Designing Knowledge Organisers

By Adam Woodward

In my previous article, I spoke about the research behind memory and retaining information in relation to the implementation of knowledge organisers within the primary classroom. Below, I move on to explain the process of designing knowledge organisers for my school and explain the rationale behind them and the “dos and donts” regarding their creation, ensuring that the benefits of them provide children with the perfect platform to retain and retrieve core knowledge around a subject.

When implementing knowledge organisers as one form of retrieval practice in my school, it was important that teachers did not feel overwhelmed with their introduction. Therefore, I began this process with the Humanities subjects of History and Geography. They are the backbone to the primary curriculum, and this seemed like a logical place to start to be able to develop their implementation as a form of planning for curriculum progression across the school.

An important part of the process when designing knowledge organisers is that it begins and ends with the class teacher. The first step that is taken is to ask class teachers what the key knowledge is that is included within their unit. These conversations occur in plenty of time before a unit begins and teachers provide this information, including any diagrams, maps or case studies that they want to include.

I spend the time creating these, making sure that links are made with prior units in conjunction with our humanities lead. The class teacher, in liaison with our Humanities lead, then has the final say on the design for use in their classes.

The focus when designing knowledge organisers needs to revolve around the identification of key elements of knowledge required during a unit. These include (but are not restricted to) the inclusion of key dates, events, people and vocabulary. It is important to make links back to prior learning as part of a progressive curriculum model that builds upon the learning that has taken place in the unit, term or year before.

An example of this can be found in our history knowledge organisers where a historical contextsection can be located. This section purposefully links back to periods of history previously covered within the curriculum.

This example clearly shows children where this unit is located in relation to other units covered from the Celts through to the end of World War II. This unit is purposefully placed after our World War II unit for pupils to see the consequences of the war on the population.

In my school, I am responsible for the creation of these. It is a huge task initially, and I am fortunate to be in a position where I have time to be able to do this. I also understand that context is key and not all teachers have this benefit. However, I feel that it is important to ask the question Why not give full autonomy to class teachers?

Three reasons why I’m designing knowledge organisers

1. Workload

Asking teachers to design their own knowledge organisers adds extra work on teachers who work incredibly hard. With this added expectation, there is a chance that their creation could end up at the bottom of a to do listpile and not created to a standard that children would benefit from, therefore making their use and application redundant. By investing the time that I have available in creating these, I can relieve this workload and support class teachers in implementing knowledge organisers, entwined with other forms of retrieval practice, into their curriculum with purpose.

2. Consistency

I can make sure that there is clear progression across the school. One example of this is the use of dual coding within a knowledge organiser. Whenever a key word or vocabulary choice appears, the same icon is used across the school, so children are exposed to and reminded of the context of that word or period of history. If teachers were responsible for the design of their own knowledge organisers, there is the chance that different icons could be used in different organisers, thus not forming such a secure schema.

3. Quality control

I have felt it important that each follows a similar structure, layout and organisation. For children, this breeds confidence as they know what to expect and recognise from knowledge organisers throughout their time in school.

However, as I stated previously, I am in a fortunate position of having the time to be able to create these. For other contexts, and to meet the reasons that I state above, the creation of a school-wide working partycould ensure that workload, consistency and quality control are all managed across the school.

Above is an example of a knowledge organiser for a Year 6 History unit. Most importantly is the historical context and where that period of history falls within other units that have been taught. For this example, Year 6 are going back in timeto a period in world history after covering elements of most of the other periods identified in this section.

Key vocabulary is clearly vital too. I have already mentioned the necessity of dual coding as a key part of the knowledge organisers that I create and this is visible here (as it is within the historical context too). An example of the importance of dual coding is the icon used to demonstrate the word, Invaders.This same image can be seen in other knowledge organisers containing the same word, including the use of it within our Anglo Saxons unit for Year 4. Key vocabulary choices are made to be included here but clearly not exhaustive. There isnt enough room to include everything and, if I did, it would distract from other key areas of the unit.

