Pen on written document

A writing process

By Vinetta Bell

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

Graphic organizers enable the writer to organize material logically and to see relationships between and among ideas. Effective use of graphic organizers can help the writer to present his or her ideas in an effective and persuasive manner, resulting in a focused and coherent text.


four examples of graphic organizers: outline, Venn diagram, hierarchical organizer, and bubble map

Four basic graphic organizers: an outline, Venn diagram, hierarchical topical organizer, and bubble organizer.

Mapping it out

Graphic organizers (also known as concept maps and mind maps, among other terms) can take many forms, including a page of loosely organized notes, a simple outline, a Venn diagram, a connected organizational chart, or a bubble graph. Each of these structures has its own benefits. For example:

  • The requirements of the outline format — for every Roman numeral I there should be a II, for every A there should be a B, and so on — can help a writer ensure that every point he or she makes is well thought out and includes sufficient detail and support.
  • A Venn diagram is extremely effective when the writer plans to compare and contrast elements, as it helps to visualize similarities and differences.
  • Connected organizational charts and bubble graphs are particularly helpful for visual learners, as they allow writers to map out ideas spatially.

Writers who exhibit problems with organization and coherence (a troublesome pair) might resist using graphic organizers due to the imposed structure and discipline that accompany their creation and use. Not surprisingly, these are the writers who can usually benefit most from using them.

At the other end of the spectrum are writers who perform the task of the graphic organizer almost exclusively in their thoughts without recording any written notes.

Although it may be tempting, it is not wise to impose the use of organizational structures on unwilling writers as if the graphic organizers themselves are the ultimate objective. Graphic organizers should instead be thought of as a means to an end — the end, of course, being the effective communication of ideas during the writing process.

When to use graphic organizers

Graphic organizers can be used during the pre-writing stage or at any other time during the writing process. For example, a student who has written a draft lacking in coherence and purposeful organization could benefit from using a graphic organizer during conferencing with the teacher or peers. The perspective gained from graphically visualizing ideas should persuade even the reluctant user of graphic organizers that some method of organization is necessary for effective communication.

Teachers can provide printed or electronic templates for all students to use individually as graphic organizers during the writing process. These templates can be used during a demonstration lesson as well. The teacher-student conferencing process, including the results of formative assessment, can help both teacher and student to determine which graphic organizer is best for each particular student during a specific writing assignment. This instructional-learning strategy also addresses the various learning styles that each student prefers. No matter the style or method, graphic organizers serve a critical role during any writing process.


Tools and templates for creating graphic organizers can be found at the following sites:
a free tool for creating color-coded mind maps online
offers a variety of pre-formatted graphic organizers in HTML, PDF, and Word document format
provides access to an extensive list of graphic organizers for all subject areas