Using knowledge organisers

Posted by Ewa Jozefkowicz on Nov 22, 2019 9:33:37 AM


A knowledge organiser is a single sheet of paper that lists the important facts – not practical skills – that pupils should know by the end of a unit of work. They can be used by senior leaders, curriculum leaders, teachers, parents and pupils in order to plan areas of knowledge which need to be taught, and to help check progress. In the below blog post we look at what makes a good knowledge organiser and how to write one. 

What makes a good one?

  1. A4. It should fit onto 1 side of A4 paper – any more is overwhelming
  2. Chunked. It should be sorted into clear sections (usually including 'vocabulary')
  3. Numbered. Each item of 'knowledge' (or 'fact') should be numbered, to make the organiser easy to use as a quiz 
  4. Concise. Each fact should be short and clear – avoid rambling explanations
  5. Factual. Keep practical skills out – focus on knowledge only

How to write one

It's likely that your subject leaders and/or other teachers in charge of curriculum planning will do this. Here's how to go about it in 3 key steps:

1. Identify

  • Decide on the unit or topic you want to focus on and make it specific – e.g. call it  'Anglo-Saxon Britain: 410-1066' rather than 'castles and knights'

(Use your curriculum maps to identify your units or topics. If your curriculum maps need sharpening, take a look at some examples from primary schools here.)

2. Curate 

  • Create a list of the 'foundational facts' for that unit or topic – what you'd expect pupils to know by the end of studying it
  • Make sure you write each fact in as few words as possible

3. Organise

  • Sort your foundational facts into logical themes or 'chunks' – for example, 'important people' or 'timeline of events' – and present them in tables under clear headings
  • Make each fact 'quizzable' by splitting it into 2 parts in the table (for example, 'leader of Germany in the Second World War' in one column, and 'Adolf Hitler' in another)  

10 ways to use knowledge organisers in the classroom

5 for teachers (planning, delivery and assessment)

  1. Set the scene: show the knowledge organiser at the start of the lesson, and draw attention to the facts that pupils will explore and how these fit into the bigger picture. This will give pupils a sense of perspective and coherence
  2. Assess pupils' knowledge: give pupils a 'blanked out' knowledge organiser as an end-of-unit assessment, to help judge how much of your intended curriculum pupils have actually learned
  3. Check previous knowledge: give pupils the knowledge organiser for a previously covered topic at intervals that get increasingly longer, to help them revisit and retain key facts
  4. Make clear links with prior and future learning: when lesson planning, look at knowledge organisers from previous or later year groups/units to quickly get a sense of what pupils have previously covered or need to know for future units
  5. Ensure progression: tailor key concepts and vocabulary on the knowledge organiser so that they become increasingly complex and ensure pupils are progressing

5 for pupils (retrieval activities)

  1. Flashcards: get pupils to make a set of flashcards that include all of knowledge items for one section. They can then use them in spare moments for self-quizzing
  2. Paired retrieval: get pupils to quiz each other on a knowledge item. Partner A reads out one part of the knowledge item (for example, ‘The Sea of Tranquility') and Partner B responds with the associated information ('a large, dark area of the moon where the astronauts of Apollo 11 landed')
  3. Self-quizzing: ask pupils to use a blank piece of paper to cover one column of a table on the knowledge organiser, give them a few minutes to write down the associated definitions to each term, then allow them to check their answers
  4. Online quizzing: use an online quizzing platform such as Quizlet or Kahoot to create questions linked to the knowledge organiser, which pupils can complete independently or for homework
  5. 'Just a Minute': based on the popular Radio 4 show, ask pupils to try to list facts from their knowledge organiser for 1 minute straight, without repetition, hesitation or deviation

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Topics: learning, teaching, knowledge organisers