Using Graphic Organizers for Reading Comprehension

Instructor: Jennifer Carnevale

Jennifer has a dual master's in English literature/teaching and is currently a high school English teacher. She teaches college classes on the side.

How do our students learn to organize their thoughts while reading? What is the best way to help students assess plot, characterization, literary devices, and theme? Learn about the use of graphic organizers for promoting reading comprehension.

Organizing Our Thoughts

There are many ways to read a text. We all process and organize information differently, but how did we learn that process? It took time, care, and a scaffolded approach. We wouldn't just pick up War and Peace for our 1st grade book report.

While our students are learning how to read, it's important to give them strategies for organizing what they are reading and how they are processing. Graphic organizers are an excellent tool to help students of all ages organize information from a text and assess deeper meaning.

Graphic organizers use different types of visual patterns and shapes to organize main events, plot, characters, and other information. Let's take a look at some examples.


No matter what age we teach, ensuring students understand basic plot points of a text is key. Without this foundation, students cannot move on to characterization or higher level analysis.

For younger readers, a sequence of events chart is a great way to help students work through organizing the chronological information in a text. You can create a chart with boxes for room to write about each event.

Sequence of Events Graphic Organizer
Image of sequence of events organizer

An event map is another great tool that focuses on one event, such as a major conflict. The chart asks students to follow the 5 W+H model of thought (who, what, when, where, why, how).

To set up an event map, draw one circle in the middle titled 'Event', then put boxes surrounding the middle circle with labels such as: 'What happened?' 'How did it happen?' 'When did it happen?' etc. This chart will help students get to the next level of analysis which is the plot diagram.

Event Map
Image of event chart

A plot diagram is a tool that has students organize the main events by category, along with analyzing conflict and characterization. It forces the students to pull out the main points, but also to analyze them and understand how each conflict and action fits into the story as a whole.

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