Summarizing Graphic Organizers: When to Use Them, How to Teach Them, and Where to Get Them (for Free)!

summarizing graphic organizers: when to use them, how to teach them, where to get them

Before we dive into the benefits of summarizing graphic organizers, let’s do a quick review of why graphic organizers in general are so important for teaching and learning.

The Benefits of Using Graphic Organizers

Learning is aided by organizing and recording information, and graphic organizers provide students with several options on how to record and study this information in a way that works best for them.

Studies have shown graphic organizers increase reading comprehension, students’ understanding, and the ability to retain and use new knowledge. Graphic organizers have three basic purposes in teaching and learning. 


  1. Direct students’ attention to what’s important in the new lesson. 
  2. Highlight relationships between the ideas that will be presented.
  3. Remind students of relevant information they’ve already learned that can help them understand the new information. 

Graphic organizers can help students avoid “information overload” by making new information easier to learn through a visual display of its connection to old information. Graphic organizers aren’t a review of information, but rather, a review of the understanding of the information by students. 

Providing the correct graphic organizer can expedite student learning and understanding, and make new lessons more manageable and less overwhelming. There are many types of graphic organizers, and what works for one topic or task may not be appropriate for another.

Why is the Skill of Summarizing So Important?

Summarizing is an incredibly important skill for students to learn and practice, and summarizing graphic organizers are a great way to do that. 

One of the biggest benefits of being able to summarize is that it helps students improve their comprehension of academic content. Comprehension relies on summarizing: students are effectively restating content in a concise way that helps them determine essential details and consolidate them from throughout the text. 

When students are summarizing—no matter how—they are reproducing some parts of the text (not just annotating or highlighting). This helps with comprehension and recall of the information in the future. 

summarizing graphic organizer example

Using Graphic Organizers for Summarizing Text

Graphic organizers use different types of visual patterns to organize the main events, plot, characters, etc. from a story, informational text, nonfiction passages, and more.  

Therefore, summary graphic organizers are a great option for organizing text. Learning to summarize and summarize well leads to an increase in student learning: it requires a focus on main ideas from the text, the determination of importance of details, the extraction key plot information, and to do all of this concisely. 

Though all graphic organizers provide elements of summary in some way, focusing on summarizing graphic organizers provides students with a life-long skill they can use in various contexts and content areas.

When Should You Use Summarizing Graphic Organizers?

Summarizing graphic organizers are a great option for any of the following: 

1. Reading Comprehension

Summary graphic organizers help advance reading comprehension. Whether your students are tackling fiction or nonfiction text, using summarizing graphic organizers will help them read, comprehend, and quickly identify the most important parts of the text.

2. Writing Skills

Using summarizing graphic organizers can also be great for writing skills. Students can summarize a text they read, and use this summarization to create their own pieces of writing, such an analysis on the passage.

Summarizing can also help students understand the layout of texts, how they come together, and how they share information, helping them recreate this pattern when making their own pieces.

3. Any Other Subject

As noted above, summarizing graphic organizers are great because they really can be used in any content area. Reading comprehension and writing skills are important for every subject—even math and sciences.

Getting into the practice of reading a text and quickly identifying the main ideas advances student comprehension and study skills across the curriculum. Whether it’s a graphic organizer for a story, a chapter summary, or a nonfiction summary, graphic organizers can be used to summarize any informational or creative text.

summarizing graphic organizer example

How Should You Teach Summarizing Graphic Organizers?


Summarizing graphic organizers benefit from being taught explicitly. Teachers should show students how to use the graphic organizer by explaining how to extract information from the text and fill it in. This may need to be repeated with different content areas or types of text (e.g. if they are summarizing a video lesson, a textbook chapter, or an essay). 

While learning, having students complete a graphic organizer in a small group allows them time to discuss information as they determine importance and place in the organizer.

By explicitly reviewing which parts of the texts should be included in the organizer, and why, it shows students not only how to extract the correct information, but also why this information is important to the overall purpose of the text. 

If you’re adding information to a graphic organizer without explaining why it’s included (e.g. why the time period may be important to the story) it will limit students from summarizing effectively on their own.

With the Correct Placement : 

Summarizing a story or text helps students structure a story by retelling the beginning, middle, and end. And just as important as understanding those parts of a story is where to place your graphic organizer in the text. 

Do you put it after a dense passage to encourage comprehension before students continue? Do you place it at the end of the reading so students will summarize it all? Do you do both? 

While there may not be one right answer to this, considering where to include your summarizing graphic organizer is an important part of the lesson. For example, you won’t put a summarizing graphic organizer before the reading, but that could be a good place for a prediction graphic organizer. 

Choosing the Best Summarizing Graphic Organizer:  

Again, don’t stress, but summarizing graphic organizers may be better for certain content, or for certain students. And summarizing graphic organizers can come in different forms. Some may like using story maps, others may prefer story retelling ropes, or some with just sequences written in numbered order. 

These different types of summarizing organizers and maps help students visually represent information in a manner that is logical and clear to them, helping not only to organize the information, but also for recall

Showing students a basic summarizing graphic organizer can help them understand the overall concept, while different types can help different students based on their age, abilities, and learning style. 

summarizing graphic organizer example

Where Can You Get Summarizing Graphic Organizers?

1. Make Your own

The cheapest way to get summary graphic organizers and worksheets is to make your own, or have your students make their own. If you’re only using one type of graphic organizer, it won’t be tough to show students an outline, and have them copy it over.

However, if you’re looking at a wide range of GO’s (summarizing, and others), using a service could be helpful. At LessonWriter, all lessons include whichever type of graphic organizer you choose, placed wherever you want in the text. And remember, LessonWriter has a free option for teachers! 

2. Buy some!

Need some inspiration on making your own summary graphic organizer documents? Check out Pinterest or Instagram for some fun—or straightforward—ideas. Note, Pinterest may lead you to sites to purchase certain organizers.

If you want text-specific organizers, designed organizers (mentioned above), or just want to save some time, also be sure to check out Teachers Pay Teachers or other paid teacher resource sites. Teachers Pay Teachers has options in various subjects, standards, and formats.

However, don’t feel the need to spend your money on graphic organizers. Teachers Pay Teachers may have some free downloads, which leads us to…

3. Download from education sites

You can download free organizers online, such as on Teachers Pay Teachers, or these options from Scholastic. But, if you want them to be specified to certain parts of your text, and integrated into your lessons, check out LessonWriter’s graphic organizer options. Remember, it’s free too!

Get a Free Summarizing Graphic Organizer Here!

Download a free summarizing graphic organizer that you can use with any subject or text. It’s editable, so feel free to make changes specific for your classroom and students!

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