Tips for selecting appropriate graphic organizers

I was so happy to receive such kind comments about my recent blog posts. I’ve really missed being part of this community!

I was especially grateful for the colleague who asked about selecting graphic organizers based on the text and the proficiency level of the students.  It was such a great question, but I didn’t have a quick answer. There are so many things to consider when selecting the best format for each type of text and proficiency level! After thinking about it for a few days, I’ve decided to address each of my favorite graphic organizers individually, rather than making broad generalizations.

It is important to take into account that the suitability of any of the graphic organizers depends not only on the task, but also the comprehensibility of the text. Some teachers might even choose to allow Novice students to complete some or all parts of the graphic organizer in English, as is often done with other types of interpretive tasks.

Note: The first four graphic organizers are included in the free download at the bottom of my previous post.

  1. Claim, Evidence, Reasoning. Although this strategy was created to help students develop their own claim, I created a graphic organizer that guides learners  in using the same steps (Identify a question, the author’s claim, the textual evidence, and an explanation of the author’s reasoning) to interpret an informational text. I love the critical thinking that this one entails and the required re-reading of the text is great for increasing students’ interpretive skills!
  • This one can be used with any informational text in which the author’s perspective can be inferred. This includes infographics, articles, informational videos, etc.
  • Although I have used CER with Novice students, I do scaffold the task by 1) providing a question, 2) including a list of possible claims from which they can choose and 3) allowing them to use English to explain the author’s reasoning. 
  1. Window Notes. In this note-taking activity, the students fill in each pane of a window with 1) facts, 2) feelings, 3) questions, and 4) connections/ideas as they are reading or listening to a text. This one is great for encouraging students to make personal connections to the text!
  • I use this one with any text (fiction or nonfiction)  that is engaging enough that students might have feelings about the information and are likely to be able  to make connections to their own experiences. 
  • Due to the language structures required to describe feelings and make connections, I would provide sentence starters to support students in lower levels in completing these sections.


I am happy/sad/surprised/mad/etc. because…

I am like ____ because…

I am different from ____ because…

I agree with ____ because…

  1. Connect, Extend, Challenge. As the name suggests, the students will complete this diagram with 1) an explanation of how the information in the text connects to what they already know, 2) how it extends their thinking in new directions, and 3) what challenges or puzzles emerged as they were interpreting the text.  I think these questions are such a great way to encourage deep thinking and are likely to prompt an engaging discussion on the topic of the text.
  • I find this graphic organizer is well-suited to texts that include ideas that might be controversial or challenging, as it encourages students to examine their own perspectives and consider those of others.
  • Due to the nature of the prompts, I think this one is most appropriate for Intermediate and Advanced students. 
  1. Same, Different, Connect, Engage. Learners complete this graphic organizer by identifying how they are the same and how they are different from the subject of a non-fiction text or a character in a fictional text. They then explain how they are connected as people and describe what they would say to the person, ask them, or do in order to engage with them. 
  • This graphic organizer is appropriate for fictional texts, as well as informational texts that focus on a person. 
  • With some support, I think Novice Mid-High students could use this diagram with highly visual fictional texts (simple cartoons, illustrated stories written in simple sentences, etc.)

Sample sentence starters (These would, of course, be translated into the language you teach.)

___ and I …(have/are/like/play/go/live/etc.)…

___ (has/is/likes/plays/goes/lives/etc.) but I don’t.…

We are connected because we both…

I would ask ___  if/why/when/where/who….

I would tell ___ that…

I would like to play/watch/go to/etc. … with ___.

While not available on the free download, English and French versions of the following graphic organizers are included in this resource from TPT.  Note: The first four graphic organizers in this resource are also included in the free download for subscribers to my email list. 

  1. Claim, Evidence, Question. Like the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning diagram (see above), this one requires the students to identify the author’s claim and the evidence they use to support it.  However, rather than requiring learners to explain the author’s reasoning, it asks that they write a relevant question that was not addressed in the text.
  • This graphic organizer is applicable for a variety of informational texts in which the author expresses an opinion, perspective or point of view.
  • As with Claim, Evidence, Reasoning, I would provide students with a list of claims from which to choose. In addition, I would provide them with some sentence starters for information questions.
  1. Mirrors and Windows. In this strategy the students identify whether the ideas and examples in the text reflect their own experiences or provide a window into others’ experiences. I especially love using this one with texts that are rich in cultural details.
  • This one is suitable for both fiction and non-fiction texts, especially those that are rich in cultural content.
  • I have found that Novice Mid-High students can complete this graphic organizer successfully by recycling phrases  from the text. 
  1. The 4 C’s. Learners fill in this diagram with Connections between the text and their own experiences, Challenges that they had with the ideas, positions or assumptions in the text, important Concepts that they want to retain from the text, and Changes in attitudes, thoughts, and actions that are suggested by the text.
  • This task is appropriate for a variety of informational texts, especially those related to social justice issues.
  • Due to the nature of the prompts, I think this one is best for Intermediate and Advanced learners.
  1. Compass Point Diagram. Before assigning this graphic organizer, the teacher presents the students with some type of proposition related to the text (Ex. Let’s take a trip to Paris!) Based on the information provided in the assigned text(s), the students fill in 1) details that they need to know in order to determine their stance on the proposition, 2) details that excite them about the proposition, 3) details that worry them about the proposition and finally, 4) their stance on the proposition.  As you might have noticed, the bold print letters are the same as the starting letters of the compass points, hence the name of the diagram.  Imagine my challenge is translating this one into French!
  • This graphic organizer is pertinent whenever a proposition can be made during a unit of study. The students could continue adding to the diagram as they read/listen to various informational texts. It is recommended that the students fill in their stance (or opinion) toward the end of the unit. 
  • With the support of relevant sentence starters, this one can be used with Novice Mid-High students.

Sentence starters

I need to know why/when/who/where/what/if…

I like/love/want to/…

I don’t like/am afraid of/hate/don’t want/don’t know…

I would like to …because…

  1. Character Traits. This diagram, as well as the next, are primarily used with fictional texts.  In the example I have provided, the students identify 3 traits of a character and then provide evidence of that trait in the story.  
  • This one is applicable to any fictional written or recorded text.
  • Novice Mid-High students do well with this one as long as the texts are comprehensible. I think it’s helpful to provide these learners with a list of possible character traits, many of which will likely be cognates.
  1. Story Map. The students fill in this graphic organizer with the setting, characters, conflict/problem, important events and resolution.  
  • This one is applicable to any fictional written or recorded text.
  • Novice Mid-High students can be successful with this one by recycling phrases from the text.

Note: Many of these graphic organizers are based on thinking routines from orv . I highly recommend these sources for critical thinking activities!

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