One strategy for developing these skills in students is through the use of graphic organizers.
Graphic organizers are communication devices used to show the structure or organization of concepts and the relationships between them (Ellis). They are visual tools that use visual symbols to denote ideas and concepts to convey meaning. They depict the relationships between facts, terms, and/or ideas. They are often referred to as a map because they help teachers and students map out ideas in a visual manner (Saskatoon). According to Ellis, the visual spatial arrangements which represent the information's structure reduce the cognitive demands on the learner. The learner need not process a lot of semantic information to understand the information. Graphic organizers are very powerful devices for students with language-based learning disabilities (Ellis). They are of course similarly useful, if not more so, for regular students who do not have learning disabilities.
Being a visual tool, a graphic organizer allows the mind to see patterns and relationships in the information presented. One of the most common graphic organizers is the calendar. It is a descriptive matrix. At a glance it shows what month it is, the number of days in the month, what day of the week a certain date falls on, which dates fall on a particular day, and so on. The calendar helps the user gather, sift, sort and share information (Graphic.org1).
Usefulness of Graphic Organizers
As instructional tools, graphic organizers are very valuable because they are flexible and endless in application. They show the order and completeness of a student's thought process. They can immediately indicate strengths and weaknesses of understanding. They show different aspects of an issue or problem, whether it be the big picture or a part of it up close (Kipperman & McIntry). Graphic organizers are applicable across a wide range of curriculum subject areas such as reading, science, social studies, language arts, and mathematics (Saskatoon). However the effectiveness of graphic organizers lies in the ability of teachers teaching students how to use them efficiently. Especially in the area of non-fiction text, graphic organizers foster learning in reading, comprehension and vocabulary knowledge. The learner does not merely read a bunch of words but learns to understand the importance or lack of importance of these words, understanding the concept behind what is being read, determine a main idea and process relational information from there (Graphic.org2).
Ellis identifies three compelling reasons for using graphic organizers. First, students will more likely understand and remember the subject content they are being taught. A graphic organizer highlights what is/are important, and separates these from those that are interesting but not essential. In other words, information tends to be more precise. Second, graphic organizers allow the teacher to expound on the content at more complex levels because the burden of semantic processing is greatly reduced. Showing instead of just telling students the information facilitates understanding. Third, students more likely become strategic learners with the use of graphic organizers, thereby improving reading and writing skills, communication skills, and analytical, critical, and creative