English Learners

Graphic Organizers for ELL Students

4 Min Read
WF1714365 Graphic Organizers for ELL Students hero

Growing up in a bilingual household, Spanish and English were intertwined. We’d eat dinner a la mesa [at the table], and afterward, I’d play with my muñecas [dolls]. So, when a 5-year-old me stepped into my kindergarten classroom as a multilingual learner, I was met with words in English that I had never heard of before. I’d swap back and forth between languages when trying to write a story, figure out a math problem, and even express when I had to sharpen my pencil. Luckily, my teacher found ways to help me visualize, make connections, and build vocabulary using graphic organizers.

Graphic organizers are great tools to help English language learners—and all students—construct deeper understanding and map information. Learn how to use graphic organizers to guide ELL students in writing, comprehension, and more.

A note on language: we employ the common phrases multilingual learner, English learner, and English language learner, along with the acronym ELL, but we also recognize that this is imperfect nomenclature. Students who are learning English do not fit neatly into a single label.

Benefits of Graphic Organizers

Graphic organizers are visual learning tools to organize ideas. They can also serve as scaffolding tools when teaching reading comprehension skills (like identifying the main idea) or leading a research or brainstorming session. Graphic organizers break down how we process information and make complex concepts more comprehensible for students.

Graphic organizers can be easily modified to differentiate instruction for multilingual learners. For example, students can be asked to illustrate what they understand along with their writing. Graphic organizers can also help students in oral language practice. Use graphic organizers during small-group activities, and allow English language learners to work collaboratively and share their ideas with their peers.

Word Map: Vocabulary Graphic Organizer for ELL Students

Graphic organizers can be particularly helpful for English language learners when learning new vocabulary as they allow students to illustrate new terms and make connections between words.

Word maps help ELL students develop their understanding of words. In a word map, students can think about words in different ways, identifying synonyms and antonyms. Students can also create a visual representation of the term and define vocabulary in their own words. This tool can be used across subject areas to build academic vocabulary.

Venn Diagram: Compare and Contrast Graphic Organizer

Graphic organizers can also help multilingual learners recognize relationships between ideas to further make connections.

Venn diagrams are used to note similarities and differences between two topics. A Venn diagram is composed of at least two overlapping circles to represent different topics. Each circle displays distinct characteristics of each topic, and the center displays commonalities between them all. Venn diagrams are a great tool to teach ELL students comparing and contrasting.

Sandwich Chart: Writing Graphic Organizer for ELL Students

When ELL students are writing, graphic organizers walk them through writing strategies to map out ideas for an essay or report.

A sandwich chart likens writing to building a sandwich. Each piece of the sandwich represents a part of an essay. Students can organize their opening sentence, details, and closing sentence with this writing graphic organizer.

KWL Chart: Graphic Organizer to Activate Background Knowledge

Multilingual learners come into the classroom with a wealth of knowledge. Graphic organizers can help tap into what students already know and what they want to learn next.

KWL charts can be used to engage students in a new topic and activate prior knowledge. With a KWL chart, students first write down what they know about a topic (K) and then write what they want to know (W). Once students have researched and studied the topic at hand, they’ll jot down what they have learned (L). This tool allows them to connect new content knowledge to their lived experiences and helps teachers identify students’ existing background knowledge. KWL charts can be used across content areas.

Juggling multiple languages is an impressive feat, and with tools like graphic organizers, teachers can make learning in a new language a whole lot easier.

Find additional graphic organizers to use with your multilingual students on Shaped.


Address the range of English learners’ needs with our English language development programs.

Join Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera and Dr. Giselle Carpio-Williams for a learning session and discussion about honoring and building upon multilingual learners’ existing strengths in the webinar, "Building From Strengths: Centering Multilingual Learners’ Cultures and Language Practices."

Download our free guide to using response frames with multilingual learners.

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