Using Graphic Organizers as Assessment Tools

Instructor: Jesse Richter

Jesse holds two masters, a doctorate and has 15 years of academic experience in areas of education, linguistics, business and science across five continents.

Alternative assessments are a great way to monitor student progress. In this lesson, we will explore the use of graphic organizers as assessment tools. Tangible examples and ideas for implementation are provided.

Getting Started With Graphic Organizers

Classroom assessment may take many forms, and perhaps the most familiar form is standardized testing that occurs at the end of a teaching period. Alternative assessments - often classified as formative assessments - are a great way to augment the traditional standardized tests.

Let's take a look at one field-tested and proven alternative assessment technique facilitated by graphic organizers.

What is a Graphic Organizer?

Students in a biology class demonstrate knowledge of a lesson on frog anatomy using this graphic organizer
frog dissection graphic organizer

Say you want to explain how a machine works to students. Rather than using words, we can share a visual with students to illustrate how the parts of the machine interact with each other. Graphic organizers accomplish exactly this: they visually demonstrate a concept and allow teachers to confirm a student's understanding of a teaching objective.

Graphic organizers tap into visual and kinesthetic learning styles and are particularly helpful for students who may need assistance demonstrating their knowledge. Special needs students and English language learners significantly benefit from these assessment alternatives because they are allow demonstration of comprehension without lengthy essay style tests.

Implementing Graphic Organizers for Assessments

Consider trying the following ideas for graphic organizer assessments.

KWL Charts

KWL charts (what I Know, what I Wonder, what I Learned) may be adapted to almost any assessment situation. For example, use a KWL chart in English class to determine how well students understand a text that they have been reading. This could be done periodically throughout a unit or semester.

Then a series of charts from each student may be examined collectively at the end to identify progress (or lack thereof). You might want to compare charts from all students to see if there is a pattern; perhaps one specific concept has not been made clear and needs to be re-taught to the entire class.

Sequence Charts

Many academic concepts involve sequencing. For example, students studying ecological succession in a biology class may demonstrate comprehension by using a sequencing chart to list (or illustrate) the order in which various plant and animal species recover after a wildfire.

English language learners, young learners, and special needs students can use sequencing charts to record (or create) classroom instructions. For example, you might provide a handout with written steps of a process scrambled out of order (like a word bank). Verbally, you can instruct them, ''First, find a partner.'' (Students write the number 1 next to that step, etc.)

Venn Diagrams

Venn diagrams can help assess differences and similarities of concepts
venn diagram

Venn diagrams can be used in many subjects. For a health class, students can explore the similarities and differences between aerobic and anaerobic exercise. In English class, they can compare and contrast protagonists and villains. For young learners, you might use Venn diagrams to teach similarities and differences between types of animals, places, shapes, everyday objects, etc.

Folded Paper

Folded paper comes in handy anytime concepts can be categorized or listed. This is especially useful for small groups. Say you have a group of four students; the students can work together to describe the four natural forces in a physics class. To ensure each individual student understands all four sections/concepts, have them present a section/concept that was developed by another team member and rotate as necessary.


Origami style paper books make for great hands-on graphic organizers. Have students outline one concept on each blank page of the book, such as characters from a story, food groups, major eras of geological time, or geometry theorems.


Cause-and-effect diagrams are excellent for science and critical thinking classes. For example, ''If I drop an egg...'' or ''If I mix blue and red paint...'' These diagrams may be used during instruction for practice and then implemented as assessments at the end of a unit to confirm students' understandings of cause-and-effect relationships.


Storyboards are particularly useful for helping students to understand abstract concepts in concrete ways. For example, what are the relationships between characters in a novella? On a large piece of paper, blackboard or poster presentation, students can draw a picture of each character and then draw arrows or otherwise connect the dots to illustrate relationships such as friends, co-workers, relatives, etc.

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