Graphical methods

We can use graphical methods as an effective tool for Step 3: Challenge.

The idea is to use methods other than just the written word. It might mean getting your students to draw pictures, but the value of graphics extends to the use of words too. The key is use a tool called Graphic Organisers.

A Graphic Organiser uses words in boxes which are joined together by lines. There are three different types: those which compare, those which define, and those which sequence.

A diagram showing that Graphic Organisers show short text in connected boxes

The evidence shows that using Graphic Organisers has a large, positive effect on learning. However, it isn’t quick and easy. It takes some practice as a teacher, and together with your class.

It’s only when the students’ skills have developed that you will start to see the benefits, but the evidence suggests that this time will be well spent.

Types of Graphic Organiser
There seem to be three distinct types of Graphic Organiser: those which describe or define, those which compare, and those which sequence or show cause. Here’s some examples of topics for each type.

 Graphic Organisers that describe or define

  1. Showing different types of Graphic Organisers.
  2. Sorting the relevant from the non-relevant, eg. causes of inflation.
  3. Defining roles, eg. of departments in a hospital.
  4. Defining different hair styles.
A slide showing examples of Graphic Organisers that describe or define

 Graphic Organisers that compare:

  1. Comparing the role of a District Nurse with a Practice Nurse, with a section in the middle showing what all Nurses do.
  2. Comparing sweet and dry wine.
  3. Comparing concrete and mortar.
A slide showing examples of Graphic Organisers that compare

 Graphic Organisers that sequence or show cause:

  1. Showing multiple causes of one effect, eg. causes of World War 2.
  2. Showing a cycle of effect, eg. a candle burning.
  3. Putting something in chronological order, eg. a storyboard or timeline.
A slide showing examples of Graphic Organisers that show sequence or cause
How to create a Graphic Organiser

You might be familiar with standard guidance for making slides for presentations: use one image per slide, and no more than 13 words. Keep it simple, and use animations to stagger how much appears on the screen at once.

The process of creating a Graphic Organiser is similar. Build it up step by step, rather than showing the entire diagram at once.

For example, try introducing a graph with one element at a time, instead of expecting your students to take in everything at once (axes, title, scales, meaning of the lines, etc).

An image of stepping stones
When should you use Graphic Organisers?
Graphical methods apply to both Step 2: Present, and Step 3: Challenge. When using graphical methods for the challenging task, there are a number of approaches you could take.

 Approach 1

  1. Present the new material.
  2. Students create a suitable Graphic Organiser to summarise the topic, or to answer a specific question.
  3. Students circulate and look at other organisers for good ideas.
  4. Students improve their work.
  5. Peer or Self-assessment against criteria you provide.

 Approach 2

  1. Start by brainstorming information onto the board (as a spider diagram or a random list).
  2. Get your students to organise the information using a Graphic Organiser.
  3. Putting the information into categories helps students to think through the material.
An image of students working at desks
Why do Graphic Organisers work?

One probable reason for their effectiveness is that they work in the same way that the brain stores memories: by linking things together in categories. The brain isn’t like a computer, which stores files separately. Instead, the brain categorises everything with similar memories joined together.

Another reason is that Graphic Organisers engage the right side of the visual/ spatial area of the brain, which sees the big picture.

This means Graphic Organisers are particularly helpful for people who are weak in the left part, which deals with fine detail. In other words, people who struggle with reading text.

This video shows a novel use of graphics in a Sixth Form English lesson. The teacher is getting students to think about the internal and external influences on a character in a play.

Activity icon
Activity 1: Choosing a Graphic Organiser
Read through the section above about the three types of Graphic Organisers again, and then choose the appropriate type for use with each of the following tasks below.
  1. Analyse wines by cost, and whether they are sweet or dry.
  2. Compare the main methods of cooking potatoes.
  3. Brainstorm the main advantages of stock-taking.
  4. Distinguish between a viral and a bacterial infection.
  5. Explain the main events leading up to the Gulf War.
  6. To what extent did the Treaty of Versailles cause the Second World War?
  7. Consider common teaching methods from the point of view of whether the teacher or the student are most in control, and how challenging they are for the student.
  8. What reasoning is used to justify having a Department for Trade and Industry?
  9. Consider the various strategies used by managers and their effects on worker morale.

Image credits

Header image:

Image of students at desks:

Stepping stones: