Class Notes EDIS 771: Reading in Content Areas
Spring 1999
Thomas H. Estes, Instructor
University of Virginia

Strategies for Reading to Learn

Graphic Organizers


Graphic organizers for text structure are based on the same principle as expository paragraph frames. The principle is that information in exposition is structured in a way that is logical and serves to makes the information clear to the reader. The difference is that graphic organizers mirror the structure of exposition in graphic, linear form.

To learn the forms of exposition-- description, sequence, cause/effect, comparison/contrast, and problem/solution-- novice readers need 3 things. They need to see examples of each of the expository forms and have good examples pointed out in real text. They need to practice writing in the forms of exposition, using expository paragraph frames where appropriate. And, especially at first, they will find it very helpful to see the forms of exposition in graphic display. This graphic display is called a graphic organizer for text structure.

The graphic organizer is composed of boxes (or other closed figures) and lines that show the basic expository pattern of the text. The boxes contain the basic ideas of the text and the lines show the connections among the ideas.


Describe to students the basic idea of expository text organization. It will probably help to remind them that stories have a structure that they are familiar with: characters, setting, plot (problem and solutions), and outcome. Likewise, there is a structure to exposition: topic and comment. The form of the comment, however, may be one of several types. To elaborate or expand the topic, an author has the choice of giving the reader a description, listing a sequence of events or steps, describing the cause of the topic and its effects, comparing and contrasting features of the topic, or discussing a problem associated with the topic and its potential or real solution. It would probably go without saying, but it would be fruitless to introduce all these forms in one lesson. Begin with the simplest ones first, move to the more complex ones later.

Assume you are going to teach the description pattern first. Show students what descriptive paragraphs look like, using their textbook or other material they are familiar with. Model the process of composing descriptive paragraphs, using ideas the students offer to describe something they know-- a topic they have studied, such as "our neighborhood." Then illustrate to the students what a graphic depiction of the paragraph you‚ve constructed together would look like. For example, using the "dangling boxes" format, write the words, "Our Neighborhood" in the top box. In the next level boxes, write words to describe categories of deas about the neighborhood. These might include places in the neighborhood, people in the neighborhood, and things to do in the neighborhood.

Next, work with students to construct a graphic that displays the ideas from a descriptive paragraph or passage in their textbook. Show them some samples of various forms, helping them to see that the content of the text will dictate the form of the graphic.

Encourage and support students as they work in groups and independently learning to use graphics as a support for their comprehension and writing activities.


Jones, B. F., Pierce, J., & Hunter, B. (1988/89). Teaching students to construct graphic representations. Educational Leadership, 20-25.
Olson, M. W. & Gee, T. C. (1991). Content reading instruction in the primary grades: Perceptions and Strategies. Reading Teacher, 45, 298-307.

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