The ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of a Knowledge Organiser: A Brief Summary and Example

I’ve been reading about Knowledge Organisers for over a year now. I have always been intrigued as to how they might be properly embedded in the everyday practice of primary teachers. In this post, I want to outline what a knowledge organiser is and why they are worth using…there’s a link to one of my own at the bottom of this post.

What is a Knowledge Organiser?

As a piece of paper, they are completely meaningless by themselves. If they are just handed out to pupils with no explanation, or sent home to just use to ‘revise’ they will be completely useless. How they are used is as important as what is included in them. If you don’t know what I mean by a ‘knowledge organiser’ (hereafter KO), a definition could be that they are a one-page document that establishes the essential knowledge that every pupil needs to know by the end of a topic, year or unit of work. Teachers ought to be meticulous in their decisions about what is included and what is excluded from them. In my experience, they take a lot of time to create if they are done correctly. This is because what is included in them has to be considered really carefully. Here’s what I think ought to be on every KO, regardless of subject:

  • Key vocabulary (possibly no more than 6 words);
  • Conceptual Knowledge: definitions and examples of what makes a city, cultural influences, political perspectives and ‘big picture information’ that helps pupils understand the factual knowledge;
  • Factual Knowledge: dates, names of people, city names, battle names, daily life, groups of people.

Giving children the right vocabulary for the topic is an essential first step. These should be words that might be classed as Tier Two…in other words, words they wouldn’t come across everyday but are powerful for unlocking other related concepts. The conceptual knowledge is also important. The knowledge on a KO ought to attempt to go beyond merely giving pupils facts to regurgitate when a teachers asks a questions. The knowledge included must attempt to make links across other knowledge. For example, on the KO attached to this post, I have explained to my pupils about how the subject, object and verb knowledge is linked to the active and passive voice knowledge and if they know about the first bit, they’ll understand the next bit. Finally, the factual knowledge should be what is essential but when choosing what to include and exclude, the most ‘powerful’ knowledge should be included…more on this another time.

7 Reasons why they are worth using in the classroom

  • The result of extensive research (over thirty years) about the most effective ways to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds improve their attainment – read this by Mark Miller as a summary;
  • Enable teacher’s planning to be focussed on the key knowledge that every pupil needs to learn – read Claire Sealy on this here;
  • Allows teachers/teaching assistants who might not be familiar to the topic or even the year group to get a good grasp of what needs to be covered;
  • Ensures progression of knowledge across the school see Jon Brunskill writing about this here;
  • Could be sent home as homework for pupils/parents to understand what they need to know in the topic before they begin their learning;
  • Helpful for making quizzes, tests and other retrieval practice activities – the subject of another post – I write about this in this post;
  • Essential for assessment of learning.

If you’d like a copy of my KS2 SATs SPaG Knowledge Organiser, which is the picture in this post, go to:

Knowledge Organiser Reading List

All of these posts have hugely helped me in my understanding of how to curate and use knowledge organisers – all of them are well worth reading to maximise the impact of these documents.

Heather Fearn – Are Knowledge Organisers fit for purpose?

Claire Sealy – Curating Knowledge Organisers

Mr. Histoire – KOs

Michael Tidd – On Knowledge Organisers

Jon Brunskill – Knowledge Organisers in Primary

Aidan Severs – using 100% Sheets


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