Many teachers use advance organizers without realizing the power of what they are doing. Many just call them agendas.
In The Religion Teacher’s Guide to Lesson Planning, I defined advance organizers as “agendas that give students an idea of what they will be learning that day or during a lecture.”
It sounds simple enough, but it has a profound effect.
A major problem that students have is staying focused in class. They crave the context needed to understand what they are learning and why it is applicable to their lives. By providing students with an advance organizer, teachers provide a framework in which the days lesson can be understood.
Advance Organizer Diagram
Examine the image below. As you can see, advance organizers have the power to touch three major areas of the learning process.
This is the true power of the advance organizer. Students know what to expect or know what to look for when they encounter new information.
Receive New Information
Students receive new information in the form of direct instruction (lecture), reading, class discussion, watching a video, etc.
Organize New Information
At this stage in the learning process, students make connections between their prior knowledge and the new information they are learning. The advance organizer allows them to effectively organize and understand what they have been taught. It will make note-taking much more effective.
Examples of Advance Organizers
1. Student Objectives
One of the most common examples of an advance organizer is the student learning objectives. Many schools are required to share the learning objective or learning standard with the students daily by writing them on the board (Students will be able to...). This is a good way to keep you accountable as well and remind you and the students of the objective of the lesson. You will stay on task.
2. Agenda Items
Especially when teachers have a lot to cover, they write the day’s activities on the board. When they complete an activity or worksheet, they cross out the item and move on to the next one. At the very least, this gives students an idea of how much more they have to go until the class is over. Believe it or not, this will help them pay attention more if they know there is an end in sight.
3. Textbook Headings
If you follow your textbook, you can use an advance organizer as a pre-reading strategy. Have the students skim the textbook and write the headings and subheadings on the board as a numbered list of agenda items to cover.
Instead of writing a to-do list on the board, write questions that will be answered or discussed in a given lesson. Again, this will give a context to the new information that students learn in the course of a lesson. You can really get their attention if you announce that these questions will be on the next test or in a quiz at the end of the class.
5. Graphic Organizers
If you use graphic organizers, you can introduce them as a part of your advance organizer for the day. For example, you can give a KWL Chart and have students recall their prior knowledge about a topic. Complete the prior knowledge portion of the graphic organizer as a class and refer back to it throughout the lesson. You might also create an incomplete graphic organizer or mind map and place it on the board.