Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.3, 348-356
Published Online June 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Graphic Organizers as a Reading Strategy:
Research Findings and Issues
Polyxeni Manoli, Maria Papadopoulou
Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Thessaly, Volos, Greece
Received April 10th, 2012; revised M ay 8th, 2012; accepted May 27th, 2012
The present article extends prior research on graphic organizers mainly used as a reading strategy.
Graphic strategies, visual representation of information in a text, refer to different approaches to reading
from the traditional, linear text representation. This study constitutes an attempt to shed light on the re-
search evidence regarding the effectiveness of GOs on text learning and the various types of graphic or-
ganizers, which use different conventions to communicate information and are classified in various ways.
As such, it highlights key concepts, the theoretical and historical foundations of graphic organizers, in-
cludes the major types of graphic organizers, summarizes research findings, recommends ways of inte-
grating them in reading lessons, touches on the issue of strategy instruction and its effects on language
learning and leaves room for further exploration.
Keywords: Graphic Organizers; Reading Comprehension; Reading Strategies
The present article focuses on Graphic Organizers (GOs) as a
reading strategy used both in the teaching and learning of lan-
guages and in content areas, like science, social studies. When
GOs are used in the various content areas, the main goal is to
boost comprehension skills in the target subject area, whereas,
when they are deployed in the various language courses, the
main aims are to improve students’ reading comprehension
skills and contribute to the acquisition of the target language.
An attempt was made to include a number of studies that are
representative of research on GOs. A thorough research was
conducted on data bases like ERIC, jstor and EBSCOhost for
GOs using the following descriptors: advance organizers, gra-
phic organizers, visual displays or diagrams, cognitive mapping,
concept mapping, knowledge maps, reading comprehension and
reading strategies. At the same time, citations from articles and
reviews were used.
The aim of this study is to summarize what research findings
reveal about the effectiveness of GOs on deriving meaning
from texts. It relates their use to the facilitation of reading com-
prehension skills, suggests ways of integrating them in reading
lessons and touches on the issue of strategy instruction in lang-
uage learning. Before focusing on research findings, a brief
reference is made to the concepts of reading comprehension
skill and reading strategies, the theoretical and historical foun-
dations of GOs, and the types of GOs.
Theoretical Framework
Reading, a critical aspect of literacy, is regarded as an inter-
action between the reader and the text (Alderson & Urquhart,
1984). Moreover, reading is purposeful and requires active
involvement on behalf of the readers, as readers have specific
goals to achieve, when reading a text (Koda, 2005). Though
early attempts of reading instruction mainly emphasize on stu-
dents’ ability to decode and learn how to read, radically there is
a shift in the reading process putting the emphasis on compre-
hension and text learning. However, there are a number of stu-
dents who have difficulties in text comprehension and success-
ful task completion, especially when they encounter difficult
and long passages. Learners, particularly the struggling ones,
can be actively involved in reading and derive meaning from
written texts using reading comprehension strategies. Among
the various reading strategies, graphic strategies are considered
to approach reading differently from the traditional, linear text
presentation (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2002).
GOs have received great attention and concern among gen-
eral and special education researchers, as they depict a variety
of relationships and structures in a single display (Chmielewski
& Dansereau, 1998). Throughout the years a lot of researchers
have offered their own definitions. A simple and widespread
definition is that GOs are “visual representation of information
in the text” (Jiang & Grabe, 2007: p. 34). Katayama, Robinson,
Devaney, and Dubois (1997) consider GOs to be spatial dis-
plays of text information that can be given to students as study
aids to accompany texts and communicate both vertical, hier-
archical concept relations and horizontal, coordinate concept
relations. Moreover, Alvermann regards GOs as “a type of ad-
vance organizers that activates a reader’s prior knowledge and
depicts the organizational pattern of a reading selection by
schematically representing key vocabulary terms” (1981b: p. 4).
