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Samples of student work: graphic organizers

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Many of the novels that students are asked to read in high school English classes are complex and require close reading. By using graphic organizers to connect characters and events, students can understand more clearly the storyline; how characters and events, which may seem disconnected from one another at first, become connected as the plot develops; how to organize important characters and concepts in a complex novel through graphic organization and diagram analysis; and how to evaluate which information is important.

This is part of a process called active reading, which consists of six steps:

  1. reading
  2. marking passages significant to the reader
  3. summarizing
  4. analyzing the summary by generating a graphic organizer
  5. further analysis: differentiating data for relevance by (re) categorizing and (re) grouping, and possibly modifying graphic organizer
  6. synthesizing of analysis (from graphic organizers) by generating a Statement of Purpose for given chapters

I used this approach with The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas. The Count of Monte Cristo is a romantic novel; the structure of the novel is designed so that alternating chapters create a cliffhanger effect, as the reader is provoked to keep reading to the next chapter to see why something has happened. There are a lot of characters and a complex plot, so graphic organizers enable students to stay clear about what is happening in the novel and to see how information is connected. In addition to being a good novel for a unit in active reading, The Count of Monte Cristo also offers lessons for character development.

Learning outcomes

General goals

  • for students to enjoy the novel
  • to promote organization and coherence in product, thought, and oral expression
  • for students to organize information they read in a complex novel through graphic organization and diagram analysis
  • to promote student analysis and synthesis of relevant data from a text
  • for students to develop and extend independent thinking
  • for teacher to perform as a facilitator of instruction by scaffolding students in their discovery, analysis, and synthesis of information
  • to reinforce the importance of self-reflection of learning by student
  • to promote self esteem of students via: seeing their product, and seeing the depth of the connection of mini-products to produce the major product
  • for students to progress from reading at the literal level to reading at level of meaning and purpose by connecting disconnected ideas/data
  • for students to become active learners by assessing reading comprehension through factual, interpretive and evaluative questions

Curriculum objectives

This unit addresses a broad range of goals and objectives from the 2004 North Carolina Standard Course of Study for English II, including goals 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6.

  • Given text, students will identify and discriminate important passages, demonstrated by tabbing passages and generating typed summaries. (goals 4, 5, 6)
  • Given student summaries of text and teacher model of graphic organizer, student will generate graphic organizers to illustrate (plot) and analyze connections of and between information given (characters and events). (goals 2, 4, 5, 6)
  • Given student graphic organizers, class discussion, and models (by teacher and peers), students will further analyze and evaluate relevance of data extracted from their read by revising their diagram analysis as they generate revised graphic organizers. (goals 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)
  • Given text and student notes, student will further deconstruct the novel by analyzing patterns in the structure of the text, demonstrated through identifying interruption of same storyline by consecutive chapters and continuation of same storyline by alternating chapters, thereby discriminating and classifying novel/chapter layout and identifying the pattern of a suspense novel. (goals 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)
  • Given student graphic organizers for the novel, students shall synthesize analysis by developing a statement of author’s overall purpose for each graphic organizer, and creating a list of purposes for the novel as a whole. (goals 1, 2, 4, 5, 6)

Character development goals

  • to recognize and demonstrate mutual respect between human beings
  • to encourage perseverance in students by valuing what they have and extending them further
  • to understand that man’s attempt at revenge does not bring satisfaction.
  • to encourage contentment in students as they experience success in completing this new and difficult task
  • to understand how love, revenge, jealousy, greed, despair, acceptance, and self-satisfaction may affect one’s life

Materials and resources needed

  • copies of the novel The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (one per student)
  • overhead transparency and markers
  • colored pencils/markers
  • rulers
  • sticky notes
  • graph paper


Active reading

I broke down the novel into chunks based on the size and amount of information in the chapters. I gave students about a week to read each chunk, which amounted to fifteen to twenty pages per night, but this could vary depending on the abilities of your students.

  1. 1–6
  2. 7–12
  3. 13–19
  4. 20–21
  5. 22–26
  6. 27–37
  7. 38–44
  8. 45–47
  9. 48–54
  10. 55–62
  11. 63–68
  12. 69–73

For each grouping of chapters, students are asked to do the following:

  1. Read the chapters.
  2. Tab important passages with sticky notes, writing notes about why they are important.
  3. Type summaries of the chapters using their notes as a basis, bulleting and spacing the text so that it is visually accessible.
  4. Participate in a class discussion of the reading.
  5. Create a graphic organizer (as a group at first, later on their own).
  6. Analyze and state the purposes of each chapter in relationship to the novel as a whole.

This process is active reading. Each step in this process leads to the next: the tabbed notes provide the basis for the chapter summaries, the summaries provide the basis for the graphic organizer, and so on. Students color code similar points in their summaries in order to see how the information is (or can be) connected. They may want to re-write the information on graph paper once they have identified a way to organize their data because they may need to re-position entries. From seeing categorized groups of information, students analyze more clearly how the given information adds to the story. They are then ready to generate a statement of purpose for the chapter, that is, to assess how this chapter works to develop the author’s overall purpose. At the end of the unit, students have a list of purposes for each chapter in the novel.

