As ESL educators, our goal is to support English Learners (ELs)/ELLs/MLLs as they develop their language skills while keeping pace with content area learning. One highly effective tool to aid ELs in this journey is the use of graphic organizers. These visual tools provide ELs with structure and clarity, helping them comprehend, organize, and express their thoughts in English.
In this blog post, I first share the importance of graphic organizers for our ELs before providing ways integrate them into our teaching in five key areas: vocabulary, writing, fiction reading skills, nonfiction reading skills, and reading comprehension strategies.
WHY ARE GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS IMPORTANT FOR ELLs?
Graphic organizers provide a structured way for ELs to understand, organize, and express thoughts and ideas in English. They are valuable teaching tools for the following reasons, including:
- Visual Aids: The visual aspect of graphic organizers makes them perfect for our students with limited language. By using visuals like graphic organizers, our ELs are able to clearly see what is expected of them in a much more accessible way. Visuals also aid in retention of new ideas as they give students a meaningful visual representation of new concepts.
- Writing Support: ELs may find expressing themselves in English challenging, especially when it comes to content areas. Graphic organizers provide a framework for organizing thoughts and ideas when writing essays or responding to reading. This, in turn, boosts their confidence and fluency.
HOW CAN WE USE GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS WITH OUR ELLs?
Graphic organizers can be used to support ELs with ELA, as well as content area reading and writing tasks. Below are ways they can be used in five areas of our teaching:
1. VOCABULARY GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS:
Because vocabulary is the building blocks of language acquisition, vocabulary graphic organizers are such an important tool for ELs. They are not only helpful in ELA (English Language Arts) lessons, but across ALL content areas. They can be used effectively to 1.) frontload information before a lesson or reading, 2.) break down key words during a lesson, and 3.) reinforce vocabulary after a lesson.
Some of the best graphic organizers for frontloading or previewing vocabulary are as simple as they come. Concept maps or word webs require students to put a word in the center of the “web” or “map”.
On the word web above, students record words, phrases, examples, synonyms, images, etc. around the word that help them to understand the focus word’s meaning. This is especially helpful for having students make connections to new vocabulary from what they already know.
One of my go-to graphic organizers for previewing vocabulary is a simple chart for becoming familiar with the new vocabulary. Students write new words (teacher selected) that they will come across in their reading. Then, they write a definition, and draw an image or visual representation for the word. This works well for building vocabulary before reading both a nonfiction or fiction text.
Next, a picture dictionary is a very simple, quick way for students to record a visual representation of new words. They can be used before reading, during reading, or as an ongoing resource. So much drawing can intimidate some students, so using a digital picture dictionary is an option as well. In this case, students can copy and paste images found on a search and add arrows/words as needed. Below is an example of the digital picture dictionary in action.
For a hands-on option, I love using interactive vocabulary crafts. The word wheel at the top of the image below is a “spinner” craft that can be used to study new vocabulary words. The bottom image shows a “Vocabulary Tab Book” that encourages students to dive deep into each vocabulary word. There is also a space on each tab for students to reflect on their own understanding of the word.
Lastly, the Frayer Model is popular for breaking down new words in a meaningful way. In this graphic organizer, students first provide a formal definition of the word. Then, they list characteristics of the word, examples, and non-examples. This helps reinforce how the word is used and gives students practical application of the word.
There are so many vocabulary graphic organizers and activities that are helpful not only for our ELs, but all students.
Graphic organizers provide structure, clarity, and visual aids that make the writing process more accessible to ELs. They can be used for pre-writing as well as focusing on specific writing strategies.
PRE-WRITING GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS:
Pre-writing graphic organizers ease the stress of organizing ideas into a formal writing format (sentences and paragraphs). Brainstorming organizers are one type of pre-writing graphic organizer that help students to set aside all worries about grammar, formatting, etc. This way they can simply focus on their ideas for writing.
Pre-writing graphic organizers also prevent students from being overwhelmed with formatting and instead focus on their ideas. It is helpful to have graphic organizers for all writing formats, such as a fictional story, informational writing, how-to writing, opinion writing, a friendly letter, and so on. These organizers should clearly break down what is expected of each type of writing to help students format their rough drafts.
WRITING STRATEGIES GRAPHIC ORGANIZERS:
Next, students can use graphic organizers to help strengthen their rough drafts. These revising organizers break down specific skills in a way that make them accessible to ELs. These can include strategies like writing a hook, using strong word choice using dialogue, using characterization, supporting facts, using transitions, creating a flashback, etc.
Some writing strategies help students to dig deeper into their writing, such as “small moments” writing, or “explode the moment” writing. These organizers require students to pick one moment within an experience. They break down aspects of zooming in on this moment by describing in detail each sense, their thoughts, and their feelings in the moment.
3. READING COMPREHENSION STRATEGIES:
Reading comprehension strategies are tools that readers use to deeply understand both fiction and nonfiction texts. These include strategies such as visualizing, making predictions, making inferences, etc. It is helpful for ELs to build on one strategy at a time until they are able to use multiple strategies while reading a text.
By providing reading strategy graphic organizers as supports, we can help make the process of learning to read and comprehend in a second language more accessible and enjoyable for ELs. These graphic organizers give students a purpose for reading. Therefore, they encourage active involvement in comprehension and deeper connections with the text.
Using reading comprehension strategies effectively can be a challenge for all students, not just ELs. However, graphic organizers break down these strategies in a clear and visual way. They provide students with the steps they need to take in order to use each strategy.
4. NONFICTION READING SKILLS:
Nonfiction texts can be complicated for all students, not just ELs. Not only do they sometimes teach new and unfamiliar concepts, but they also use content-specific language. Similar to reading strategy graphic organizers discussed above, nonfiction graphic organizers provide readers a purpose for reading. This helps students to really focus on what specific skill(s) they are working on in order to understand the text.
Along with using vocabulary graphic organizers before reading nonfiction, it can be helpful to activate background knowledge on a topic. One simple way to activate background knowledge before reading is a K-W-L chart. This encourages students to write what they know, then create questions they hope to have answered, and then record what they have learned (after reading).
Graphic organizers can also help ELs navigate the complexities of nonfiction texts as well. This includes using nonfiction text features, like bold text, headings and subheadings, images and captions, diagrams, etc. in order to understand the main text.
Response to reading nonfiction texts can be made more accessible to ELs with use of graphic organizers as well. These can include graphic organizers that have students break down main idea and details, find key nonfiction facts, ask the 5 Ws (Who? What? Where? When? Why?), analyze text evidence, and summarize a text.
5. FICTION READING SKILLS:
Comprehending fiction stories requires a whole different set of skills than nonfiction texts. They provide a visual framework that helps ELs better understand the characters, setting, problem, solution, and plot of a fiction story (story elements). These can include story maps and plot diagrams, which make it easier for ELs to identify story events, their order, and their significance.
Graphic organizers designed for character analysis help students to explore the traits, motivations, and relationships of characters in a story. Character analysis is key for students to empathize and make connections to a story. It also aids in their comprehension of character relationships in a story.
Responding to fiction short stories or novels can be made more accessible to ELs with use of graphic organizers as well. These can include graphic organizers that break down more complicated elements of fiction such as finding the theme, identifying key events, conflict (problem and solution), comparing characters, etc.
All graphic organizers packs pictured above are available discounted Graphic Organizers Megabundle:
They are also available in separate packs:
Want to try some graphic organizers out for FREE? Snag this pack of 10 graphic organizers from the Reading Strategies, Fiction, and Nonfiction Packs!
Next Up: The Power of Picture Dictionaries for ELLs: