Brainstorming Graphic Organizers Study Guide (page 3)
Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.
Daniel Burnham, American architect and city planner (1846–1912)
Word webs, Venn diagrams, and concept maps are called graphic organizers because they do just that: organize ideas graphically. So they're really helpful when you're brainstorming your thoughts to find solutions to problems. In this lesson, you'll discover how to use them, and other graphic organizers, to your advantage.
Once you recognize and define a real problem, it's time to start looking for a viable, effective solution. That's why brainstorming is such an important critical-thinking skill in a problem/solution situation. Brainstorming allows you to come up with as many ideas as possible, including way out-of-the-box suggestions, without making any judgments. You've probably done brainstorming before to generate ideas when assigned a group project in school or to plan a writing assignment. You probably made a list of ideas, or possible solutions, on paper. Then what?
While lists are good for recording information, they don't help you organize your thoughts very well. But graphic organizers do. They combine words and images so that you can see a lot of information at a glance. By visually arranging information, you can map your thoughts. That map can point you toward effective decisions and solutions.
Graphic organizers more effective than lists because they:
- are a meaningful display of complex information.
- help you see patterns and methods in your thinking.
- help you gather and compress information.
- keep you focused on the problem.
- show what you know and what you still need to find out.
- help you interpret your thoughts and ideas.
The types of graphic organizers covered in this lesson are:
- concept map: explores a simple topic or problem
- web: helps determine possible solutions for problems that have more than one cause or symptom
- Venn diagram: finds solutions by showing common ground between two or more causes or symptoms of a problem
- chart: compares and contrasts two or more elements
- problem/solution chart: outlines a problem, including its causes and effects, while producing possible solutions and outcomes to those solutions
Concept maps, also called target maps, should be used when you are exploring a topic that is not complex. To make one, draw a circle and add spokes radiating from it. Put your central idea or problem in the middle, and add possible solutions around it in any order. The following example visually arranges a simple decision and the factors that may be used in making that decision.
Webs are more structured and complex graphic organizers than concept maps. They're called webs because they look somewhat like a spider's web. These organizers help when you need to find possible solutions to a problem that has a number of causes. To create a web, write the problem in a circle. Next, write the causes in smaller, secondary circles and draw a line from each to the problem. Then, from each secondary circle, draw lines to other circles in which you list possible solutions. Here's an example:
A Venn diagram shows the relationships among a group of objects that have something in common. Like a web, it is useful when you want to find solutions to a problem with two or three symptoms or elements. To create a Venn diagram:
- ask yourself, "What are the different symptoms of the problem?"
- write each element in a circle, and have each circle overlap (as shown on the following page)
- ask yourself, "What can I do differently to resolve each overlapping set of symptoms, or how can I use these elements together to arrive at a solution?" (circle A and circle B)
- repeat the previous step with circles B and C, and A and C
- fill in the overlapping areas with your responses
You received $2,000 from the estate of a distant relative. You always wanted to travel to Europe, but you have also been trying to save money to renovate your bedroom. In addition, a local nursery is going out of business and the landscaping project you have only dreamed about could be yours for a 50% discount. To help determine what you should do with the money, create a Venn diagram showing the possible answers and ask yourself which is more important or deserving between each set of answers.
Charts are also great for comparing two or more things. They let you clearly see how each item is similar to and different from the others. To make a valuable chart, choose and write the things you want to compare, and then list two or more areas in which to compare them. You may need to do some research to accurately complete the chart, but it'll help keep you focused on your purpose as you do your research and work toward a conclusion.
You are trying to decide whether to take a job offer in another state or stay where you are. The considerations are salary, housing, schools, and standard of living. While you already have the salary information, you will need to go to the library or Internet to find out the other facts you need to make your comparison. To guide you in your search, you create a chart that looks like this:
The kinds of outlines that use Roman numerals, capital letters, Arabic numbers, and lower case letters are highly structured graphic organizers, so they don't work well for brainstorming. It's hard to come up with ideas quickly when you're trying to figure out where they fit into one of those number/letter outlines! Should this idea have a Roman numeral as a main idea or a capital letter as a supporting detail of that main idea? Or is it a secondary idea that supports the supporting idea? How time consuming and confusing!
Try a problem/solution chart instead. It's a more simply structured outline that can show the same information. Problem/solution charts are helpful because as you fill them out, you:
- clearly delineate the problem at hand, including causes and effects
- come up with solutions, and even possible outcomes of those solutions
The key to good outlining is to distinguish between the main idea and supporting details. A main idea is what something is mostly about; the details support, or tell more about, the main idea. In the previous scenario, the main idea is the dilemma of whether or not to buy a house. Everything else is a detail about that problem.
When you brainstorm, write for another five minutes even if you think you've run out of ideas. Only then should you begin to think through the ideas and narrow the list.
Roadblock to Brainstorming with Graphic Organizers
If you ever have trouble visualizing your problem or its solutions on graphic organizers, you may not have clearly defined your problem. It's virtually impossible to organize the information until you have a real understanding of what you're trying to achieve.
Graphic organizers are great tools for brainstorming. They create visual maps of your thinking, showing patterns and processes where you might not have expected them. Graphic organizers also keep you focused on your objectives, and can clearly point the way to effective solutions and smart decisions.
Skill Building Until Next Time
- Create a chart the next time you're deciding which restaurant to go to or where to spend your vacation. Compare criteria that's important to you, like ambience, service, food choices, beaches, child-friendly, shopping, and museums.
- Think of a problem you had to solve this past year. Make a web showing its causes and solutions, including not only the solution you actually used but many other possible ones.
Exercises for this concept can be found at Brainstorming Graphic Organizers Practice Exercises.
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