Using Graphic Organizer to Develop Academic Writing: Guest-Led Discussion with Joy Peyton

We are delighted to have Joy Kreeft Peyton with us this week to follow up on the excellent webinar she facilitated this afternoon on Using Graphic Organizers to Develop Academic Writing. This discussion will take place between today and Wednesday afternoon. Welcome, Joy!

Joy's Bio: Dr. Joy Kreeft Peyton is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Linguistics. Her work includes implementing and studying approaches to writing that give learners opportunities to express themselves in environments that facilitate learning and success. She has worked on writing projects overseas and in the United States in K-12 and adult education settings.

To get our discussion started, Joy asked me to share the message below. Please feel free to share your experiences and resources and to pose any questions you may have.

I'm looking forward to a robust discussion on this vital topic this week!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Follow Up Discussion

Using Graphic Organizers to Develop Academic Writing

Joy Kreeft Peyton

Thank you so much, Susan, for giving me this opportunity to discuss with this wonderful community one of my favorite topics, providing support for learners who are engaged in different types of writing.

In this discussion we focus on one type of support, graphic organizers, which can provide a wonderful opportunity to work together and think through a topic, organize our thoughts, get ideas down, and start writing. We talked yesterday, and can talk together here, about ways that graphic organizers can be used with adult learners at different levels of English proficiency, from beginning to advanced.

The PowerPoint slides from yesterday give an overview of the topics summarized here and examples of graphic organizers that can be used with learners at different levels of English proficiency. There is a Reference list at the end of the slides. LINK TO SLIDES FROM WEBINAR

TOPIC 1: The slides start with some questions that you might want to think about. Please share your thoughts with the community.

  • What academic and professional writing are the learners in your classes engaged in?
  • How do the learners in your classes feel about being and becoming writers of academic and professional texts?
  • What supports do you or other individuals or sources provide to help them develop their writing?
  • Do the supports that you use promote the types and levels of writing that they need to be able to do?

I look forward to discussing this important topic with you, learning about what you are doing, and interacting about your questions!





I appreciated the resources that you, Joy,  and Susan shared in today's Webinar. Every sample of a graphic organizer invited further reflection on expanded uses of each. I look forward to more ideas and samples!   When I taught college writing to advanced ESL students or Freshman native speakers, graphic organizers were advocated to do what we called "brainstorm webbing" prior to writing. Now we might call it "warming up" or applying the KWL process you covered.    There are two often-ignored aspects that, in my opinion, really challenge many students who are native or non-native speakers of English as they face the need to write academically: (1) lack of familiarity with the terms and concepts of topics that they are given and (2) limited thought-organization skills. I have found it true that "many adults don't write well not because they can't but because they are unfamiliar with the topic or with the US dominant thinking patterns (direct, explicit, and rule-driven).   How do you or others use graphic organizers to help students organize their thoughts around unfamiliar topics? I wonder if instead of entering information, students might enter questions around a main idea. That would be a different interpretation of the KWL process. Leecy

Hi, Leecy. I love your idea of thinking about a topic, and I would add making the specific aspect of the topic very clear (often topics are way too broad), and having students ask questions about the topic possibly in a chart like KWL. Asking questions is a very good way to get started.

To organize thoughts about a topic, a very basic way is to draw a circle in the middle of the page, with the topic there (a word, phrase, or sentence), and start listing words concerning the topic in circles around the center circle. With an unfamiliar topic, the teacher could start listing the words. And maybe around the outside of that set of circles, students could ask questions, that the teacher writes (because if it's an unfamiliar topic, students might not know how to write a lot of the words or the questions).

I'm sure that others have really good ideas as well. Thank you for the great question! 

In the Webinar, we talked about the academic writing skills that adult English learners need in order to be prepared for future academic opportunities, work, and professional opportunities.

  • Analyze and synthesize information from multiple sources

  • Write argumentative, technical, and informative texts

  • Create, argue for, and support a thesis statement

  • Building on the thesis statement, discuss a topic, using relevant reasons and examples

  • Abstract and summarize supporting information

  • Use and credit sources

  • Organize ideas and information coherently, with smooth transitions from one thought to the next

  • Write precisely and concisely, using appropriate vocabulary, sentence structure, grammar, and syntax of standard written English, free of errors in mechanics (spelling and punctuation)

  • Work independently to plan and compose a text

  • Revise and edit the text to improve its clarity, coherence, and correctness

  • Submit a well-edited piece that is easily understood by a native English-speaking professor

[See discussion and references in Fernandez, Peyton, & Schaetzel, 2017, A survey of writing instruction in adult ESL programs: Are teaching practices meeting adult learner needs? Journal of Research and Practice for Adult Literacy, Secondary, and Basic Education, 6(2), 5-20.]

Here are some questions for us to think about together:

  • Do some or all of the things in the list match what students in your classes need to be able to do?

  • Are there additional things that they need to be able to do that aren’t listed?

  • Are you comfortable with your ability to support the learners in your classes in doing these things?

  • What types of supports have you seen that are helpful for students learning to write academic texts?

