Developing and Communicating Content Knowledge Using Foldables®  Interactive Graphic Organizers

Learning is something students do, not something that is done to them.

Based on current research, graphic organizers are extremely useful teaching and learning tools. Graphic organizers are visual representations combining line, shape, space and symbols to convey facts and concepts or to organize information. Graphic organizers, when designed and used appropriately: 

  • Speed up communication 
  • Help organize information 
  • Are easy-to-understand 
  • Show complex relationships 
  • Clarify concepts with few words 
  • Convey ideas and understanding

Graphic organizers may be two-dimensional, as we see often in diagrams, maps, outlines, and charts; or three-dimensional, as we see in Dinah Zike's Foldables® . Graphic organizers may be teacher-directed, student-initiated, or some combination of the two. There are multiple uses for graphic organizers, particularly Foldables®, including their use as advance organizers; to supplement note-taking and outlining; as an alternative format for reports; to show relationships between concepts; to reinforce understanding; as a way to organize ideas; and as a method to review information.

By using three-dimensional interactive graphic organizers, a teacher aims toward long-term student understanding of material presented. An additional outcome is that each learner becomes more self-directed in what and how they learn.

Support for Graphic Organizers

There is theoretical, research-based, and experiential support for using graphic organizers in the classroom. Findings from some of the scientifically-based research on graphic organizers include:

Graphic organizers aid students in developing critical thinking and other higher order thinking skills (Brookbank,, 1999; DeWispelaere & Kossack, 1996).

Graphic organizers are a helpful tool for improving retention and recall of information for students at all age and skill levels (Bos & Anders, 1992; Ritchie & Volkl, 2000).

Graphic organizers may help students develop stronger problem-solving and general skills and knowledge (Braselton & Decker, 1994; Monroe & Orme, 2002).

Graphic organizers may help second language learners improve higher order thinking skills (DeWispelaere & Kossack, 1996).

Graphic organizers seem to be quite beneficial for use with learning disabled students, as they help students comprehend content area material, organize information, and retain and recall content (Boyle & Weishaar, 1997; Gardill & Jitendra, 1999; Kim et al., 2004).

Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack (2001) have contended, as have others, that to foster higher-order thinking, instructional activities must call on learners to restructure their prior knowledge and link it to new information. A crucial aspect of this brain-based activity is that students use their own “voices and perspectives” as they construct personal meaning for various processes, data, and events. Because of their assertion that we all store information in both language and image formats, Marzano, Pickering, and Pollack (2001) in their research used several types of graphic organizers that involved interpreting, exemplifying, classifying, summarizing, inferring, comparing, and explaining. Their research showed a percentile gain of 40 percent in student achievement.

Foldables address the importance of communication skills in all content areas. Foldables are three-dimensional interactive graphic organizers that give students opportunities to immerse themselves in learning visually and kinesthetically while processing information. Students fold, cut, write, draw, manipulate, and create tables and graphs as they transform and organize information to achieve personal, authentic communication and lasting meaning.


Bos, C.S. & Anders, P.L. (1992). Using interactive teaching and learning strategies to promote text comprehension and content learning for students with learning disabilities. International Journal of Disabilities, Development, and Education, 39, 225-238.

Boyle, J. R. & Weishaar, M. (1997). The effects of expert-generated versus student-generated cognitive organizers on the reading comprehension of students with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 12 (4), 228-235.

Boyle, J., & Weishaar, M. (1999). Note-taking strategies for students with mild disabilities. The Clearing House, 72, 392-396.

Braselton, S., & Decker, B.C. (1994). Using graphic organizers to improve the reading of mathematics. The Reading Teacher, 48(3), 276-282.

Brookbank, D., Grover, S., Kullber, K., & Stawser, C. (1999). Improving Student Achievement through Organization of Student Learning. Master's Action Research Project, Saint Xavier University & IRI/Skylight.

Casteel, D.B. & Narkawicz, M.G. (2007). Effectiveness of Foldables® in Teaching Social Studies in Third Grade Classrooms. Http: Accessed 11/11/08.

DeWispelaere, C., & Kossack, J. (1996). Improving student higher order thinking skills through the use of graphic organizers, Elk Grove Village, IL: Master’s Thesis, Saint Xavier University.

Gardill, M.C. & Jitendra, A.K. (1999). Advanced story map instruction: Effects on the reading comprehension of students with learning disabilities. The Journal of Special Education, 33 (1), 2-17.

Kim, A-H., Vaughn, S., Wanzek, J., & Wei, S. (2004). Graphic organizers and their effects on the reading comprehension of students with LD: A synthesis of research. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 37(2), 105-118.

Marzano, R., Pickering, D., and Pollack, J. (2001) Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Monroe, E.E., & Orme, M.P. (2002). Developing mathematical vocabulary. Preventing School Failure, 46(3), 139-142.

Ritchie, D. & Volkl, C. (2000). Effectiveness of two generative learning strategies in the science classroom. School Science & Mathematics, 100(2), 83-89.

Willerman, M. & Mac Harg, R.A. (1991). The concept map as an advance organizer. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 28(8), 705-712.