Resources for Students - Visual Organizers

Using Visual Organizers to Study

For many students it is helpful to use a visual or graphic means of organizing written materials. Some of the most common organizers are useful as you read textbooks:

3 Column Chart
  • Write the chapter title in the large box at the top of the organizer
  • As you read the textbook, write the subtitles in question form in the boxes under the large box. Try to predict sample test questions from subtitles. Write the question in the box.
  • Read the information in the subtitles. Write the answers to the questions on the line under the boxes. Be sure to include page numbers.
  • Write in chunks or phrases, using abbreviations (e.g. > = "more than", F + "France", G = "the U.S. government", etc. Make up your own shorthand.
  • Use a new column for each subheading. Include a few important facts, people, dates, formulas, or equations as appropriate.
  • After class, add material from your lecture notes where it fits.
  • Color code the boxes if it makes it easier to distinguish and recall the information using different colored inks. Use a different color for each question/response.
  • Make new sheets as you read new material and after it is discussed in class.
  • To transfer the information to your longterm memory, rehearse the boxes and responses OUT LOUD.
  • Create a visual picture in your mind of the sheets. You may recall, for example, that the middle "blue" column contained information about the question, "What were the major causes of World War II?"

Using Definition & Problem Cards

As you read your textbook, make a definition card (PDF) for the following:

  • Names of people
  • Names of places
  • Dates and numbers, statistics, facts, formulas, etc.
  • Vocabulary and/or bold faced words

Make problem cards (PDF) from the following:

  • Questions at the back of the textbook chapter.
  • Lecture notes re-written and summarized in your own words.
  • Book Notes- Paragraphs/sections/chapters summarized in your own words.
  • On the front of the card, use the above information, creating subtitles in the form of a question.
  • On back of the card, write the answer to the question.
  • Rehearse the questions OUT LOUD
  • Sort the cards into 2 piles- those you know and those you don't.
  • Quiz yourself by calling the answers out before turning the card over to look at the answer.

Other Visual Organizers Useful for Study

blank form is followed by example.

Sequence Chain

This organizer is useful for visual depicting a complicated process or an operation composed
multiple steps:

Venn Diagram

Venn's diagrams may be useful when comparing two concepts or ideas that have similarities and differences. This differences are listed outside the common area and the similarities within:

Attribute Wheel

The Attribute Wheel is used to visually list characteristics of a particular item:

Character Map

The Character Map is generally used in conjunction with a reading assignment for a literature related course. The character's major traits are delineated as well as examples (events) from the work. 

Strategy: In a Nutshell

This outlining strategy is a helpful method for using subheadings to visually out line a chapter in a textbook and to answer generic discussion questions:

Sample Outline and Discussion Questions

(Selection: "Waves" Chapter from Hackett & Moyer, Science in Your World, 1991)


How Do Waves Transfer Energy?
Electromagnetic Wave

Radio Waves
Higher Frequency Waves

Infrared Waves
Ultraviolet Waves
X Rays and Gamma Rays


Discussion Questions

  1. What are the Three major topics in this in this chapter? How do you know that?
  2. Which of those topics have sub-topics? (May need to point out meaning of
    indentation in outlines, and/or visual characteristics of headings and sub-headings
    in book, such as font, colored type, placement of headings, etc.)
  3. Explain that the next step is to see how much information the author has already
    given them. Use questions such as the following...
  • What do we know waves do from the first heading?
  • What do we know about waves from the topic "Electromagnetic Waves"?
  • What do we know about waves from the subtopic "Radio Waves"?
  • What does the subtopic "Higher Frequency Waves"? What does that tell us about
    those subtopics?
  • What do we know about lasers from the heading "lasers"?
Source: Graves, M. & Graves, B. (1994). Scaffolding Reading Experiences. Norwood, Massachusetts: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.