I think graphic organizers are like daily planners – they’re outrageously effective when you have 1 or 2 that help you stay organized, but more than that and you’re doing exactly the opposite of what you set out to do.  Too much of a good thing truly is just that: too much.

So often, I’ll hear teachers say, “Oh I have a graphic organizer for that!” or “If they would just use the graphic organizer, they’d be set!”  I look at the walls of the classrooms and see 8-10 graphic organizers that kids should be referring to hanging there.  I look on the shelves next to the teachers’ desks and I see books like “100 Graphic Organizers for Middle School” sitting there.

I mean…100 graphic organizers?  Really?  Like, after 50 can we admit that we’re missing something…and that something is NOT another graphic organizer?

Here are the top five reasons I see that graphic organizers are overrated:

  1. Graphic organizers can look worksheet or fill-in instead of being used to organize ideas/thoughts/responses for deeper discussion and writing
  2. Graphic organizers often muddy the waters of instruction for struggling comprehenders because they become “one more thing” for kids to do
  3. Graphic organizers are used as outcomes, rather than tools for comprehension and thinking outcomes
  4. Graphic organizers are time-consuming when a simple note-taking skill or outline would do
  5. There are just too many of them to become automatic/independent for kids!

So, I guess the real deal is that graphic organizers themselves are not overrated, but HOW we use them is!

I think we need to think really carefully about how we use ANY teaching aid.  We need to be thinking of things like this when we determine whether a graphic organizer is in order during our lesson:

  • Will the graphic organizer increase clarity on the topic we’re reading about?
  • Will the graphic organizer enhance comprehension with this text?
  • Have I used this graphic organizer before and will I use it again?
  • How can I teach the use of the graphic organizer so that it doesn’t overtake the skill-building part of the lesson?
  • Will I explicitly teach kids how to use this graphic organizer outside of this particular lesson so they can broadly apply it?
  • Can I just use a simple note-taking technique instead of a graphic organizer?
  • Does the graphic organizer fit the content that I’m teaching really well?