Graphic Learning


Graphic organizers are visual displays of integral information designed to assist students in understanding the relationship between concepts. Graphic organizers serve as an effective instructional tool when they are kept simple, clear, and straightforward. A typical graphic organizer includes shapes (e.g., circles, squares, rectangles, ovals) with words inside to express main concepts. Lines or arrows represent connections between each concept resulting in a network of ideas. Sometimes these lines, or connectors, are labeled to specify the nature of the relationship between concepts. The final result is a visual depiction of the connected network of concepts, ideas, principles, facts, etc. Examples of graphic organizers include concept maps, flow diagrams or sequence charts, Venn diagrams, and the story map.

Practical Applications

According to Novak and Canas (2008), concept maps can be constructed by following the steps outlined below:

  1. Formulate a focus question that the map will answer
  2. Brainstorm the main concepts, themes, or other elements that have a role in answering the focus question
  3. Place these main concepts, etc. on the side of the workspace (i.e., the parking lot)
  4. Build a preliminary map by moving items from the parking lot to the map, grouping key words and related subtopics together. Move things around to get the best representation of the relationships.
  5. Look at the map and decide which elements in different clusters have significant connections and draw those connections.
  6. Treat the map as a work in-progress. Add concepts, shift others around, and draw new connections.

Examples of Graphic Organizers:​

    • ​What is Visual Thinking and Visual Learning? This website includes examples of graphic organizers, concept maps, mind mapping, webbing, outlining, plots and graphs.
    • Graphic Organizers: Guiding Principles and Effective Practices – Brad Baxendell: This document provides the basics of graphic organizers as well as specific examples and depictions of the concept map, flow diagram, Venn diagram, cause and effect diagram, main idea and details chart, the attribute chart, story map, and additional resources.

Recommended Resources

  • Best tools and practices for concept mapping – Chris Clark, Kaneb Center, University of Notre Dame: This website explains concept maps, their use, including an instructional video, application software, and additional resources.
  • Graphic Organizers with UDL – Nicole Strangman, Tracey Hall, & Anne Meyer, National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum, National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials:​e/backgroundpapers/graphic_organizers_udl - .UxCX8l7D4aw This website provides examples of different types of graphic organizers such as the network tree, spider map, fishbone map, and the comparative and contrastive map. This website also provides research for the effectiveness of using graphic organizers with students who have learning disabilities. A list of additional resources is also provided.
  • The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct and Use Them – J.D. Novak & A. J. Canas, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition: This report discusses the psychological foundations (i.e., knowledge structures, memory models, intelligence theories) underlying concept maps, ways to construct good concept maps, and the various uses of concept maps in education. ​

Related Evaluation and Assessment Resources