Having a closer look at the above definitions we can infer that
they have some things in common: 1) GOs consist of words; 2)
they indicate relations among concepts by using spatial ar-
rangements of the information in the text; 3) they depict the
organizational plan of the text (Stull & Mayer, 2007); and 4)
GOs can be deployed in different kinds of texts (both narrative
and expository texts). According to literature, a variety of terms
is used to refer to GOs, such as visual displays, graphic(al)
displays/representations, graphic s, tree diagrams, structured over-
views, network representations, adjunct displays/aids to name
some of the most common.
Origin of Graphic Organizers
GOs, originally called advance organizers and then struc-
tured overviews, were primarily initiated by Richard Barron
(Barron, 1969) but have their root in Ausubel’s work. Accor-
ding to Ausubel’s cognitive theory of meaningful verbal learn-
ing, the use of advance organizers enhances students’ learning
and retention of unfamiliar but meaningful materials (Ausubel,
1960). He assumed that the new information is acquired when it
is linked to the learners’ already existing cognitive structure
(1968). Therefore, the purpose of the organizer is to activate
students’ prior knowledge and relate the new material to the
previously stored information providing optimal anchorage and
rendering the new material more familiar and meaningful
(Ausubel, 1960), which is consistent with the schema theory
(Anderson & Pearson, 1984). According to the schema theory,
our mind is composed of cognitive structures (schemata) of
knowledge, known as prior or background knowledge, which
accept and assimilate the newly acquired information in order
to enhance learning and retention of information. One has
comprehended a text when s/he has found a “mental home” for
the information in the text or has altered an existing one in or-
der to accommodate the new knowledge (Anderson & Pearson,
1984). Researchers have relied on Ausubel’s advance organizer
concept to elaborate on the use of structured overviews or out-
lines as a strategy, which are used to enhance learners’ concep-
tual organization before reading the passage (Barron, 1969;
Earle & Barron, 1973; Estes, Mills, & Barron, 1969). These
early studies were the foundation for the use of structured over-
views with key vocabulary represented in a text to provide a
conceptual framework prior to text reading.
Types of Graphic Organizers
Throughout literature, there are several types of GOs that use
different conventions to communicate information and are cla-
ssified in various ways. Vekiri (2002) in her review verifies the
above statement, meaning that there is no consistency in the
classification system of GOs and, as a result, the same terms
may be used with different meanings from one study to another.
In this paper, an attempt is made to refer to the most widely
used GOs in literature. Although the various types of GOs are
used to foster learning from different kinds of texts, they differ
from each other in appearance and the types of relationships
Story Maps
One type of GOs mainly used in narrative texts is the story
mapping. Story maps call students’ attention to the main ele-
ments of stories, such as characters, time, setting, plot (problem,
actions, outcomes) and visually represent key information in
narrative texts using a specific structure (Boulineau, Force,
Hagan-Burke, & Burke, 2004). At the same time, they highlight
significant relations within a story, which in turn leads to a
deeper understanding (Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). They can be
used before reading a passage to activate students’ prior
knowledge, link what they read to their background knowledge
structure, develop a purpose for their reading; while reading a
passage to guide them through texts, help them monitor com-
prehension and after reading a passage to facilitate summariza-
tion of the most important ideas (Boulineau et al., 2004; Davis,
1994; Gardill & Jitendra, 1999). Research supports that story
maps are a promising type of GOs, which can improve stu-
dents’ reading comprehension (Boulineau et al., 2004; Dimino,
Taylor, & Gersten, 1995; Gardill & Jitendra, 1999; Idol, 1987;
Idol & Croll, 1987; Singer & Donlan, 1983; Vallecorsa & de
Bettencourt, 1997) (Figure 1).
