Acquiring vocabulary, part II

9 strategies for using graphic organizers

By Deborah Espitia

April 16, 2018

I see it, I say it, I know it... but, maybe not

In Part I of our Aquiring Vocabulary series: I see it, I say it, I know it... right? , we set the scene for a movement in which fewer and fewer teachers are exposing students to meaningless drill and practice exercises to help them acquire new content. Instead, teachers are moving toward truly authentic resources and communicative tasks to teach vocabulary and language structures in context.

Hand-in-hand with contextual learning is making input comprehensible so that learners can then produce comprehensible output. Leading experts in the field of education, such as Robert J. Marzano, address the need to include such non-linguistic representations to create context and meaning in acquiring content. But, it’s what the teacher has learners do in relation to these non-linguistic representations that’s the bridge to acquiring the content.  

Through his research, Marzano (Classroom Instruction that Works, 2001) outlines five strategies that use non-linguistic representations to assist learners in acquiring content:

  • Creating graphic organizers;

  • Making physical models;

  • Generating mental pictures;

  • Drawing pictures and pictographs; and

  • Engaging in kinesthetic activity.

In Part II of our series, let’s take a closer look at creating and using graphic organizers to support vocabulary acquisition. We can’t wear out the use of graphic organizers – there are so many variations.  Here are just a few that we use in our new EntreCulturas 1, 2, 3 series that you may adapt to your lesson plans on vocabulary development.


Interpretive Mode

Graphic organizers help students process what they are reading, hearing, or viewing.

​​​​​Evidence Chart 

Defiende las ideas (Novice High) – Gather evidence from two infographics to support the notion that Miami is more than just a city in Southern Florida, but also “la capital, comercial, y global de las Américas.”  Chart source: EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 6, Actividad 41, p. 348

Information Gathering 

¿Cuánto vas a gastar? (Intermediate Low) – Listen to three students talk about what clothing they will buy in a Peruvian shop with the $100 they each have.  Note that the rate of exchange is 3.29 soles per dollar. Record the price in soles and dollars; then, indicate how much money is left over. Chart source: EntreCulturas 2, Unidad 5, Actividad 13, Paso 3B, p. 265

Main idea and Supporting Detail

Beneficios de los primeros trabajos para adolescentes (Intermediate Mid) – Watch the video to discover the five main benefits of a young person’s first job and write them above the appropriate description in the newspaper article.  Then, read the benefit listed in the article, and on the organizer, add more benefits. Chart source: EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 5, Actividad 3, Paso 3, p. 233


Interpersonal Mode

Graphic organizers assist students in collecting their thoughts before having to engage in a spoken or written conversation with someone else.


Mi identidad/Tu identidad (Novice Low) – Ask and answer questions of classmates to discover who they are. Record their responses. Targeted vocabulary is listed on the organizer along with a model conversation.  Chart source: EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 1, Actividad 5, Paso 1, p. 43


Aprovechando una oferta especial (Intermediate Low) –  Take advantage of a sale while shopping for clothes with a friend.  First, review three different scenarios that may occur and make notes of vocabulary, phrases, or questions that may be useful. Chart source: EntreCulturas 2, Unidad 5, En camino B, Paso 3, p. 281

Main idea and Supporting Detail

Beneficios de los primeros trabajos para adolescentes (Intermediate Mid) – Use the information in the organizer in which you captured the benefits of working, along with your own ideas, to engage in a chat on the class forum. Explain why having a job now will benefit you in the future.  Read classmates' responses and reply with a comment or a question. Chart source: EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 5, Actividad 3, Paso 3, p. 233


Presentational Mode

Students can use graphic organizers to plan spoken and written presentations.


Turistas en Santo Domingo (Novice Mid) – Put together an itinerary of things to see while in the Dominican Republic with your class for Carnaval, using charts and exercises in EntreCulturas 1, Unidad 5, Vive en culturas.



Iconos que nos representan (Intermediate Low) – Identify icons (i.e., places, animals, clothing, food, people) that represent the communities of which you are a part. Use the icons to create a t-shirt to sell to visitors to your area; be prepared to explain your concept to the shop owner selling the shirt. Chart source: EntreCulturas 2, Unidad 3, Actividad 5, Paso 4, p. 130


Main idea and Supporting Detail

Beneficios de los primeros trabajos para adolescentes (Intermediate Mid) – You would like to work this summer, but you have to convince your parents who want you to use the time to study. Use the information in the organizer in which you captured the benefits of working, along with your own ideas, to prepare the rationale you are going to present to them. Chart Source: EntreCulturas 3, Unidad 5, Actividad 3, Paso 3, p. 233


Tying It All Together

Did you observe that throughout the Intermediate Mid tasks, we used the same graphic organizer for the various activities in the different modes? The repeated tasks with the same vocabulary and language structures, but in new contexts, will add to language acquisition.

These are just a few types of graphic organizers available and kinds of activities in which students can engage.  Please share in the comment section ideas you have or connect with myself and the rest of the Wayside team on social media! Stay tuned to this blog space for the next in our series of strategies to link vocabulary acquisition and communication.


For more of the Acquiring Vocabulary blog series:

Part I: 5 Strategies to create meaning in learning vocabulary

Part III: 10 ways to get students moving with physical models and kinesthetic activity

Part IV: Mental Pictures and Drawing


  • Espitia, D., García, P., Cornell, J., & Vásquez Gil, I. (2017). EntreCulturas 3. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.

  • Mar, A., Davis, R., Sloan, M. & Watson-López, G. (2017). EntreCulturas 1. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.

  • Marzano, R., Pickering, D. & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom Instruction That Works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

  • Schwenkler C., Cory, M., Carrión, P. (2017) EntreCulturas 2. Freeport, ME: Wayside Publishing.



Deborah Espitia
Instructional Strategist, author, and educator
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