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Knowledge organisers, Sentence builders, Parallel texts, Graphic organisers …

  What ever term you use – knowledge organiser, sentence builder, parallel text or graphic organiser, ultimately it is a set of key vocabulary, structures or concepts which students need to know and be able to recall from their long-term memory (LM) to their working memory (WM) in order to achieve mastery in a topic, skill or a unit, facilitating the retrieval and application of this relevant knowledge. 

A single sheet of A4 paper with all of the essential vocabulary, sentence structures or Grammar concepts that together represent the schema of the topic or a skill. However, they are not entirely same, the main difference between them is how this knowledge is presented and organised.

What are their benefits:

  1. Provide clarity for all parties – when designing a KO, SB, PT or GO teachers need to choose and plan very carefully the content that is the most valuable for students to remember and students need to understand exactly what is expected of them and have a clear target to work towards. Knowledge organiser should be seen as a planning, assessment and quizzing tool.

  2. Can aid spaced retrieval practice – regular retrieval practice is one of the most effective learning strategies which aids long-term retention. Learners can consistently be tested against their KO, SB or PT to improve the retrieval of knowledge stored in the LM thus continuously retrieving prior learning, identifying gaps in learning and closing these gaps as well as producing better organisation of the knowledge. See my post on Retrieval Practice.

  3. Can increase retention of facts – the core purpose of KO, SB, PT or GO is to reduce the stress placed upon cognitive load in the WM. By thoughtfully planning, presenting and through correct application of the key information, students will have more space in their working memory to learn the intended content and not become overwhelmed.

  4. Useful tool for inclusion – it gives all pupils access to the core knowledge they need, to be successful regardless of their socio-economic background, attendance or previous educations. They can be also scaffolded further if needed. However, KO/SB will never replace the expert in the classroom – the teacher!

How to implement them successfully:

  • they should follow schemes of work, mapping out the core knowledge – vocabulary, structures and Grammar concepts allowing connections to previous units or sub-topics to be considered. This could be presented using chunks, tables, diagrams (for Grammar structures) or themes. All content of a KO/SB should be covered in lessons.                            Powerful knowledge is specialised rather then general knowledge and is differentiated from the experience of students. (Young 2013)

  • they should be presented in easy to read and accessible form for all students – try to avoid fancy difficult to read fonts, colour writing on colour background etc. For more information please see my post on ‘Dual coding’ here. It is also important to consider how information can be depicted to show links between concepts and structures in order to build complex schemas, help to develop recall and further understanding. 

  • it is essential to consider which foundational core knowledge/concepts learners will need to acquire before they work on others, this will then allow for thoroughly sequenced lessons and schemas. It can be difficult to know what to leave out. 

  • explicit modelling will be needed for students to understand how to use a SB, PT or KO, for example showing them how to self-quiz.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about graphic organisers (word-diagrams) on Edutwitter with Oliver Caviglioli’s and David Goodwin’s new book – Organise Ideas – Graphic organisers for meaningful learning being published soon by John Catt Publications. If you are interested in how they are different and how they can be used to enhance learning, please see David’s blog here.

I have used them with my GCSE classes to explain and teach Grammar concepts. Students have positively commented on the clarity of the information as well as easiness to follow the concepts when displayed in this way.

Another form of graphic organiser is ‘The Frayer model’. Clare Seccombe (Light Bulb Languages) has just recently written a post about it where she explains how she uses it to teach accents in Spanish. See her post for more information and examples here.

Example of a graphic organiser (GO)                             

Example of a sentence builder (SB)

                   Example of Parallel text by Richard Bellworthy           

Example of Grammar KO by Amelia Ainsworth on Facebook

Frayer Model GO adapted from @i_teach_things

Are they flawed?

When used correctly and designed carefully, they are extremely useful. However, as they started to appear everywhere and became the newest ‘trend’ in education a few years ago, many schools and school leaders started to demand that every subject creates them and uses them for every topic or for every term. With many teachers not understanding the rationale behind them, many have used and implemented them incorrectly. In some instances the KO is simply just glued into exercise book serving little purpose thus being a mere waste of time and paper, but this certainly doesn’t mean that the idea behind them is useless ( Like with every strategy there needs to be a ‘buy in’ by all stakeholders, if it is to be successfully implemented.

In Languages, I have seen some KOs which are just slightly re-designed ‘fancy’ vocabulary lists with not a lot of thought in them. Lists can be useful and we use them in our lives a lot, however having the knowledge organised in meaningful context/chunks aids students’ memory better because it allows them to build schemas which link and support retention in their LM memory.

There are also many good examples based on thoughtful approaches and research in terms of methodology (Sentence builders, Parallel text etc).

If we want KOs/SBs to be a valuable tool that supports students’ learning in terms of retrieval and learning, we need to nurture the culture of self-quizzing. Therefore, our SBs are all uploaded to Quizlet, so students can use the sentence builders for self-quizzing HWK. They can also practise them via self-quizzing at the back of their exercise book. Here is a useful video demonstrating self-quizzing of parallel text by Mtree MFL.

I personally think that the biggest flaw when designing a KO/SB or PT is that they become too ‘crammed’ and therefore not particularly useful and in some instances will cause cognitive overload. They are a tool, so if they work for you then use them, if they don’t, then don’t feel pressurised to do so. If using SBs/KOs created by others, I strongly recommend that you think about how you will use them or adapt them to suit your learners like you would with any resource created and shared by another colleague.

My free Grammar Graphic Organisers are available for download here.

Look forward to you comments, views, reflections or critique.


Young M (2013) Overcoming the crisis in Curriculum theory: A knowledge-based approach. Journal of Curriculum Studies 45 (2): 101-118

Ryan Hickman: Ercall Wood Journal, Knowledge Organisers


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