The Practical Use of Advance Organizers

Advance organizers, a concept formed by Ausubel (1978), give students a toolkit to organize new, incoming knowledge. By directing attention to what is important before a lesson, students know what to focus on during the lesson. Ausubel (1978) also describes relating new learning to old learning, such as in the example of the students in the art gallery described in Joyce, Weil, and Calhoun (2015).

Though it may seem more reasonable to focus on what students enjoyed most about a lesson, it is also important to focus on what is important about a lesson when using advance organizers (Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, Stone, 2012). In order to use advance organizers, it is important to consider both student interest as well as key points from a prior lesson you wish to expand on.

I have used advance organizers before without realizing it. While teaching preschool, often I would introduce a unit by reading a story related to the theme (narrative advance organizer) or with a graphic advance organizer where I explain the lesson topics and goals (often KWL charts). These applications are useful for preschool, in particular, but also for my future elementary classroom as well. KWL charts (what we know, what we want to know, and what we learned—to be completed after the unit) are a good way to introduce kids to a topic, get them to think about the topic, and then later revisit the topic to connect their learning with what they discussed at the beginning of the unit.

The other two advance organizers discussed by Dean, et al. (2012) are skimming and expository advance organizers. I can see the advantages to using either one. An expository advance organizer might be more beneficial to older students. I can give them key points before a unit, which they can then refer back to as needed. This method is used by one of the teachers I work with while tutoring. In his class of 8th graders, he started off his latest unit of scatter plots by having them explore a website called gapminder.org on iPads, which shows a large variety of data from the past 200 years for all countries. Not only did this spark their interest, but he asked them questions about the website they were looking that walked them through key phrases like “correlation”, “positive trend”, or “weak trend”. Though I will be teaching elementary students, I think this is something I could adapt to my own grade level. The other advance organizer I haven’t used is using skimming. Students can go over a chapter briefly to get a general overview of what it contains, then I can ask students to describe what they think it is about, and have them make inferences about it. I’d never thought that skimming might be so useful, but I think that when I have a classroom I will try it. I think it is a good way to get kids to make predictions and really think about what they will be learning before it occurs, and will also help to keep their interest longer.

Ausubel, D., et al. (1978). Instructional materials. Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York, NY: Holt McDougal.

Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Researc-hbased strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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