I remember the first time I was introduced to graphic organizers. It was a professional development day early in my teaching career, probably twenty years ago. The presenter in the workshop was so excited to share them. He gushed on about their usefulness in the classroom as if they were the best thing since sliced bread. I yawned. Freshly baked whole loaves are my preference and I have never personally used a graphic organizer. That doesn’t mean I forgo pre-writing. My writing always flows better after scribbling down some rough ideas before beginning a story or a poem. It’s the graphic organization of those ideas that made me uncomfortable. My brain doesn’t seem respond to connecting circles and boxes.
So I never used it in my own teaching, figuring my students couldn’t possibly be motivated by something that didn’t work for me personally. What an arrogant mistake!
Recently, two second grade teachers at the school where I work showed me the power of pre-writing with graphic organizers. They found a delightful lesson on Deanna Jump’s teaching blog about snowglobes. Each child not only created a snowglobe for the bulletin board, he or she wrote a story about what it would be like to live in a snowglobe.
When I read these second grade stories, I was blown away by the details the children included. They imagined the sensation of having their homes shaken up. They described snowflakes flickering down. Some imagined ways to break out of the snow globe to return to the real world. Others wrote about an idyllic life of sledding and hot cocoa. The stories were detailed and filled with sensory images.
“How did you do this?” I asked my two colleagues. “How did you get your second graders to write such descriptive and imaginative stories?”
The answer was pre-writing with graphic organizers. Before beginning their stories, the class discussed snow globes at length and the children were asked to fill out two sheets.
One sheet asked the students to fill in ideas of what it might be like to live in a snowglobe using an organizer from Valerie Noles' blog.
Another sheet asked the students to complete sentences. If I Lived in a Snow Globe, I would see…., I would hear …. , I would smell…, I would feel… from the First Grade Blue Skies blog
This humbling experience not only convinced me that graphic organizers are useful teaching tools for pre-writing, it reminded me of all the wonderful resources teachers generously share on the internet. I am a little embarrassed I didn’t embrace organizers before, but sometimes, even the best of us, overlook good teaching practices.