Therefore, story maps are used to facilitate comprehension of
narrative texts, whereas the other types of GOs are mainly used
to enhance comprehension of expository texts, which pose
more challenges to students, as they may contain unfamiliar
vocabulary, complex relations, and structures and are often
more information driven making the text dense in information
and weak in comprehensibility (Kim, Vaughn, Wanzek, & Wei,
Another type of GOs, which is mainly used in expository
texts, is matrix. Matrix was firstly investigated by Schwartz and
his colleagues (Schwartz & Fattaleh, 1972) and was later ad-
vanced by Kiewra and his colleagues (Kiewra, DuBois, Chris-
tian, & McShane, 1988; Kiewra et al., 1991). It is a kind of input
The Setting
Characters: Time: Place:
The Problem
The Goal
The Outcome
Figure 1.
Story map (Idol, 1987).
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 349
table, which confines the sum of the desired information within
its square (Graney, 1992; Kang, 2004). It is used to delineate
important categories or relationships and depict similarities and
disparities between two or more people, things, places or events
(Graney, 1992; Jones, Pierce, & Hunter, 1989). In order to de-
sign a matrix, learners need to identify which main aspects they
wish to focus on and what types of relationships they wish to
highlight (Graney, 1992). Matrix has the additional advantage
of presenting concept relations both hierarchically/vertically
and horizontically in a two-dimensional form facilitating the
extraction of information, as it is located closer together than in
texts (Kiewra, Kauffman, Robinson, Dubois, & Stanley, 1999;
Robinson & Skinner, 1996). Therefore, its main purpose is to
communicate comparisons among concepts and coordinate
concept relations (Robinson & Kiewra, 1995). Research has
shown consistent effects favoring the use of matrix to locate
relations and answers to questions and boost relational learning
(Kiewra et al., 1999; Robinson & Schraw, 1994; Robinson &
Skinner, 1996) (Figure 2).
Semantics Maps
Semantic maps are web-like organizers. Mind maps, spider
maps or sunbursts are some of the terms that are used to refer to
semantic maps. They look “like a sun or star with rays emanat-
ing from it, as they consist of a circle with lines radiating from
the circle” (Graney, 1992: p. 164). They are diagrams that can
be used to represent words, ideas, or other items linked to and
arranged around a central key word or idea of the text and de-
pict relationships of the different components of an idea to the
main idea, that is of the part to the whole (Graney, 1992; Iran-
mehr, 2011). Namely, semantic maps place the main idea in the
center around which relevant notions or sub-concepts are linked.
Concurrently, they offer an overview of key vocabulary and
concepts providing a link between what students know and
what will learn and read, a type of a brainstorming activity
mainly used before reading a passage to stimulate students’
background cognitive structure and assess their knowledge in
terms of the specific topic (Vaughn & Edmonds, 2006). The
development of semantic maps is based on the schema theory
(Anderson & Pearson, 1984). According to a research synthesis
conducted by Kim et al. (2004), the use of semantic organizers
enhances students’ comprehension skills (Figure 3).
Concept Maps
One kind of graphic device that can affect learners’ process-
ing of expository texts is the cognitive/concept map. The de-
velopment of concept maps is credited to Novak (Novak, 1990;
Novak, 1991; Novak & Musonda, 1991), who was based on
Ausubel’s (1968) assimilation theory of cognitive learning.
According to Novak and Cañas (2008), they include concepts,
usually enclosed in circles or boxes, and relationships between
concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts,
while there are words on the line, referred to as linking words
or phrases, which specify the relationship between the two
concepts. Early maps did not include labels on the lines,
whereas later labels on the lines were regarded as necessary,
because even experts could see different meanings between the
same two concepts on a map (Novak et al., 1983). Another
characteristic of concept maps is that they indicate hierarchical
representation of concepts usually organized with the most
Name 1Name 3Name 2
Attribute 1
Attribute 3
Attribute 2
Figure 2.
Compare/contrast matrix (Kiewra et al., 1999).
Figure 3.
