Use of Knowledge Organisers

Resources, ideas and prompts for discussion related to Deliberate Practice and retrieval based tasks

What are KOs and how do they work?

Knowledge organisers have been alluded to in other Retrieval Practice section pages. They are simple tools that aim to provide ultimate clarity for both learners and the teacher about what is key to be learned for a given topic or module. Successful knowledge organisers commonly condense and summarise the most vital content knowledge on a single page (A4 preferably but sometimes A3).

Below is an example from Joe Kirby’s blog on ‘Knowledge Organisers’ for Year 7 History. It condenses timelines, activities, quotes, and vocabulary for a unit delivered on apartheid South Africa.

Example Knowledge Organiser on apartheid South Africa, by Joe Kirby.

This example is taken from Maths, by William Emeny (on the Great Maths Teaching Ideas blog site) who applied Joe Kirby’s principles. William took the learning objective “to be able to apply the special triangle facts” and converted it into a single page Knowledge Organiser where everything was presented in a way that makes it very clear what was needed to be learned, and it facilitates testing as we will see later.

Knowledge Organiser by Wlliam Emeny on Triangle Facts

William’s top tip is to always make Knowledge Organisers in PowerPoint using tables. Then in future you can copy and paste any section quickly into a new document, delete some content and use it as a retrieval task for memory. As he did with this task he set, where learners had to recall the angle facts:

Students have to fill in the blank column. By building the knowledge organisers in PowerPoint it is easy to then copy the table from the Knowledge Organiser to another PowerPoint and delete the contents of one column

Joe cleverly has done the same thing by deleting sections of his Year 7 History example – but you can make use of the same content in multiple ways, for example he used the timeline section of the KO to set a task on recalling dates, and on another occasion provided the dates but asked for the events. It is constantly giving the memory a workout!

Same content tested multiple ways on different occasions.

How Departments can get the most out of KOs

If Knowledge Organisers are really going to help learning and retention the content and design needs to be considered (they tend to avoid lots of distraction with colours and crazy fonts). Used badly they can become a mass of disconnected facts and figures squeezed onto a page, stuck in the back of an exercise book and forgotten about. A helpful summary for Departments comes from the Class Teaching blog by Shaun Allison who has shared what staff at his school discussed when looking at KOs during an INSET session:

  • Design them in a way to facilitate quizzing: for example keep words and definitions in separate boxes, so one can be deleted or covered up.
  • Make practice cumulative: When using them for testing and learning don’t just test one section, over time include more and more of the organiser.
  • Encourage learners to use them for self-checking and identifying what they know less well when it comes to revision and recap sessions.
  • Teachers can use them for questioning learners on the spot: Tell students to put their away but you keep a copy out and pose a few questions using the KO as you cue.
  • Differentiate the delivery, not the organiser: This is an interesting point, they suggest all students have the same organiser to maintain challenge and aspiration. Use your explanations, modelling and questioning as the differentiation not the resource.

There is potential then to get lots of impact from one learning tool. Some schools have even explored ways where the Knowledge Organiser forms and replaces a traditional Scheme of Learning, where it acts as a reminder to the teacher of what needs to be covered and planning simply accounts for dealing with various sections of the KO through explanation, modelling, questioning and feedback over a period of lessons.

Associated further reading and references:

%d bloggers like this: