An advance organizer is a tool used for teachers to help students understand, retain, and remember new things. It is used to help introduce a new topic and make connections to what students already know. When used correctly, advance organizers are designed to strengthen the cognitive structures of students and enhance retention of new information (Joyce 2015). This model can set the stage for learning as they direct students’ attention to what is important in the upcoming lesson, highlight new ideas depicted in the organizer, and remind students of what they already know and activate their prior knowledge.
In his book, Brain Rules, Molecular biologist John Medina explains the ways our brain learns new information. Medina states, “Better attention always equals better learning” (Medina, 74). When a teacher uses a visual tool, like an advance organizer, to present a new topic or lesson, they have a good chance of capturing a student’s attention and keeping it long enough for that learner to send some of the learned information to the brain. Phase One of the model does this, and its importance relates to Medina’s work on attention: “Clarifying the aim of the lesson is one way to obtain students’ attention and orient them to their learning goals, both of which are necessary to facilitate meaningful learning” (Joyce, 208). The goal of the model is to organize and convey large amounts of information to make it as meaningful and efficient as possible (Joyce 2015), which will help capture and keep the learner’s attention. Medina also explain that the brain learns best when it is able to retrieve old information and connect it with new information, which is exactly what the advance organizer is intended to do. This important element is explained in Classroom Instruction That Works: “Advance organizers… help students use their background knowledge to learn new information” (Dean, 51). The advance organizer is an organized way of presenting key ideas before all the details, which is also what Medina researched to be as the best way to set new information to memory—“If you want to get the particulars correct…start with the key ideas and…form the details around these larger notions” (Medina, 84).
As a teacher, it is important to build a scaffold of the important concepts and present them to students at the beginning of the unit in the form of an advance organizer.
As it is presented, teachers help students relate to the content, make connections, and understand what is going to be expected throughout the remainder of the unit. Among the four formats of advance organizers—expository, narrative, skimming, and graphic—the last one is one that I would utilize most if I were to use an advance organizer model in my classroom. When provided in advance of learning the new material, a graphic advance organizer can be effective to clearly communicate what students will learn (see Figure 1).
I have been trained in how to effectively use Thinking Maps, which is a program consisting of eight graphic organizers that correspond with fundamental thinking processes. The Thinking Maps help with comparing and contrasting, sequencing and ordering, classifying and grouping, analyzing cause and effect, seeing analogies, identifying part to whole relationships, defining in context, and describing with adjectives (See Figure 2). They use many domains of Bloom’s Taxonomy for higher-level thinking, which is used during the model to help students increase their ability to learn the new material.
In my upcoming science unit on the Sun, Moon, and Earth, I could provide an advance organizer in the form of a Thinking Maps. As I present the three main topics of our unit, I would guide my students through an activation of their prior knowledge and create one Circle Map each for the Sun, Moon, and Earth. During this activity, I would use inquiry to guide my students thinking and what ideas they might already have, perhaps by asking them, “What makes night and day?” “Why does the moon look different on some nights than it does on others?” or “Why is it summer time in Australia right now?” (We have been learning about cultures so this is a question that has already come up in class discussions). As students connect what they already know about the topics, I could then use another Thinking Map for organizing information: The Tree Map. The Tree Map is a form of Thinking Map that helps classify and group material into an organized chart. While it could be used as a way to make a KWL (Know, Want to know, Learned) chart for students to activate prior knowledge, it could also be a way for me to present the learning objectives for my students. I would list on the Tree Map what their learning goals for the unit will be, such as: “I can describe the difference between rotation and revolution,” “I can state three facts about the sun,” “I can explain the eight phases of the moon,” or “I can describe what makes night and day.” The charts would then be displayed around the room for students, and myself, to refer back to for the duration of the unit.
In conclusion, using the advance graphic organizers such as the Tree Map and the Circle Map will give my students not only the insight into what we will be learning and what I will expect them to know how to do, but will help me know what they want to learn, or how I might adjust or enhance my lessons, so that the unit can be as effective as possible. Lastly, I think having the advance graphic organizer displayed in the room will help hold the students and myself accountable for the expectations and objectives of the unit.
Dean, C. B., Hubbell, E. R., Pitler, H., & Stone, B. (2012). Classroom Instruction That Works. (2nd ed.). Denver: ASCD.
Joyce, B., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching. (9th ed.) New Jersey: Pearson Education.
Medina, J. (2008). Brain Rules. Seattle: Pear Press.