Hello, wonderful colleagues. Here is another topic we can think about together. Challenges that adult learners and teachers face as we work together to develop learners' skills with academic writing. As we discussed in the Webinar:

Students may feel anxious, alone, and unsupported as they seek to fulfill writing assignments in the ways listed above, in Topic 2, Writing That Adult Learners Need to Be Able to Do. They might feel anxiety about the need to write in these ways. They might feel alone or underprepared as they attempt to put thoughts and words on paper for another person to read.

Teachers might experience challenges as they seek to support learners in this effort.

Some questions for us to think about:

  • Have you seen learners experience anxiety as they engage in academic writing?

  • Are there other challenges that learners face when engaged in writing and completing writing assignments?

  • What challenges do teachers face in trying to provide support and address these challenges?

  • What support and resources do teachers need?

Joy and Others Here, just as we cannot learn when we feel unsafe and stressed, we cannot write or learn to write better, either. Failure and exposure to the "pack"  is what students fear. 

You asked, "What challenges do teachers face in trying to provide support and address these challenges [fears of failure and exposure]?" So many of us more "seasoned" writing instructors are survivors of the red-marks approach to grading. Of course, since we often teach not as we prefer to learn but as we were taught, my students suffered from having their writing decorated by my red marks and comments until I learned better. Perhaps the greatest challenge teachers face is to change the way they teach. Instead of flooding students with fragmented feedback related to incorrect writing, we can focus on smaller issues and always provide positive feedback along with other suggestions for improvement, a bit at a time as they practice new ways of thinking and writing. Of course, using student-centered variety (i.e. organizers) in how we share concepts also promotes safety and community, both of which are essential to most learning.

Thanks for the questions. I hope others share their views here as well in response to them. Leecy

The student I'm tutoring experiences tremendous writing anxiety, partly because she is not an efficient writer in her native language.  She struggles with generating more than one sentence on a topic.  I think using some of the graphic organizers presented will help her generate more ideas about the topic, or, as Leecy suggest below, generate questions about the topic which she can then use to develop several sentences which can be organized into a paragraph.  That would be tremendous progress!

Thank you, Micheline, for giving such a clear description of an actual experience of writing anxiety. I can feel the struggle! I hope that use of graphic organizers, and discussion of the ideas or questions generated, will free this student up. I would love to hear about how it goes! If you feel like it and have time, please post some descriptions of what you all did and what happened here. Or write to me at

Thanks, Joy. What I envisioned at the end of my comments was to have the circle in the middle of the page. However, instead of "listing words concerning the topic in circles around the center circle" as we used to do, I wondered about asking questions in those circles. Has anyone tried that? Leecy

Those working on supporting learners who are engaged in academic writing shows that when they have clear, specific, visible supports for developing this type of writing, they can do it. Support includes opportunities to:

  • Receive guidance from the teacher on ways to develop ideas, write, and revise

  • Interact with others about their writing, from the early stages, with guiding structures such as graphic organizers and lists of questions

  • Read and interact about texts on the topic(s) they are writing about

  • Write as a leisure activity, about topics they care about

  • See how others develop ideas and write, possibly working with more proficient writers

Some questions for us to think about:

  • What kinds of support do you provide for your students as they learn to write and develop as writers?

  • What kinds of support do you need to be able to do this?


Joy, thanks for posing helpful questions that invite us to reflect more on how to support students and ourselves as instructors through the "lonely" process of writing academically. I hope others join us here today!    Perhaps one way to support students is to have them access super-friendly and simple Web resources that allow them to work together or alone to get over their fears without the threat of criticism from peers or instructors.   In helping a group of college students prepare to write a research paper today, I was delighted to find an OER Commons interactive video clip on mapping research questions to help students write research papers. (Also on Youtube:  I thought that the video provided a great example of using a graphic organizer to map ideas in preparation for writing a research paper. Interestingly, the mapping process applies the "brainstorming" concept we have discussed, using questions to add into bubbles. The short video leads to how to address other parts of the research paper.   I would love to build a graphic-organizer library that includes similar links to Web support to add to the instructor and peer supports we have discussed.   Thanks! Leecy    

Leecy, this is a great idea to access friendly, accessible, and clear web resources to feed us ideas and help us organize them and complexify them.

I love the video that you told us about on YouTube, about using the graphic organizer we were talking about -- a central circle with surrounding circles with questions. What a clear demonstration of how to do that! It shows how to get a rich, detailed understanding of our topic, with all kinds of components, then to focus on the point of our paper, and then to proceed with drafting, revising, and writing the paper. I will probably watch that video a number of times. Thank you!

Great, Joy. The OER Commons version doesn't allow the flexibility of the YouTube (going back and forward, stopping, and starting), but it's nice to know that we can use and adapt the whole resource with only attribution required.:) Leecy

Hello Joy and all, For me, one of the most challenging aspects of teaching writing is providing feedback and support to learners to help them improve a piece of writing. Many of us are aware of the research showing that correcting a lot of errors in students' writing is ineffective. Clearly, we want to emphasize the positive aspects of a learner's writing and also provide guidance on how to improve. Toward this end, I like to conference with each student to offer feedback; however, this is time consuming, so it's not always possible to do this during a class period. There are times when all students get is my written comments.