Scaffolding students to active reading

As they grow more comfortable with active reading, students begin by working with the teacher, as a class, then progress to small-group and independent work.

Session 1

Ask students to do the following:

  1. Read chapters 1–6 (you may group as you like).
  2. Tab important passages with sticky notes and write notes on the tabs.
  3. Type or write summaries of the chapters, referring to tagged passages. Bullet and space text so that it is visually accessible.

Session 2

  1. Discuss the previous reading with the class, recording page numbers of students’ tabbed passages on an overhead projector. Students should review their own pages and compare.
  2. Model a summary of the assigned reading on overhead. Students review their own summaries and compare.
  3. Discuss the design and content of the students’ chapter summaries as a class. Ask students to examine the information in their summaries. Can we group any of the points together? If so, color code them. Explain that “We are grouping points so we can connect information and identify purpose.” Model this by grouping/color coding summary points on overhead.
  4. Students create a graphic organizer for this chapter. Model this for them by generating a graphic organizer on overhead, asking students to participate by sharing the group notes made from their summaries. Fill in the graphic organizer with (for chapter 1, for example) background information (arrival into port), character information on Dantes, information about Danglars’s jealousy, and so on.
  5. After looking at this data, the class decides what purpose the chapter serves. (For chapter 1, this is to introduce characters and establish plot.
  6. Have students reflect on how they feel they read and tabbed and summarized, and what they noted from class discussion, which can make a difference in how they read and tab and summarize this evening.
  7. Assign students to read chapters 7–12 and tab and summarize them with graphic organizers.

Session 3

  1. Group students in pairs to compare tabbed pages and chapter summaries. Facilitate the groups as they work. Students should:
    1. examine which points in the summary can be grouped,
    2. color code groupings, and
    3. create graphic organizers.
  2. Review the summarized points and grouping on the overhead projector so that students can compare their work.
  3. As a class, develop a graphic organizer for the chapter.
  4. Assign students to read chapters 13–19 and tab and summarize them with graphic organizers.

Session 4

  1. Have students turn in graphic organizers of the previous night’s reading before class. Copy those organizers that are clearly designed and inclusive.
  2. Begin the class by handing out the selected peer models; display them on the overhead projector and discuss them.
  3. Give students time to compare their own work with the models. This works especially well for students who need guidance in how to group and diagram the information from their reading.
  4. Facilitate further discussion as necessary.
  5. Assign students to read chapters 20–21 and tab and summarize them with graphic organizers.

Sessions 5–12

The process of Session 4 continues to the end of the novel.

Student products

Graphic organizers may differ based on the student’s point of view. As you will notice in the samples of student work, different students categorize importantpoints differently within the same chapter. This is fine, because each student still worked to connect disconnected points. The criterion for grading is whether the organizer reflect the agreed-upon purpose for the chapters.

Sample graphic organizers

I have included several samples of graphic organizers to show the various ways that my students responded to the assignment. All of these examples are good summaries of the assigned reading, but the information included and their visual styles differ. (Note: these are large files and may take significant time to open in your browser. Please be patient!)

Sample reflection

After each session I asked students to reflect on what they were learning. Here is one student’s reflection:

I think the boxes are very useful. The boxes teach me a lot but are very hard. Once you find the purpose, it is easy to connect the boxes. It is a challenge to connect and clump the information. The challenge is what helps me learn how to understand what I read better. It will take getting used to analyzing the reading, but I can see how to do them correctly now.

Purposes for chapters

My class developed the following list of purposes for the novel:

  • Chapters 1–6: Innocence
  • Chapters 7–12: Evil does exist
  • Chapters 13–19: Goodness is empowered to overcome evil
  • Chapters 20–21: Revenge begins
  • Chapters 22–26: Gaining trust and revealing secrets
  • Chapters 27–37: Setup for revenge
  • Chapters 38–44: True love is tested
  • Chapters 45–47: Blackmail and repeat offenders
  • Chapters 48–54: Revenge unfolds
  • Chapters 55–62: Testing of character
  • Chapters 63–68: Epiphany
  • Chapters 69–73: Goodness prevails


I assess student performance in this unit on an ongoing basis. For each assigned reading, I grade students as follows:

Tabbed pages: 20 percent

Students should tab the following:

  • irony
  • characterization
  • revenge
  • tone
  • mood
  • conflict
  • suspense

Summaries: 20 percent

  • typed
  • spatial layout
  • details

Organizers: 30 percent

  • spatial layout
  • relevant information
  • analysis

Participation: 15 percent

  • class discussion
  • group work

Reflection: 15 percent

See an example above.


When I taught this unit, I found that there was evidence of growth in beginning stages of students’ ability to respond orally to questions on what they read. Students also grew in their ability to take informative notes, extract important points, and arrange notes on a page spatially available to the reader. Finally, students grew as they learned how to correlate their summaries into graphic organizers, demonstrating further their classification, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Students said that they felt smarter after this assignment.