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Collection: Organizing Tools

purple arrow (1137 bytes)Semantic Organizers: Implications for Reading and Writing

REFERENCE: Pehrsson, R.S., & Denner, P.R. (1988). Semantic organizers: Implications for reading and writing. Topics in Language Disorders Series, 8 (3), 24-37.

Description of article

CONTEXT: This article discusses the benefits and applications of the semantic organizer approach, semantic organizers (also called maps), and current research supporting their use in the reading and writing process for students who have difficulty in organizing, evaluating, and remembering information.

According to the authors, the benefits of using semantic organizers with students with disabilities in reading and writing, as indicated in the article are as follows:

The authors provide definitions and examples of various types of semantic organizers and illustrate the approach they would take in aiding students with reading and writing disabilities in acquiring skills for organizing information. The authors project a development sequence for introducing semantic organization for beginning readers and nonreaders alike, including students with language disorders, as follows:

Realia clusters: Realia clusters use real things, such as household items and rope to connect items and illustrate relationships between the items. For instance, to demonstrate the idea of a family eating dinner, a teacher might use a pot, a dish, and a fork and then use rope to connect the items. A telephone, the authors point out, would be an item used to show something that does not belong in this category. This approach helps students to place real items into categories. The authors contend that "to know what something is, it is necessary to also understand what it is not."

Picture clusters: Picture clusters make use of pictures in organizing information. In this stage, students would be asked to arrange items around a central picture. Then they would connect items to the picture with pieces of rope. The authors use the same example of a telephone being excluded from a group which includes a pot, a dish, and a fork, but in this case, the cluster is made up of pictures, as opposed to real items.

Verb clusters: Verb cluster organizers use pictures to represent action verbs. Pictures representing verbs such as walk, eat, swim, and jump are connected by lines to their written counterparts. A picture of a boy jumping would be connected to the written word "jump." Verb clusters are eventually used to help students construct sentences with the verb as the central part of the sentence.

Noun clusters: In contrast to verb clusters, noun clusters emphasize the noun as the central part of the sentence and move students towards using a noun as as the central theme in organizing a paragraph.

Concept clusters: Concept cluster organizers help students decipher between less meaningful and more meaningful words and ideas. The authors contend that words such as "has" and "is," for example, would be omitted from the organizer, since they are less important words in the overall scheme of the theme or idea. Concept organizers are used to aid students in summarizing a piece of text; not only must students decide which information is more important, but they must also organize that information graphically to show that the most relevant information is near the center of the cluster.

Episodic organizers: And finally, episodic organizers are used to illustrate change from one cluster to another. For example, students learn how to make connections between paragraphs such as a problem in the first paragraph to its solution in another. Since relationships between events in subsequent paragraphs are graphically depicted, students with language disorders have an easier time comprehending, organizing, and writing paragraphs.

Although this article does not mention technology, it includes many implications for how technology-based semantic organizing tools are used to support reading and writing for students with disabilities.

For More Information:

Robert S. Pehrsson, EdD, Associate Professor of Education, Director of Reading Program, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho

Peter R. Denner, PhD, Associate Professor of Education, Department of Education, Idaho State University, Pocatello, Idaho


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.   Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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