels using a graphic organizer, it could appear as a semi-filled out compare and contrast diagram (see opposite). Other literary scenarios might include webs (see below) for characters or themes, or flow charts for plot.

Flow Chart:

A flow chart allows students to understand the cause and effect of each stage in a process. Commonly used in a scientific scenario, exercises might include mapping out the stages of Fractional Distillation, as crude oil is turned into different products at each stage. Other flow charts may include the Water Cycle, or a Lifecycle.

Flow charts are also useful to provide instructions on an overall tasks, as members of a team can visualise where their task fits in. More simply, they can be used for everyday tasks such as making a cup of tea (see opposite).


Webbing is a diagram tool that groups categories of information into associated themes, typically developed from a template for educational purposes.

For example, a web may divide the complex literary components of a play into sections to allow for easier close-analysis (see opposite). By completing the blanks in these sections, such as the themes in Shakespeare's Hamlet, students can better their understanding of the complexities of a literary work.

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Building a Graphic Organizer For the Classroom:

  • Start with a main idea, topic, or concept - this will be the subject of the activity, specifically the idea or process that students need to gain an understanding of.
  • Determine which type of graphic organizer to use - this is dependent on the learning goal of the activity. For example, if the subject is the fractional distillation of crude oil, the goal would be to recall the products of each sequential stage of distillation, because it is a process. A flow chart would therefore be the best graphic organizer to use.
  • Then determine and fill in the key pieces of information - some initial pieces of information may be left in to guide the student's thinking. Such as for the previous example, the first product would be petrol.
  • Consider the focus of the exercise - the focus of the exercise will dictate which element of the graphic organizer the student will need to fill in. For example, if the focus is understanding the plot of the story, you may decide to leave parts of the plot blank, or to disconnect all the elements of the plot for the student to connect by drawing a line.
  • Decide which elements to leave blank for the students to fill in, then remove - Finally, it can be useful to keep a master copy once you have created your graphic organizer to refer back to when checking and reviewing students' answers.

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