Build a Better Graphic Organizer

Earlier this year our second graders did a project where they researched about a particular country and its culture, and either wrote a mini-book about it or put together a Google Presentation. As I’m the technology resource teacher in our school, with the computer lab as my domain, much of the online research and presentation-making happened under my tutelage.

I made a graphic organizer for students to use while doing research, that looked roughly like this:

Research Source Food Clothing Traditions Sports Shelter Fun Facts
Research Source
Research Source

I had it copied on both sides of a piece of paper, because I wanted students to carry around minimal pages as they moved between their classrooms and the computer lab. However… it wasn’t great. For the most part, we moved to using their Google Presentations as the graphic organizer and researched and added more details during the revision process, rather than getting everything done in clear stages.

First, that’s a lot of blank space for a second grader to fill. And, it’s just a lot of different spaces in general. There’s six different categories, and they’re all right there, which really divides a kid’s focus. I wish I could time-travel back to January and bop myself on the head. My priorities – keeping one compact sheet – did not suit the needs nor the style of the students.

Here’s the thing, though. Second graders are now working on a new social studies project – a biographical one. They’re researching a famous person from history, writing a three paragraph biography of them, making a timeline of their life with five events. Luckily, a lot of the bumps and bothers we experienced in January are not happening so much now: kids have a better sense of trustworthy resources; know how to search for and evaluate photos; and so on. But also, we the teachers have learned.

Instead of one graphic organizer meant to include everything, we’ve chunked the writing portion into three separate, color-coded pages. The first page is pink and asks prompting questions about the person’s early life. The second page is blue and asks prompting questions about the person’s adulthood and later life. The third page is yellow and leaves room for writing interesting facts and a wrap-up (conclusion) sentence. This has made it much easier for kids to write responses, and much easier for teachers to read their responses and guide students towards revision.

For example, this is an approximation of one second grader’s graphic organizer so far. It’s the first two pages, done each on a different day. She still needs to do her third sheet.

Name of Your Person
Princess Diana
Why is your person famous?

Princess Diana was famous because she was a princess.

When and where were they born?

July first 1961

What happened during their childhood?

two boys 1996

When and where did they go to college?

She was educated first at Riddlesworth Hall and then went to bording school at west Heath School.

What happened during their adulthood?
She mared Prince Charles on July 29, 1981.The divorce was finalized in 1996.
Any honors, awards, recognitions?

Diana Princess of Wales memorial fund. Provide care to the sick in Afica.

If your person is no longer living, when did they die?

Princess diana died in August 30, 1997 in a car crash.

If your person is still alive, when did they retire?

(She drew a large X over the last question, there.)

Another reason this style works is that it keeps kids focused on the questions at hand on Day One. Then, on Day Two, armed with new prompts, they can go back and reread the same text they already used, except this time they’re hunting down different details. In a world where instant gratification is available at our fingertips in so many aspects of our lives, pacing ourselves and practicing deeper dives into texts can be very valuable.

So, the whole point of me writing all this out is to help me remember for next time. In a lot of ways, as a teacher, I feel like I’m learning the same lessons over and over and over again. I make a lot of the same mistakes repeatedly and I’m trying to break out of that cycle. Plus, I cannot overstate the value of having a team of teachers working together. I did not think to make adjustments to the first graphic organizer, and that’s why it fell short of my goals. But when I am open to input and even criticism from others coming from other perspectives, with different experiences, I do better by myself, by my kids, and by my school.

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