Why use graphic organizers with English language learners

One of my favorite tools for working with English Language Learners is the graphic organizer.  It’s a great tool for all students, but especially for ELLs.  Why are graphic organizers so helpful for ELLs?

  1. They lessen the language load. A key strategy in teaching ELLs is to lessen the language load without compromising the content.  Graphic organizers allow ELLS to organize their thoughts about content without having to worry about lots of language details like punctuation, writing style, and organization.
  2. They give ELLS a chance to think first. If you try to have a discussion about a complex topic with English language learners without allowing them to 1) access their previous knowledge and 2) access the language to express their knowledge, you’ll probably get a lot of blank stares.  Allowing students to use a graphic organizer to order their thoughts gives them the opportunity to think before they speak…thereby also increasing oral participation in your ESL or EFL class!
  3. They utilize another learning style. If you do primarily oral activities in your classroom, chances are that your students who learn visually will struggle.  Providing them with the opportunity to use a graphic organizer will give them another mode in which to practice and learn the content.

So go for it!  There’s a HUGE array of graphic organizers available online, or you can create your own.  Click here to see some of my own.

Graphic Organizer for Jigsaw Activity/Groupwork

The Jigsaw is one of my favorite activities to use for reading comprehension with English language learners. It allows them to organize information they have read in a visual way, thereby helping them process the material more deeply. (The picture above is a link to a generic graphic organizer for a jigsaw activity.)

Here’s an example of how you might direct groupwork using this handout:

Sample topic:  American Revolutionary War

1.  Divide students into 3 groups of 3-5 (depending on class size). Each group should have the same number if possible.  Give these groups a number.

2.  Determine a subtopic to the main topic for the day, and assign to each group.  For example, if you are discussing the American Revolutionary War, the subtopics could be:  1) Causes, 2) Major Events, 3) Results.

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