I came across this interesting video of history teacher Anna Rickard who audio records her feedback on student writing and sends it to students as a text or email message. Creating an audio message is more personal than only providing written comments. Rickard surveyed the students about this method of receiving feedback, and students indicated that they understood and learned a lot from the teacher's audio feedback. This method would also save time during class.

I plan to try this idea. I'd love to hear what other teachers think of audio recording feedback on writing.

This video is part of the Mindset Kit website that is featured in the LINCS collection, which offers a wealth of resources including videos, lesson plans and assessments focused on the fostering a growth mindset..

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Hello colleagues, We've provided a link to Joy's PowerPoint which includes a nice list of references, but I wanted to share links to two of Joy's articles that are in the LINCS collection.


Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs

Wow! Leecy and Susan have already shared some really excellent links to resources today. Thank you! Leecy has said that she would love to see a collection of graphic organizers posted online, and I believe that Susan has said that this can be done here, on LINCS. That will be wonderful!!

To conclude my contributions to this discussion, here is a summary of the topic of using graphic organizers, some graphic organizers and links that I mentioned in the Webinar, and some questions to think about. I would love to see your answers to the questions! That will help us to move forward together.

Graphic organizers are one type of effective support, because they provide a framework for shaping key ideas for a piece of writing. A graphic organizer uses visual symbols to represent knowledge, concepts, thoughts, or ideas in a text and show the relationships among them. Graphic organizers can be used in different ways with adult English learners at different levels, from Beginning ESL to Advanced.

We talked about some graphic organizers that can be used at different levels:

Beginning ESL Literacy and Low Beginning ESL Levels

Copying from the board (possibly the date and a statement about the day, its significance) and building from there

Conversation grid

Each student has a piece of paper with student names across the top and questions in a column down the left side of the page. Each student goes to four different students, asks one of the four questions of the student, and writes the answer in the appropriate space in the grid. Abd build from there. 

Intermediate Levels


Role: Who am I as a writer?

Audience: To whom am I writing?

Format: What form will the writing take?

Topic: What is the subject or focus of the piece of writing?

RAFT Writing Organizer

RAFT Writing Template

Advanced Levels

Force Field Analysis

First created as a guide for individuals to make a decision or a change in their lives by analyzing the forces for and the forces against a particular topic or proposed change and considering or communicating the reasons behind the decision – considering both “driving” forces (that would promote change) and “restraining” forces (that would inhibit change).

Used by an adult EFL educator, Diana Van Boegart, to help students …

  • “Unstick their thinking”

  • Visually represent different views about or approaches to a topic

  • Organize those views in a systematic way

  • Generate ideas and develop a thesis or opening statement

  • Support the ideas generated

  • Explore perceptions or opinions of opposing parties

Wikipedia has a helpful discussion of Graphic Organizers:

Janet Isserlis and Heide Spruck Wrigley also have a helpful discussion, with examples: Into the Box, Out of the Box -- Grids, Graphs, and ESL Literacy

Venn Diagrams that can be copied and used can be found at this link:

Questions for us to think about:

  • What graphic organizers do you use with the learners in your classes?

  • Do you find that they are helpful?

  • What more would you like to know about possible graphic organizers and ways to use them?

  • Are there graphic organizers that you know about that you would like to share with us?

The Webinar and this discussion have provided rich ground for further reflection and changing practices. I am addicted to interpreting most of what I learn for the first time into graphic representations, either on paper or in my mind. It's wonderful that teachers are being encouraged to "go graphic" more and more. Thanks for sharing such great gifts among us, Joy! Leecy

Leecy, this is a brilliant idea and image: "I am addicted to interpreting most of what I learn for the first time into graphic representations, either on paper or in my mind." I am going to take this with me into everything that I do from now on: turn what I am learning and thinking about for the first time into graphic representations. I find this incredibly liberating, for both ourselves and the learners we work with. Let's do that together.

It has been an honor and a pleasure to be with all of you to think about this incredibly important topic. Let's continue to work together to think about and facilitate opportunities for adult learners (and ourselves) to move into, and be proficient in, arenas where we have not gone before but we now want or need to go.

Please stay in touch. Joy Peyton


I want to express our gratitude to Joy Kreeft Peyton for sharing her expertise and professional wisdom related to teaching academic writing with all of us here on LINCS.

Joy, thank you for presenting a webinar and for facilitating a follow up discussion in our community. We are taking away many practical ideas for integrating graphic organizers into the teaching of academic writing. Using graphic organizers to teach writing will enhance our practice and support learners-- especially those who have academic goals -- in effective ways.

Like me, I'm sure many of our members are looking forward to the next two webinars and follow up discussions in this series on teaching academic writing to English learners.

  • Webinar: Tuesday, November 13 at 1:00 ET and Follow up Discussion November 14 & 15, Using Writing Test Prompts to Develop Academic Writing with Kirsten Schaetzel
  • Webinar: Friday, December 7 at 1:00 ET and Follow up Discussion December 10 & 11, Writing as a Basis for Reading, with Rebeca Fernandez

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition and Teaching & Learning CoPs