Semantic map (Graney, 1992).
general, most inclusive idea at the top of the map, with succes-
sively less general, less inclusive concepts in appropriate sub-
ordinate positions (Novak, 1990; Novak & Cañas, 2008). They
can also represent multiple relationship types among concepts
students would likely encounter in texts, such as comparative,
causative, explanatory, sequential facilitating reading compre-
hension (Oliver, 2009). As their primary function is to focus on
the selection of the main ideas (key words) of the text, con-
necting these concepts using relation links and displaying the
major framework of the text, concept maps are a useful tool to
represent knowledge in any discipline contributing to organiz-
ing, understanding and recalling new material (Chalarut & De-
Backer, 2004; Chang et al., 2002; Novak, 1990; Oliver, 2009;
Schmid & Telaro, 1990). A current trend in concept maps em-
phasizes on an electronic version (Canas et al., 2001; Novak &
Canas, 2008) (Figure 4).
Knowledge Maps
Another similar graphic organizer is the knowledge map.
Knowledge mapping emerged from Dansereau’s work (Chmie-
lewski & Dansereau, 1998; Hall, Dansereau, & Scaggs, 1992;
McCagg & Dansereau, 1991). A knowledge map is a two-di-
mensional graphical display presenting information in the form
of node-link-node assemblies, which contains key ideas and
specifies the relationships between nodes (McCagg & Dan-
sereau, 1991). In addition, the nodes of a knowledge map depict
conceptual information in the form of simple, verbal proposi-
tions and each link simultaneously has an arrowhead to indicate
directionality (McCagg & Dansereau, 1991). Knowledge maps
also emphasize on the way concepts and ideas in a body of
information are related to an overall structure (Chmielewski &
Dansereau, 1998). Studying knowledge maps consistently leads
to better delayed recall of macro level ideas than merely study-
ing texts (Amer, 1994; Chmielewski & Dansereau, 1998;
McCagg & Dansereau, 1991). Conclusive results are provided
by a review, which indicates that students, especially the less
skilled ones, recall more central ideas, when they study a know-
ledge map (O’Donnell, Dansereau, & Hall, 2002). However, as
there is confusion in the classification of GOs throughout lite-
Copyright © 2012 SciR es .
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 351
Figure 4.
Concept map (Novak & Cañas, 2008).
Effectiveness of Graphi c Organizers: Research
rature, knowledge maps are often related to concept maps. It
should be pointed out that knowledge maps differ from other
similar representations, such as concept maps, in the deliberate
use of a set of labeled links that connect ideas and have arrow-
heads to establish directionality among ideas (O’Donnell et al.,
2002) (Figure 5).
The findings of studies concerning the effectiveness of GOs
on students’ comprehension and text learning are thoroughly
discussed in this section. Namely, first language (L1) and sec-
ond language (L2) studies yielding both consistent and incon-
sistent results in terms of the use of GOs in relation to text
learning are included. Research evidence coming from studies
conducted with students with Learning Disabilities (LD) is also
commented. Concurrently, ways of incorporating GOs in class-
rooms are recommended and further exploration of GOs is
Tree Diagrams
Tree diagrams/tree structures/network trees, which belong to
hierarchical organizers, visually portray the main ideas of a text
and establish the multiple relations among the different ele-
ments that exist in a passage, such as general to specific or
specific to general through hierarchically describing the rela-
tionships of the different elements of the text (Graney, 1992).
Namely, tree diagrams communicate super ordinate-subordinate
or hierarchical concept relations, which is the defining feature
of a hierarchy (Robinson & Kiewra, 1995; Robinson & Skinner,
1996). More often than not, they are used to describe family
trees, the construction of a sentence, the structure of societies,
classes, institutions, taxonomies, and various hierarchical mod-
els (Guri-Rozenblit, 1989). Research supports the implementa-
tion of tree diagrams to boost comprehension and recall of main
ideas (Guri-Rozenblit, 1989) (Figure 6).
