Knowledge organisers

6 benefits of using knowledge organisers for revision

By Sara Snelling

16 Nov 2022

A teacher in front of a class with knowledge organisers in the background.

Have you embraced knowledge organisers in your classroom? Despite their increase in popularity, not all teachers have adopted this useful tool. Read on to find out why you should consider adding knowledge organisers to your teaching toolkit.

Knowledge organisers are a well-recognised learning and revision tool. A quick search of the #knowledgeorganiser hashtag on Twitter reveals the many ways they are showing up in schools across the country. Research by Nathan Smailes suggests that the use of knowledge organisers in conjunction with recall practice positively impacts on students’ confidence and learning. This is helped further when students understand the ‘why’ behind using their knowledge organisers and the benefits to be gained.

In this article, we discuss those benefits and how to best realise them.

What is a knowledge organiser?

A knowledge organiser is exactly what the name suggests – it’s a way of organising the most pertinent knowledge relating to a particular topic in such a way that it’s easy to see the key information at a glance. Generally, this means fitting the essential facts onto a single A4 sheet of paper so students can easily review, revise and recall the summarised information.

Depending on the topic, a knowledge organiser might include quotations, technical terms, vocabulary, formulas, key dates, timelines, themes or any chunk of data or subject-specific language that is essential to learners at their stage of learning. Visuals, such as graphs and maps, are included, alongside bullet points, tables, lists and so on.

Knowledge organisers can be used in the classroom and at home. With the right planning, they can link to homework tasks for revisiting information learned in school, and can form the structure for recall activities, such as quizzes, in the classroom. It is the revisiting and recalling of essential information that makes knowledge organisers so beneficial for revision and underpins the key benefits we discuss below.

6 benefits of using knowledge organisers for revision

1. Knowledge organisers are visual

It is estimated that the majority of people are visual learners (often cited as representing 65% of the population). This means they understand and retain information best when it is seen – they need to see it and read it to retain it.

Knowledge organisers are ideal for providing visual representations of information, using colour, images, graphics, maps, tables, charts, diagrams, bullet points and other visually stimulating formats to convey essential data and enhance absorption and retention.

Knowledge organisers are beneficial for students with other learning styles too, providing opportunities for recall and retrieval of the information they’ve absorbed through listening (verbal learners) and through doing (experiential learners).

2. They work as a retrieval tool

Regular retrieval of previously learned information strengthens memory and enhances learning. It is particularly effective if the retrieval sessions are spaced - carried out over a period of time rather than in one session. Revisiting sections of the knowledge organiser over time and retrieving related information helps to transfer it from short-term working memory into long-term memory, reducing cognitive load.

Knowledge organisers can facilitate this by using questions and written tasks that require students to go beyond the baseline information listed on the page. This is especially important for areas of the curriculum that do not get much teacher time, but are essential to the building blocks of learning for that topic. Explaining the benefits of this retrieval process to students, and to their parents and carers, helps to promote engagement with the process at home as well as in the classroom.

Knowledge organisers can be used to remind students of information from a previous term or year, using tools such as flow charts to link new information to previous baseline content.

Building knowledge links throughout a topic leads to improved long-term memory of chunks of related information. They can also help to remind learners of knowledge links between this topic and previous, possibly related topics, improving their comprehension even further.

4. They help teachers shape learning and plan lessons

Teachers can use knowledge organisers in many different ways – some use them for homework activities where learners review and write out information relating to each week’s lessons; others use them in the classroom to aid with class recall activities or individual learner retrieval practice; and many use a mixed approach. As there is a limitation on space, knowledge organisers challenge teachers to cut large curricula down to key, essential information.

The process of creating the knowledge organisers and deciding how to use them helps with lesson planning and with scheduling regular retrieval practice and revision. They can also be used as evidence of learning as part of teaching quality assurance or teacher CPD-related supervision.

5. They highlight knowledge gaps

Knowledge organisers are useful for identifying areas that need to be revisited. Homework activities or quizzes may show a gap in knowledge around a particular theme or element of a topic early enough in the learning schedule to revisit and clarify before moving ahead with new information. This maintains the flow of understanding and builds links between blocks of knowledge.

Where gaps are identified, additional specific sub-topic knowledge organisers can be created for students who need further practice in a particular area. For students who struggle with self-directed learning, these could be used with teaching assistants and with parents or carers where possible.

6. They give the class a level playing field of knowledge to build upon

Providing all students with a knowledge organiser that contains the essential information for a topic gives all students access to the core content – regardless of factors such as attendance or previous education and attainment. The option to use print outs of knowledge organisers removes any technological barriers that may exclude some children from related home learning activities.

Potential downsides of using knowledge organisers for revision

If you’re using knowledge organisers with your students, there are a few potential downsides, but, as you’ll see below, most of them hold up against the benefits or can be easily avoided.

1. They’re time consuming and it’s difficult to decide what to include.

Whilst this can be true, it is the time and consideration that goes into them that makes them such a good tool for planning - going beyond sharing information, to encompass the retrieval opportunities necessary for revision. The process is relatively simple if you know the baseline information for the topic and you have a schedule for learning and revising that information across the time period the knowledge organiser is to be used.

As well as this, some edtech solutions, such as Bedrock, create knowledge organisers using an algorithm, saving you time and effort.

2. They do not lead to achievement of learning goals.

Knowledge organisers are just one tool in an effective teaching toolkit, not the only one. In the planning stages, they can be aligned with other tools and teaching strategies to create a comprehensive toolkit.

A strategic approach is also important to facilitate the vital retrieval practice associated with knowledge organisers. For example, scores from quizzes based on retrieval practice linked to the knowledge organiser could feed into a reward system that also links into attendance and behaviour.

Successful achievement of learning goals involves integrating knowledge organisers with your teaching practice in a way that best suits you, your learners and your goals.

3. Learners may only focus on the information in the knowledge organiser

A potential worry is learners missing out on deeper knowledge and understanding due to their reliance on the knowledge organiser. This comes down to communication and links back to explaining to learners the ‘why’ behind the knowledge organiser.

Knowledge organisers are an inclusive tool that gives everyone access to the basic information; teachers need to work with students to help them build on the baseline according to their potential. If you explain to students and to parents and carers the benefits of retrieval practice based on the core concepts in the knowledge organiser, they are more likely to engage and gain that deeper knowledge and understanding.

4. There is no explicit rule for how to structure knowledge organisers

This is true, but it is also one of the benefits.

Knowledge organisers can be adapted to your particular class and be presented in a way that best meets their needs. This might mean going beyond the printed A4 sheet to look at including audio, video, animation and QR codes linked to further information. Printed copies can be shared with students, sent home and displayed in the classroom, while digital copies can go out with school emails and be made available via the school website.

The lack of rules around implementing knowledge organisers is a positive for inclusivity and accessibility and opens up possibilities.

How to get started with knowledge organisers

Creating good knowledge organisers means aligning them with your learning plan or scheme of work. The following steps are useful for guiding you through the process:

  1. Define the core knowledge for your topic or year group and identify links with previous learning.
  2. Decide on the building blocks – what information needs to come first, second, third and so on for students to move through the core knowledge.
  3. Decide how to best present the information.
  4. Collate the key facts and put them into the sequenced sections – you can number them so it’s easy to follow the flow through the scheme of work.
  5. Review and edit – you can adapt and build on an existing knowledge organiser as you get feedback from your learners and see how it works in practice.
  6. Give them out at the start of a topic or term so students can be prepared for what’s ahead and get familiar with subject specific language.

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