Graphic organizers are as commonplace in an elementary classroom as books and desks. There is an endless variety for just about every purpose imaginable. Who doesn’t love a good graphic organizer? I do! I get giddy just walking into my local Staples store! So, of course, anything with the name “organizer” is already a favorite with me. 🙂 Last week I warned about six common mistakes when teaching kids how to compare. The 4th mistake was using weak graphic organizers. Today’s post focuses on fixing that mistake.
Graphic Organizer #1 – Venn Diagram
Good ol’ Venn. If you’ve been teaching longer than a week, you’ve probably used one at some point in your teaching career. The classic Venn diagram is often used for comparing and it’s easy to see why. It’s hard to resist the simplicity of two overlapping circles, especially with younger students. Differences go on the outer areas of the circles and similarities go in the center. One word of caution when using a Venn, though – they work best when focusing on a single characteristic. You might want students to compare just the physical features of two animals, such as alligators and crocodiles. The big complaint I have about this graphic organizer is its lack of space for writing in much information. I get around that by using the Top Hat organizer.
Graphic Organizer #2 – Top Hat
The Top Hat Organizer is increasingly becoming a favorite with me. It overcomes the space issues I mentioned earlier with the Venn Diagram. In truth, there are several variations on this graphic organizer. There’s a Y organizer, where students write the differences in the upper arms of the Y and the similarities in the lower column. Something similar is called the T-shirt organizer, where differences are written on the upper portion and arms of the shirt; similarities on the lower portion. Whatever you call it or however you design it, the basic pattern is still the same. I think that’s why I like it so much because of all the variations – you can really tailor it to suit your lesson and students.
Graphic Organizer #3 – Description
If you read last week’s post, you know that one common mistake is not clearly identifying important criteria for comparison. The Description Organizer solves that problem. Recently my students were comparing savings and investing in an economics lesson. I provided them with a Description Organizer with the characteristics already spelled out for them. That way they knew exactly what information to search for and could compare “apples to apples” so to speak. As students gain proficiency, you can gradually release more of the responsibility to them. It’s also a great way to move to a greater Depth of Knowledge (DOK) when you ask students to identify which criteria are most important for comparison.
Graphic Organizer #4 – Matrix
If you want students to compare multiple features, a comparison matrix would do a better job of it. Once again, meaningful criteria should be selected. However, you can easily choose more than one feature to compare with this graphic organizer. You can see an example on the website – Graphic.org. A Comparison Matrix works really well when you want students to compare three or more, such as the three branches of government or states of matter. You can easily create custom matrices in Word using the Table feature. Leave some space at the bottom of the organizer for students to write out their conclusions to add more depth to the exercise.
A Versatile Tool
Graphic organizers are wonderful tools for use in just about any lesson. I even have a Power Pix on my classroom wall for it. If I could only have one really useful resource to teach with, it would have to be the versatile graphic organizer.