Consistent Findings in First Language Graphic
Organizer Research
Researchers have attempted to enhance learners’ comprehen-
sion skills of both narrative and expository texts through the
use of GOs, which visually represent the main ideas or structure
of texts. The experimental studies of GOs advocate their use
and most of them include at least an experimental/intervention
(GO) and a control group as well as a pre and post testing de-
sign. To begin with, several studies in L1 demonstrate that em-
phasis on GO training is inextricably linked with improvement
in comprehension skills, as they help students identify, organize
and recall the main ideas of a text (Alvermann & Boothby,
1986; Armbruste r, Anderson, & Oste rtag, 1987; Berkowitz, 1986 ;
Chang et al., 2002; Chmielewski & Dansereau, 1998; Geva,
1983; Guri & Rozenblit, 1989; Horton, Lovitt, & Bergerud,
1990; Idol, 1987; Kiewra et al., 1999; Oliver, 2009; Robinson
et al., 2006). Ro binson and Skinner (1996), in particular, demon-
Venn Diagrams
The Venn diagram belongs to linear organizers. It is com-
posed of two or more overlapping circles used as a framework
to make comparisons between two or more concepts (Kang,
2004). It is named after John Venn (Venn, 1880), who used it in
maths (Figure 7).
Learning Tools
In flu e nce s
Context ExampleExample
Museum Classroom
Proc esse s
Prior K nowledge
Computers Exhibits
New Mate r ia l i s
Taugh t
Students Teachers
Figure 5.
Knowledge map (O’D on n el l et a l., 2002).
Figure 6.
Tree diagram (Jones et al ., 1989).
Figure 7.
Venn diagram (Venn, 1880).
strate that GOs facilitate students’ skill in locating specific
information quickly in order to answer comprehension ques-
tions, while Robinson and Kiewra (1995) highlight that, when
learners study GOs, they can learn hierarchical and coordinate
relations thus becoming more successful in integrating this
knowledge into writing. Concurrently, a large body of research
on the use of GOs in the reading process focuses on their func-
tion as a visual map of the actual text structure (e.g., compare/
contrast, problem/solution, cause/effect, description). Namely,
research supports that GOs raise students’ awareness of the
various text structures and facilitate the identification of this
higher level organization, a critical factor in comprehension
(Alvermann, 1981, Alvermann & Boothby, 1986; Armbruster,
Anderson, & Meyer, 1991; Armbruster et al., 1987; Berkowitz,
1986; Geva, 1983; Guri-Rozenblit, 1989; Oliver, 2009). Fur-
thermore, research indicates that GOs training enhances learn-
ers’ summarization abilities (Armbruster et al., 1987; Chang et
al., 2002). Throughout literature, it is also evident that poor or
low ability students are those who benefit most from GOs
training (Balajthy & Weisberg, 1990; Geva, 1983; O’Donnell et
al., 2002; Schmid & Telaro, 1990).
At the same time, in a meta-analysis carried out by Moore
and Readence (1984) learners treated with GOs outperformed
learners in control groups ascertaining that GOs produce a
small but positive effect on text learning. In addition, Vekiri
(2002) and O’Donnell et al. (2002) in their reviews provide
supportive results regarding the use of GOs as scaffolds for
concept relation, text learning and central ideas recalling re-
spectively. In more recent reviews, Nesbit and Adesope (2006)
focusing on concept and knowledge maps conclude that the
specific types of maps are more effective for retaining knowl-
edge than reading texts or attending lectures, while Jiang and
Grabe (2007) provide strong evidence for the effectiveness of
GOs representing the discourse structures of texts on the im-
Copyright © 2012 SciR es .
provement in comprehension of reading materials.
