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Using Graphic Organizers and Thinking Maps in Special Ed

Graphic organizers are a great way to engage students in their learning, while also simplifying complex topics and providing guiding bumpers for students while learning.

You know how in bowling, you can have them set up the bumpers so you don’t get a gutter ball? This of graphic organizers and thinking maps as those guiding bumpers!

Let’s dive in to all the questions about graphic organizers and thinking maps together!


How to use graphic organizers and thinking maps?

Graphic organizers are defined as “a visual display demonstrating the relationship between facts, ideas, and concepts.” And there are so many ways to use graphic organizers, including but not limited to:

  • Introduce a topic
  • Organizing your thinking (in all subject areas!)
  • Simplify or clarify complex information
  • Categorize and sort
  • Compare and contrast
  • Activate prior knowledge to connect it to new learning
  • Assess student learning

When deciding which graphic organizer to use, it is important that the lesson objective is guiding you in the creation or choosing of the graphic organizer. Sometimes it can be a one size fits all, and sometimes you may need to construct something from scratch (PSST: this might even look like creating one as an anchor chart together as a class!).

One fun get to know you activity for back to school would be using a graphic organizer like this:

One important thing to note about using graphic organizers is that the completion of one does not mean it is the end of learning, and it’s important that you, the teacher, shares this with your students.

This all comes back to making sure you’re using the right graphic organizer for your lesson – one that allows students to make further connections to learning and experiences, and potentially ask more questions about the topic they’re learning about.

When to use graphic organizers and thinking maps?

  • English Language Arts – retelling, sequencing, pre- and post-reading, idea webs
  • Writing – brainstorming, pre-writing,
  • Math – t-charts, place value maps, note taking
  • Science + History – comparing and contrasting, hypothesizing, sequencing, bubble maps, recording information, fact charts and maps, concept maps, KWL charts

What’s so great about graphic organizers is that many graphic organizers can be used cross-curricularly, or in multiple content areas.

Read the blog post about this graphic organizer here.

Why to use graphic organizers and thinking maps?

Graphic organizers are a great way to connect with and meet multiple learning styles with one lesson… which helps us meet the needs of all students in our classroom! Not to mention graphic organizers increase engagement and increase student learning.

How often do you use graphic organizers or thinking maps in your classroom to improve the teaching-learning dynamic? Share how you use them in the comments below!


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I'm a special education teacher, presenter, curriculum writer, and educational blogger behind Mrs. D's Corner.
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