Graphic Organizers and Struggling Readers

For years, no one ever explained to me the point of graphic organizers.  I remember, when I was a high school student, how I hated when my English teacher would force us to complete things like a “semantic web.”  I just wanted to start writing, but instead I’d be forced to put words inside circles, connecting them with lines.  I didn’t get it.  So when I became an English teacher, I refused to waste time on such activities.  I made the common mistake of universalizing my own experience, figuring my students would appreciate being spared the irritation I felt at their age.

Here’s what I forgot:  I wasn’t a struggling reader.  My brain operated differently from someone who is behind grade level in reading.  Graphic organizers were bothersome for me because I didn’t need them, but they can be important literacy tools to boost comprehension for students who struggle. Graphic organizers and struggling readers belong together!

Jeff Zwiers’ book Building Reading Comprehension Habits in Grades 6-12 was a game-changer for me.  The book breaks literacy down into six key habits, and for each habit it presents some academic writing, and then ready-to-use lessons that can be dropped onto nearly any kind of text.  (Check out this great sample of Chapter 5.)  Many of these lessons come with dynamic graphic organizers.

The first time I saw Zweirs’ graphic organizer for “Main Idea Memory Storage,” I had a flashback to my own high school days:  I felt irritated and bothered.  What a strange looking activity!  I had to realize, however, that these kinds of activities are visual representations of what goes on in someone’s mind while reading.  For the struggling reader who doesn’t know how to keep details organized while reading, the visual aspect of something like this can be a game-changer.

Readers really do lots of different things while reading:  we analyze details to determine a central idea, and we change our minds as new ideas enter the mix.  We know how to shift these details and ideas into different categories of our mind, until we reach our final conclusion.  This is a lot to expect someone who doesn’t know how to do it!  Graphic organizers can help teach these important metacognitive skills explicitly.

Are you interested in learning how CUES can help your school implement an improved literacy program? Our consultants can help develop literacy intervention programs in grades 6-12. Contact us to learn more.

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