Allowing for the visual nature of GOs and the reduction of
linguistic load and task complexity that GOs offer, a large body
of research on GOs focuses on LD students, who have difficul-
ties in deriving meaning from written texts. Overall, research
suggests that GOs can mainly help students with LD or low
ability students comprehend and recall important information in
a text, something which holds true for the various learning
strategies (Boulineau et al., 2004; Gardill & Jitendra, 1999; Idol,
1987; Idol & Croll, 1987; Horton et al., 1990; Vallecorsa & de
Bettencourt, 1997). Concurrently, Kim et al., (2004) and Gajria,
Jitendra, Sood, and Sacks (2007) lend support for the effec-
tiveness of GOs on boosting comprehension skills. The findings
of a more recent meta-analytic review conducted by Dexter,
Park, and Hughes (2011) also corroborate the facilitative effects
of GOs on increased vocabulary knowledge and comprehension
Inconsistent Findings in First Language Graphic
Organizer Research
Notwithstanding the supportive findings of a large body of
literature, there are some studies that yield conflicting results
regarding the use of GOs. Namely, Alvermann (1981) did not
manage to fully support the effectiveness of GOs on reading
comprehension; Bean, Singer, Sorter, and Frazee (1986) and
Simmons et al. (1988) consider GO training to b e no more effec-
tive than outlining or traditional instruction for increasing stu-
dents’ comprehension and retention of text information. More-
over, Balajthy & Weisberg (1990) fail to provide a statistically
significant improvement in passage comprehension or summa-
rization scores highlighting that GO training mostly favors
lower ability groups. At the same time, Armbruster et al. (1991)
and Davis (1994) provide inconclusive results concerning the
effectiveness of GOs on text comprehension, as they found
positive effects of GOs on text comprehension in one grade but
no statistically meaningful difference in the other grade empha-
sized in their studies. Non-supportive results were also provi-
ded by Griffin, Malone, and Kameenui (1995). Concurrently,
Rice (1994) and Griffin and Tulbert (1995) in their review
found inconsistency in the research findings of GOs studies
questioning the facilitative effects of GOs on text comprehend-
In terms of studies focusing on students with LD, Griffin,
Simmons, and Kameenui (1991) as well as DiCecco and Glea-
son (2002) failed to provide consistent findings regarding the
effectiveness of GOs on students’ comprehension. Despite the
non-supportive results of some studies, almost all researchers
support that learners benefit from the implementation of GOs in
classrooms in one way or another (e.g., Armbruster et al., 1991;
Balajthy & Weisberg, 1990).
Taking all the above into account, we can draw the conclu-
sion that, though some studies failed to yield positive results
regarding the effectiveness of GOs, they constitute an instruc-
tional strategy used to assist students in learning from both
informational and narrative texts. However, based on the in-
formation derived from previous research (Jiang & Grabe,
2007), one critical factor that can affect the findings of the
various studies is the length of training period. In other words,
researchers assert that the length of instruction can be a signifi-
cant variable in classroom studies in order to achieve strategy
mastery accentuating the need for longer interventions (Al-
vermann, 1981; Alvermann & Boothby, 1986; Bean et al., 1986;
Griffin et al., 1995; Schmid & Telaro, 1990).
Second Language Graphic Organizer Research
Although there is evidence that a specific type of GOs, con-
cept maps, is a useful strategy for English as a Second Lan-
guage (ESL) students (Block, 1986; Carrell, Pharis, & Liberto,
1989; Koumy & Salam, 1999), few studies investigated the
effectiveness of GOs on L2 reading comprehension. To be
more precise, Tang (1992), who examined the relation of gra-
phic representation of text structure to comprehension with ESL
students, indicated great gains in the amount of information
recalled. Furthermore, Amer (1994) probing into the effect of
deploying knowledge maps and underlining on students’ com-
prehension of English scientific texts found that both experi-
mental groups outperformed the control group on summariza-
tion, while the knowledge map group performed slightly better.
Another study (Koumy & Salam, 1999) focusing on the effects
of three semantic mapping strategies (teacher-initiated, student
mediated, teacher-student interactive mapping) on comprehen-
sion of ESL students revealed that learners in the teacher-stu-
dent interactive mapping group scored significantly higher than
the other two groups. Additionally, Chularut and DeBacker
(2004) demonstrated facilitative effects of the use of GOs on
ESL students’ text learning, self-efficacy and self-monitoring;
Suzuki, Sato, and Awazu (2008) exploring the advantage of the
spatial graphic representation of an English sentence over a
linear sentential representation supported that the spatial
graphic display enhanced ESL readers’ comprehension of sen-
tences more than the sentential display did.
Ways of Using Graphic
Organizers-Instructional Implications
Based on research (Jiang & Grabe, 2007), GOs can be used
in education in different ways in all reading stages producing
different effects on comprehension. The instructional proce-
dures vary depending on the position of GOs in relation to
reading (pre-reading, post reading stage) and the constructor of
GOs (teacher-constructed, student-constructed, teacher/student
constructed). Namely, GOs are used in the pre-reading stage
usually as a brainstorming activity to generate ideas, activate
learners’ prior knowledge, connect what the students know with
new information and provide a purpose for reading. Davis
(1994) and Simmons et al. (1988), who focused on a pre-read-
ing GO, provide facilitative effects of the use of GOs prior to
text reading on students’ comprehension. However, the instruc-
tional position of GOs shifted from the pre-reading to the post-
reading position (Rice, 1994). As for the post-reading stage,
GOs are used in order to assess the degree of students’ under-
standing and enhance recall, retention and summarization of
main ideas, which can often function as a plan leading to writ-
ing tasks. In fact, research demonstrates that GOs are more
effective, when used in the post-reading than in the pre-reading
stage (Griffin & Tulbert, 1995; Moore & Readence, 1984).
Additionally, the constructor of GOs exerts influence on
comprehension (Jiang & Grabe, 2007), as GOs can be student,
author or teacher created and teacher/student created with the
goal of assisting students in learning from texts. To put it dif-
ferently, some researchers report that teacher-initiated GOs
result in improved reading comprehension (Alvermann, 1981;
Idol, 1987). Another body of research yields positive results
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 353
regarding GOs generated or even simply partia lly comple ted by
students emphasizing on students’ active involvement in the
le arning process (Berkowitz, 19 86; McCagg & Dansereau, 1991).
Concurrently, other studies have shown that the map construc-
tion group did not fare better than the control group (Chang et
al., 2002; Stull & Mayer, 2007) attributing this result to the
cognitive load theory, according to which a heavy extraneous
cognitive load that the instructional procedures often imposed is
to blame for interfering with learning (Stull & Mayer, 2007;
Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, 1998). A third group of re-
searchers, support the effectiveness of teacher-student con-
structed GOs on text learning (Koumy & Salam, 1999).
Although the majority of studies throughout literature in-
clude GOs presented on paper, there is a new trend focusing on
an electronic version of GOs, in particular concept maps (Canas
et al., 2001; Novak & Canas, 2008). A few researchers have
trained students in using concept map software (Cmap Tools)
and have provided positive effects favoring computer-based
maps in their studies (Chang, Sung, & Chen, 2001; DeSimone,
Schmid, & McEwen, 2001; Oliver, 2009). In this way, the
strength of concept maps co-exists with technology familiari-
zing students with the new technological achievements, the
internet and the World Wide Web.
Based on research, teachers should adopt the use of GOs as a
reading strategy in the teaching and learning of languages in
order to help students enhance text comprehension. Namely,
teachers should familiarize learners with GO studying and aim
at training them in constructing GOs and independently imple-
menting them in and out of classrooms; they should model how
to construct GOs, explain when and why students should use
GOs, provide students with opportunities to guided practice and
feedback, gradually shifting responsibility from teacher to stu-
dents, until students become proficient at using this strategy in
independent learning settings. At the heart of this recommenda-
tion lies the concept of strategic approach to reading, which
focuses on autonomous learners, able to use strategies during
their independent study (Cohen, 2007; Palincsar & Brown,
1984; Pressley, El-Dinary, Gaskins, Schuder, Bergman, Almasi,
& Brown, 1992).
