Graphic Organizers vs. Creative Writing- Why Students Need Both to Improve Writing 

I love graphic organizers. There is something about the organization and structure they provide. With regards to writing, there is often some debate about whether or not graphic organizers are appropriate for elementary school children. Some educators believe that writing should be totally creative and free flowing. However others believe students need support and structure with writing. In order to be successful writers, I believe students need exposure to both.

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Why Creative Writing?

Creative writing encourages and promotes creative thinking and imagination. When students engage in creative writing opportunities, they learn and try new writing techniques.

I believe giving students need a true creative writing experience. This entails exposure to a variety of mentor texts and time for students to write without barriers, rules, and grading. Emphasize the freedom of writing. Don't focusing on grammar, sentence structure, or spelling. I like to provide lots of writing examples (mentor texts), so student are exposed to various types of writing. Additionally, I take away the stress and pressure that comes with writing, by giving kids free writing time. Free time to write whatever they want encourages students to let go and truly be creative.

When to Use Free, Creative Writing

Young writer needs time to explore the written language. Students crave opportunities to test voice, patterns, cadence, and word choice. Provide students with a time for them to test written boundaries and try new writing styles. When too much focus is placed on writing “correctly,” students are less apt to take risks, attempt varied writing styles, and play with writing in general.

I give my students time to write creatively everyday during our writing warmup. This ensures they have some unstructured writing practice and get a chance to have fun with writing.

If you are looking for more information on writing warmup and free writing, check out these posts:

No Rules Writing: Why Giving Students the Freedom to Write Without Rules Increases Confidence

How to Liven Up Your Writing Time With Fun Writing Activities

What is Structured Writing?

Structured writing teaches students how to write more formally. Writing paragraphs, essays, written responses, informative writing, opinion writing, or narratives takes formal instruction. Students must learn the components that make up these structured writing activities. I believe one of the most helpful tools to support students with this is graphic organizers. These helpful tools allow students to plan and organize their writing in a systematic way. Giving students scaffolded support helps students feel successful with their writing. They are more capable of tackling larger, more formal writing tasks.

Why Structured Writing? 

Beyond the common core writing standards, we also want to prepare our students for the future. Let’s face it, unless our students become professional authors, most writing done in future careers is going to be formal. When we teach students the basic formula to follow when writing a paragraph, a reading response, or even an essay, we make it more manageable. We provide students with the tools to tackle more complex writing tasks. Once students master the basic structure of writing a formal piece, they can add more voice and creative elements to their writing.

When to Use Graphic Organizers with Writing

Graphic Organizers are ideal to use with students during the prewriting phase of the writing process. They help students organize their ideas in a visual way. Five-paragraph essays are more manageable for third graders when they are broken into smaller parts.

I am always amazed at what my students can do with guidance and support. A well designed graphic organizer might mean the difference between a long, unorganized one-paragraph paper or a well-developed five-paragraph essay. Second and third graders are capable of developing and writing multiple paragraphs when provided with the right guidance.

How I Use Graphic Organizers

Let me give you an example of how I used a graphic organizer for writing in my third-grade class. When I want my students to write five-paragraph essays, I use a basic five-paragraph graphic organizer. After students brainstorm, I introduce the planning graphic organizer during the prewriting phase. It is to be used as an outline to plan their writing. I model for students what it should look like and chunk it into doable pieces.

I only have a few rules about filling out this initial graphic organizer. First, students are not allowed to write complete sentences. I only want them to jot down ideas using bullet points. This is very important when students are writing an informative essay. Since they will include facts from their research, they just write a main idea. When students write using complete sentences on their initial graphic organizer, they are more apt to plagiarize from their notes. However, if they simply jot down the main idea of the information, when they go to write their first draft, they will use more of their own words. The only complete sentences I do allow student to write are the hook and the main idea. Since this is the prewriting phase, spelling and grammar don’t matter. The most important part is organizing and getting all the information included.

Once all the ideas and information is organized, I give students a larger graphic organizer. Now students use their prewriting outline to develop their paragraphs and write using complete sentences. Again, we may work on only one or two paragraphs per writing block. I like to break it up into smaller, manageable chunks because I don’t want to overwhelm them.

Good Writing Takes Time

After going through the entire writing process, a five-paragraph essay will take anywhere from two to three weeks to complete. It takes time, but the end result is a well-developed and organized essay.

Starting multiple paragraphs with second and third graders helps students develop their writing skills. They learn to plan and organize formal writing which will help them in middle school and beyond. It helps to build the foundation early so students can further develop these skills as they get older.


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I’m Whitney Ebert, founder of The Primary Professor. As you may have guessed, teaching young authors to develop their craft and feel confident in their writing skills is kind of my thing. 

I have 10+ years teaching experience in elementary education, and I've taught every grade level from kindergarten to sixth grade (except first). My teaching passions include interest-based learning, creative technology, project based learning, and building confident writers. Additionally, I have my M.S. in Instructional Media, so I frequently incorporate digital flare into projects and writing assignments.

 I live in a sunny beach town with my husband & 2 kids. When I'm not teaching, blogging, or designing new lesson plans, you can find me at the beach with the family.

Find out more about The Primary Professor at: www.theprimaryprofessor.com