Traci Gardner

Designing Visual Outlines with Graphic Organizers

Blog Post created by Traci Gardner Expert on Apr 23, 2019

Rough outline of a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Cote on FlickI have asked students to informally outline all of their projects this term. I am not strict about the form of the outlines. They can use jot lists, topic outlines, tree structures, or any kind of map that shows their plans. I never use strict sentence outlines myself, but I believe that all writers can benefit from at least jotting down the plans for their documents.

As they begin work on their final project of the term, students will create visual outlines by designing their own graphic organizers as part of their work. Students are familiar with outlining and graphic organizers from their experiences before college. Both teaching strategies are widely used in K–12. After reviewing their prior knowledge on the topics, students are ready to create their own visual writing tools, as described in the activities below.

Background Readings on Outlines

Background Resources on Graphic Organizers

Class Activities

Think, Pair, Share, and Compare

This activity is a customized version of the active learning strategy Think-Pair-Share, which will help students recall their prior knowledge. Divide the class into two groups. Working independently, have individuals in one group think about and take notes on what they know about outlines while the individuals in the other group focus on graphic organizers. After students have had time to gather their thoughts, have them pair with someone who worked on the same topic. In their pairs, have students review their notes together and talk through their thinking.

Draw the class together as a whole and invites pairs to share their thoughts on how outlines work and then to share their thoughts on how graphic organizers work. Note their ideas on the board. Once all of the ideas have been shared, ask the class to reflect on the information and then compare the two strategies (outlining and graphic organizers). Encourage students to draw conclusions about how the two strategies connect to writing.

To strengthen their understanding of outlining and graphic organizers, ask students to read and review the background readings and resources listed above.

Design Graphic Organizers

Ask students to examine example graphic organizers (linked above) as a class or in small groups and to identify the features of the genre. In particular, encourage students to determine how shapes are used (like text boxes), how lines and arrows are used, and how labels and instructional text is used. Their prior knowledge about graphic organizers should allow students to gather this information in five to ten minutes.

With this information about graphic organizers established, students create graphic organizers for the kinds of writing that they are working on. Ask students to consider what they know about the kind of writing by examining examples and background material about the genre. Students can create graphic organizers independently, or you can walk them through some basic steps by asking questions such as the following:

  • What are the primary sections of the kind of writing you are examining?
  • What are the typical features of those sections?
  • What kind of information usually belongs in the sections?
  • How do the sections relate to one another?

Students can sketch out their graphic organizers on paper, and then use a tool like Canva to create final versions of their organizers. Note that Canva does have a number of existing graphic organizer layouts that students can use as models. Students can also create their graphic organizers in a word processor using the shapes and text box tools.

Do limit the time students spend creating their graphic organizers. The purpose of this activity is to learn more about how a kind of writing works, not to spend hours on images and design.

After students finish their graphic organizers, they can share them with the class for feedback as well as to create a library of graphic organizers that everyone can use. The organizers can be used both for writing projects and to organize the analysis of readings.

Final Thoughts

In my course, students are focusing on different kinds of writing, depending upon their majors and career goals. There is little to no overlap in the graphic organizers they are creating. With a more homogeneous class, students could design graphic organizers in small groups. They might work on the same task or on different aspects of the writing task, such as creating graphic organizers for gathering ideas, research, and beginning a draft.

This activity uses active learning strategies to get beyond customary pen on paper (or text on screen) strategies. Do you have similar assignments that break out of the traditional writing activities? I would love to hear from you. Please leave me a comment below

Photo credit: Page 01: Idea for a talk on white collar work tips for developer types by Michael Coté on Flickr, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

Outcomes