I don’t know why it has taken so long for us to break out the graphic organisers this year, but we did it today and I could not be happier with the results! We actually used two different organisers for two very different reasons. The first was a comic strip organiser that we used with our first-grade reading buddies. The second was a persuasion map organiser that was used for a literacy assignment related to the story of a little girl who was sent by parcel post to visit her parents.
With our reading buddies, this was the very first graphic organisers that the first graders had seen all year. (I don’t know if their kindergarten teachers used any or not.) So the onus was on the fourth graders to really take the lead in completing them. I started the morning with a mini-lesson on graphic organisers and then introduced the comic strip sheet. I showed that it had six boxes and, using familiar Dr. Seuss stories like Green Eggs & Ham and The Lorax as examples, I had the students walk me through drawing a comic in six frames to tell the story. They identified key points such as starting at the beginning and going through the story until you get to the end; not including every minute detail, but focusing on the main ideas instead; using words and pictures to retell the story. Then the students had a few minutes to practice with partners.
I feel like my class was more prepared for reading buddies than they have been the past few weeks. They walked in with a purpose and, after I introduced the organiser to the first graders, they got to work, reading, writing, and drawing. Even though I had several students who were absent, we still had between 45 and 50 students working together, reading together, and talking books together. It was fantastic!
The second organiser was introduced after we read The Parcel Post Kid from our basal reader. This organiser was first introduced to me last year by one of the folks who works with the National Council of Teachers of English. She had come in to do a two-week workshop with my students on persuasive writing and shared many different organisers that the NCTE has put on their education site, ReadWriteThink.org. (I think I’ve mentioned before that we are going to be using their resources a lot this year!) I had the students talk me through using the organiser, explaining what to put in the introduction, the main ideas, the supporting statements, and a conclusion. I pointed out that, while the organiser is set up for a five-paragraph format, they should not feel like they have to stick to that number. Persuasive writing can be done in just one paragraph or in several pages. The quantity is not what matters; it is the quality that counts!
Once again, I saw my class jump right into using the persuasion maps. Some students who are not always as engaged were fully immersed in reading, writing, and thinking. They completed the organisers but, instead of turning them in, I had them place them in their newly-labeled writing folders in the Works in Progress side, since the persuasion maps are far from a completed work! We will continue to use graphic organisers throughout the year. My goal is to introduce one or two each week so that we have a wide variety to choose from by the end of the year.
(By the way, you may have noticed that I spell the word “organisers” in the British way. I picked up the habit of using British spellings for most words several years ago. I make sure to teach standard American English spellings in class, though.)