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Using Summary Graphic Organizers: Visually Summarizing a Text

By Keren Perles

If you’re a visual learner, using summarizing graphic organizers can help you to summarize a text more easily. The type of graphic organizer you choose will be based on the type of text (fiction or nonfiction), as well as its content.

Sequence of Events Organizer

There are several summarizing graphic organizers you can use, but perhaps the most basic one to use for fiction texts is the sequence of events organizer. To create it, you would simply draw several boxes in a horizontal line and connect them with arrows pointing to the right. Then, you would fill in the most important events in the story from left to right, so that the viewer could easily see where each event falls.

Another variation on this organizer is a timeline, which is essentially a graphic organizer as well. The difference between these two methods of organizing story events is that a timeline requires specific markers that show time, such as days, years, or eras. A sequence of events organizer, however, does not show the span of time between each event, so it does not need these markers.

Story Map Organizer

Another summarizing graphic organizer for a fictional text is a story map. Although this organizer contains one component that is similar to a sequence of events organizer, it is far more complex. Above the sequence of events chain, a story map includes several boxes, one each for the characters in the story, the story’s setting, and the main conflict in the story. Below the sequence of events chain, the story map includes a box for the resolution of the conflict and, if desired, the theme of the story. This summarizing graphic organizer enables the viewer to see not only the main points of the plot, but also the story’s other narrative elements.

Reverse Pyramid Organizer

If you’re having a difficult time summarizing a complex text concisely, using a reverse pyramid organizer can help. To do this, draw a large upside down triangle. At the widest part of the triangle, write down several sentences that retell the information or storyline in the text. Then draw a line beneath these sentences, and try to eliminate excess information or combine ideas from several sentences to write a shorter summary. Draw another line beneath this summary, and continue with this process until you have reached the bottom – the tip – of the pyramid. Your summary should now be short and concise, including only the most essential events or information in the text.

Cause and Effect Organizer

Many nonfiction texts are built around a cause-and-effect organization. In some texts, there may be several causes of one effect (such as “The Events that Led to the Revolutionary War”), and in other texts, there may be several effects of one cause (such as “The Impact of Global Warming on the Oceans”). In these cases, you can use a cause and effect organizer to visually summarize a text. To do this, you would place one or several boxes for the cause or causes in a horizontal line, with one or several boxes for the effect or effects in a second horizontal line below. You would then draw arrows connecting the cause(s) to the resulting effect(s). You could also use cause-and-effect chains as summarizing graphic organizers, in which each effect causes something else to happen. (This would look like a vertical sequence of events organizer.)

Other types of graphic organizers can also be helpful for summarizing a text. See this article for some types of graphic organizers you might use.