Using Graphic Organizers for Special Education

Easy to Use, Effective Worksheets for Your Classroom

Student working with concept map.
Concept definition maps and graphic organizers with illustrations can help students engage cognitively with reading comprehension. Flickr/Runs With Scissors

Special education students often need support in organizing their thoughts and completing multi-stage tasks. Children with sensory processing issues, autism or dyslexia can easily become overwhelmed by the prospect of writing a short essay or even answering questions about material they have read. Graphic organizers can be effective ways to help typical and atypical learners alike. The visual presentation is a unique way to show students the material they are learning, and can appeal to those who are not auditory learners.

They also make it easy for you as a teacher to assess and understand their thinking skills.

How to Choose a Graphic Organizer

Find a graphic organizer that's best suited to the lesson you'll teach. Below are typical examples of graphic organizers, along with with links to PDFs that you can print out.

KWL Chart 

"KWL" stands for "know," "want to know" and "learn." It's an easy-to-use chart that helps students brainstorm information for essay questions or reports. Use it before, during and after the lesson to allow students to measure their success. They'll be amazed by how much they've learned.

Venn Diagram

Adapt this mathematical diagram to highlight similarities between two things. For back to school, use it to talk about how two students spent their summer vacations. Or, turn it upside down and use the kinds of vacations—camping, visiting grandparents, going to the beach—to identify students who have things in common.

Double Cell Venn

Also known as a double bubble chart, this Venn diagram is adapted to describe the similarities and differences in characters in a story. It's designed to help students compare and contrast.

Concept Web

You may have hear concept webs called story maps. Use them to help students break down the components of a story they have read.

Use an organizer to track elements such as the characters, setting, problems or solutions. This is a particularly adaptable organizer.  For example, put a character in the center and use it to map the attributes of the character. A problem in the plot can be in the center, with the different ways characters try to solve the problem. Or simply label the center "beginning" and have the students list the premise of the story: where it takes place, who are the characters, when is the action of the story set. 

Sample Agenda Type List

For children for whom remaining at task is an ongoing problem, don't underestimate the simple effectiveness of an agenda. Laminate a copy and have her affix it to her desk. For an extra boost to visual learners, use images to augment the words on the planner. (This one can help teachers, too!)

Math Fact Family Organizers 

Here's a series of worksheets designed to help with math facts. Drive home the math families—what we called addends, back in the day—and help students understand these fundamentals in a conceptual way. Math in particular can overwhelm atypical learners, as the subject builds rapidly on core concepts. Be sure to give your students the support they need.