Room for Research
According to literature, a body of research has yielded con-
flicting results regarding the effectiveness of GOs on learners’
retention and comprehension of text information (Alvermann,
1981; Armbruster et al., 1991; Balajthy & Weisberg, 1990;
Griffin et al., 1991; Griffin et al., 1995; Griffin & Tulbert, 1995;
Simmons et al., 1988). Allowing for the above non-supportive
findings of studies, room for research is left in further exploring
the effectiveness of GOs as a reading strategy, especially in the
language teaching courses. Jiang and Grabe (2007) strongly
support that instead of being discouraged and frustrated in the
inconsistency of the above findings, it is important to view the
issue from a different perspective and start further exploring the
specific area. Furthermore, research that involves longer inter-
vention is required, as most studies spend a few hours or a cou-
ple of days on GO training, because students need extended
instructional time to be exposed to practice in GOs in order to
achieve strategy mastery and be able to use them independently
in new learning situations, which is in accordance with previous
research findings (Alvermann, 1981; Alvermann & Boothby,
1986; Bean et al., 1986; DiCecco & Gleason, 2002; Jiang &
Grabe, 2007; Kim et al., 2004; Moore & Readence, 1984; Sch-
mid & Telaro, 1990). Future research should also assess long-
term retention, maintenance and transfer of training effects of
GOs on comprehension skills allowing a month or more to pass,
since maintenance is the most desired outcome of strategy
training. In fact, the majority of studies investigate immediate
influence of GOs on text learning including only a posttest,
while lacking a follow-up study and saying little about what
happens afterwards, which concurs with previous literature
(Chang et al., 2002; Moore & Readence, 1984). At the same
time, further exploration is needed at middle or secondary
grades, as most of the studies conducted in this area focus on
elementary (e.g., Alvermann & Boothby, 1986; Armbruster et
al., 1991; Armbruster et al., 1987; Berkowitz, 1986; Chang,
2002; Davis, 1994; Griffin et al., 1995; Oliver, 2009; Simmons
et al., 1988) or college students (e.g., Balajthy & Weisberg,
1990; Chmielewski & Dansereau, 1998; Geva, 1983; Guri &
Rozenblit, 1989; Katayama et al., 1997; Kiewra et al., 1999;
Robinson & Katayama, 2006; Robinson & Kiewra, 1995; Rob-
inson & Skinner, 1996). Last but not least, based on research on
GOs, there is an obvious dearth of GO studies in second or
foreign languages, as most of GO studies focus on first or na-
tive language learners, which is consistent with previous find-
ings (Jiang & Grabe, 2007; Nesbit & Adesope, 2006).
By and large, further GO investigation is needed to define
the impact of the different types of GOs on students’ compre-
hension or summarization skills, especially in the field of
teaching and learning of foreign languages, comparing GOs
interventions with traditional instruction in reading comprehen-
sion or with other comprehension strategies (DiCecco & Glea-
son, 2002; Iranmehr, 2011; Kim et al., 2004). Although signifi-
cant progress has been made in examining how to design and
implement visual aids in classrooms, our understanding of this
issue is still under development (Vekiri, 2002).
Some Final Thoughts on Graphic Organizers
In a nutshell, according to literature review, GOs have been
successfully deployed with students with or without learning
disabilities before, during and after reading texts. As visual
scaffolds, they are conducive on assisting students in activating
prior knowledge, gaining an insight into text structure, identi-
fying as well as connecting the main ideas of a text resulting
thus in better recall and retention of information. Allowing for
the benefits of GOs, teachers should implement this strategy in
classrooms and train students in using it helping them become
independent and self-regulated learners, especially after long-
term interventions. However, the above findings should be in-
terpreted with some caution, as some studies have yielded in-
consistent results regarding the use of GOs, which requires
further research, particularly on L2 classrooms.
This study consists part of a broa der research on the contribu-
ti on of strategy instr uction to the improve ment in elementary stu-
dents’ reading comprehension, which is co-financed by the Eu-
ropean Union (Europea n Social Fund —ESF) and the Gree k natio-
nal funds through the Operational Prog ram “Education and Life-
long Learning” of the National Strategic Reference Framework
(NSRF)-Research Funding Program: HERACLEITUS II. Inves-
ting in knowledge society through the European Social Fund.
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