What is a knowledge organiser, and what should it include?
A knowledge organiser is a document, usually no more than two sides of A4, that contains key facts and information that children need to have a basic knowledge and understanding of a project.
Most knowledge organisers will include:
- the essential facts about the project, usually laid out in easily digestible chunks
- key vocabulary or technical terms and their meanings
- images such as maps or diagrams
- famous quotations, if relevant.
What a knowledge organiser includes will depend on the subject. For example, a ‘Second World War’ knowledge organiser and a ‘Rivers’ knowledge organiser would both include maps, but the former would also include a timeline, and the latter would need diagrams.
How do you decide what information goes on a knowledge organiser?
We all want children to gain specific knowledge in each curriculum subject that builds up over time. Knowledge organisers play a useful role here, as they focus on one subject or project and grow in complexity across year groups.
However, it can be hard to know what to include about a project on two sides of A4 – and what to leave out. The real power of knowledge organisers is that they make us think hard about what we are going to teach and streamline the teaching content.
How can we use them in the classroom?
There are countless ways to use knowledge organisers, but here are ways in which they may be used:
- Give the knowledge organiser to the children before the start of a project to encourage discussion and prior research. We may also choose to send a copy home.
- Talk through the knowledge organiser at the beginning of the project, asking the children what information has sparked their interest, and if they have any questions.
- Use the knowledge organiser as a regular retrieval tool. Mix up practice using short, low stakes quizzes, games, partner discussion, and so on, rather than constant formal testing. Do the children know more than is included on the knowledge organiser? Ask higher-level ‘why’ questions to stretch the children’s understanding and add detail, meaning they have deepened their knowledge beyond the baseline outlined on the knowledge organiser.
- Use the knowledge organiser to identify knowledge gaps throughout the project.
- Display an enlarged copy of the knowledge organiser on a working wall, encouraging children to add information around it during the project.
- Use knowledge organisers to strengthen teacher knowledge in a subject area.
- Glue the knowledge organisers into the children’s books for regular reference or cut up the sections to focus the children and deepen their knowledge in a particular area.
- Make links between knowledge organisers to help children understand how their learning connects. For example, remind the children of a previous year’s knowledge organiser and discuss how their new knowledge links and builds upon it.
- Use the knowledge organiser as a handy spelling and vocabulary reminder. Keep it visible at all times and expect the children to use the proper vocabulary correctly.
- Use the knowledge organisers as guided reading texts. This way, you can help children read the information and check they understand it.
What are the benefits?
The main benefit of knowledge organisers is that they give children and teachers the ‘bigger picture’ of a project or subject area. Some projects can be complicated, so having the essential knowledge, clear diagrams, explanations and key terms on one document can be really helpful.
Research shows that our brains remember things more efficiently when we know the ‘bigger picture’ and can see the way that nuggets of knowledge within that subject area link. Making links, essentially, helps information move into our long-term memory.
Another key benefit is their use for retrieval practice. Regular retrieval of knowledge helps us remember more effectively. Again, it helps us store knowledge in, and recall it from, the long-term memory and frees up space in the working memory to take on new knowledge. They help to make the knowledge explicit at all times.
There are also some [Youtube videos] to help your child remember key knowledge from different projects.