With the timeline of key events, it is vital for most historical units to show the progression of a period of history. Again, note the use of dual coding. Some icons can be identified in both the timeline and vocabulary and this is done purposefully for children to be able to identify links here.

Other important visuals including maps of key areas, and, in this case, an image of the Maya number system, add more visual detail to the unit and vital elements of knowledge for children to use and apply in their learning.

There is a discussion as to whether knowledge organisers are applicable to KS1 children and what they can gain from them. For me, there are many reasons why they have a place in a KS1 classroom as much as they do elsewhere.

Firstly, there is the need for all schools to have high expectations of children, especially those of a younger age. By providing examples for KS1, we are increasing the expectations of how we want children to access their learning. By providing this expectation early on, children also have the opportunity to become familiar with the structure and layout at an early age. There should not be anything on here that wont be covered during the unit itself so there is nothing that children wont eventually become familiar with, regardless of what year they are in.

Note the use of high-order vocabulary – palaeontologist for example. This is not an oversight. Whilst it is not expected that the children know how to spell the word from memory, what we should expect is an understanding of what a palaeontologist is and their role within the unit.

Explanations need to be clear, however, so that children are not overloaded with lots of information. Working memory is limited and so the inclusion of just the vital elements of the unit is important here. As is the inclusion of dual coding theory, similar to other knowledge organisers. There is a need for more examples of this to be included in younger year groups so that children are able to make more visual links. Therefore, a more visual experience, but one that still has a place and a purpose within the curriculum.

As has already been stated (but cannot be overstated), knowledge organisers support teachers in the classroom when it comes to planning, teaching and assessment. However, children need to be given the opportunity to engage with them.

One way of supporting this outside the classroom is by sharing them with parents. The way that we have done that is by sending these to parents via our school bulletin with a preamble as to what they are and how they can be used effectively to support the learning of the children. We also state how parents can be supporting the acquiring of key knowledge with their children.

Sharing these at home also promotes revision techniques and independent study as we ask for these to be printed and pinned to the fridge or bedroom wall with the hope that discussion around the dining table can also be had. In a world dominated by screens and digital media, we see this as a great way for families to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of a unit together.

As with anything, the impact of knowledge organisers in the primary classroom is only as successful as how they are used and applied. I have compiled some quick dos and dontswhen creating and implementing these to provide a useful guide for their use.

DO

DON’T

*Focus on vocabulary – what do you want children to retain? Make sure that the definition is in child speak as the word in isolation means nothing.

*Share them – make sure that knowledge organisers are not just tucked away and forgotten about. Refer to them regularly and increase their importance through regular retrieval practice.

*Refer to prior learning – as with all retrieval practices, there should be regular opportunities to refer to prior knowledge from units taught across the school. Make sure that children see the links and the purpose for what is being taught. This can be achieved in many forms like links to historical concepts or the effective use of dual coding on a knowledge organiser.

*Ensure consistency – I have made the decision to design all of these for my school, but there isn’t a reason why a working party couldn’t produce something of a similar quality. What is important is that everyone involved in the process is aware of what should be included.

*Include an overload of information – keep the information important and key. You cannot include a whole unit’s knowledge on a knowledge organiser so keep it important. If there is too much information, the organiser itself becomes a distraction.

*Think that sticking into books is enough – it is a common downfall of the knowledge organiser. They are stuck in books and forgotten about. Make sure that they are referred to and acknowledged regularly.

*Let children use them in retrieval tasks – for children to get the most from knowledge organisers and to be taking in the information from them, when they are quizzed, by having access to them, children are not remembering key information, but are just copying what has been produced for them. You will only know the impact that a knowledge organiser is having when it is not available for children to use.

*Differentiate them – apart from the obvious workload issue, all children should be able to access a knowledge organiser no matter their ability or SEND need. As the organiser contains all of the key knowledge for the unit, if you differentiate these, you are ultimately depriving some children from access to key knowledge that others would have available to them.

You can read more articles by Adam Woodward here.

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