Published in Using HOW2s, Visuals and Learning Matters

Advance Organisers

Writing learning objectives on the board may be necessary but it is certainly insufficient. Students need more. They need to know how the lesson, and those that follow, join together to answer the central questions of the topic. They need to know where they’re going and why.

Four types of advance organiser

According to Robert Marzano, there are four types of advance organiser.

Expository (effect size 0.80): These are descriptive in nature. Teachers gives an overview of the topic to be covered. She might write short explanations for students to read aloud.

Narrative (effect size 0.53): The power of story telling is used to engage and inform. The teacher makes frequent bridging connections between the story and students’ lives. After the story, the teacher highlights the key ideas. This approach taps into students’ prior knowledge for better assimilation of new material.

Skimming (effect size 0.71): Students are asked to skim read a passage, but only after having been taught how to do so. Then in pairs they compare what they have grasped from their skimming. This is followed by reading the passage in full, paying attention to the details.

Graphic organisers (effect 1.24): While this form of advance organiser requires more effort on the teacher’s part, it also reaps more benefits. That’s because the teacher has to extract the key ideas of the forthcoming topic and arrange them visually so their connections convey meaning.

A variation is for the teacher to create a partially-complete organiser and to ask the students to complete it. They could do so before studying the topic as a means of connecting to their prior knowledge and to prompt them to make predictions.

An example for a Unit Organiser

This is a rather special example and not something you ordinarily see. Nonetheless I think it really worthwhile to study in detail. It outlines the concepts, schedule, questions and logistics of a forthcoming unit of work.

From Lenz et al, 1994, The Unit Organiser Routine

Sections 1, 2 & 3: The units are placed in time which helps connect the topics into a coherent narrative.

Section 4: The concept map clearly reveals the major ideas and their relationships. The teacher can explain this and organise activities around it to ensure the students have grasped these key concepts from the outset.

Section 5: The four major ways of thinking about the topic are delineated. These types of thinking are: descriptive, comparing and contrasting, cause and effect. They represent different ways of understanding the content.

Section 6: The key questions posed about the content, organised in terms of the types of thinking.

Section 7: Finally, the schedule in which all the above takes place.


There is an A4 one-sided summary PinPoint on advance organisers if you would like to learn more about them.

Advance organiser HOW2s

In the graphic organiser collection of the library, there are HOW2s that take you through the use of advance organisers.

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