Graphic organizers, also known as visual maps or visual organizers, help teachers and students sort, organize and group information using visual cues. You might create graphic organizers using computer software programs, or you can design graphic organizers by hand. Visual maps contain images and symbols, but few words. They help teachers present material in a fun, fresh and structured manner. Graphic organizers also help students tailor information to fit individual or group assignments and provide a way to visually connect ideas.

Computer Software Makes Organizing Easy

Select a software program, such as Microsoft Word or Apple's Pages program, to create graphic organizers. With Microsoft Word 2007 or newer, for example, you can access the SmartArt Graphic toolbar that allows you to design visual maps in Word. If you have a Windows-based computer, download the free Paint.NET program to create visual maps. You can also purchase advanced software, such as OmniGraffle on a Mac, or sign up for Lucidchart's browser-based interface, to design elaborate flow charts and diagrams. Computer programs provide a fast and reliable way to create Venn diagrams, pyramids, flow charts, story boards, lists and other types of graphic organizers.

No Reinventing the Wheel

Visit the Thinkport website, sponsored by Maryland Public Television and the Johns Hopkins University Center for technology in Education, to access free pre-formatted graphic organizers. Thinkport contains character maps, storyboards, timelines, compare and contrast charts, Venn diagrams, spider maps, and wheel-and-spoke diagrams. You can design and print personalized graphic organizers in one of three formats: HTML, PDF or Microsoft Word. Thinkport's graphic organizers were designed to help teachers create inspiring lesson plans and classroom activities, but students can also access the organizers for assignments and projects. The Scholastic website also has free pre-formatted graphic organizers for students and teachers.

Let Your Creativity Flow

Create a tangible, non-computerized graphic organizer using cut-out pictures from magazines, arts and crafts supplies, stickers, photographs, and printed images. Paste, tape or tack the images to poster boards or felt boards and use string or cut-out paper symbols, such as arrows, to connect your ideas. Opt for tape or tacks if you want to be able to rearrange your visual cues as needed. Organize your ideas in chronological order or separate your visual cues to create bullet points or categories. Design your own Venn diagram, pyramid chart, timeline, storyboard, spider map, or wheel-and-spoke diagram using tangible objects.

Artists at Work

Draw a graphic organizer by hand. This method offers the most flexibility because you can craft any visual map to fit your exact needs. For example, you might create a Venn diagram with six bubbles or draw your own characters for a storyboard. Teachers might draw lesson-specific visual maps on interactive whiteboards or chalkboards. Students might create their own hand-drawn graphic organizers while brainstorming ideas for writing assignments, preparing for multifaceted exams, or delegating tasks for group projects or presentations. Use colored ink to spice up your organizer or stick with black and white to create simple, yet bold, contrasts.