The Value and Application of Advance Organizers

How can you make practical use of an advance organizer?

            At some point, everyone has the unfortunate experience of being on the receiving end of an “information dump” in which we are bombarded with a ton of new information in such quick succession that we cannot possible remember everything we are told.  It is overwhelming, and not conducive to successful learning.

As teachers, we want students to be able to learn in a meaningful way, and remember their newly acquired knowledge in the process.  An educational theorist, David Ausubel, argues that the best way of accomplishing differentiation and integration of content is to use advance organizers.  He is a strong promoter of presentational instruction.  In this type of teaching, the educator must organize and present information to students.  This can be accomplished through lectures, readings, and learning activities that lead students to integrate what they have learned.  Advance organizers are organizational cues.  These help learners build connections between what they know and do not yet know.  It is essentially a framework that assists students in understanding what they will learn.

Prior to introducing new material, teachers should provide relevant introductory resources.  Cultivating student connections between the known and the unknown increases their retention of information.  The objective of an advance organizer is tostrengthen the cognitive structures of students.  This is their knowledge of something, how clear their understanding of it is, and how well organized their knowledge is. “Ausubel maintains that a person’s preexisting cognitive structure is the foremost factor governing whether new material will be meaningful and how well it can be acquired and maintained” (Joyce, p.200).  This means that preparing students for knowledge is essential.  When content is presented in an organized way, it helps learners better organize information in their minds.

Advance Organizer

Figure 1

There are three phases in this model of teaching.  In phase one, the teacher clarifies the lesson goals.  They present the organizer during which they point out the defining characteristics, provide examples, and give context.  In this phase, the teacher is aware of and makes use of the pre existing knowledge their students possess that is relevant to the new content. This concept is illustrated in the diagram in figure one.  In phase two, the teacher presents the materials.  They keep the students engaged, are very clear in their organization, and finally ensure the information is in an order that makes sense.  The third phase is when the educator makes the cognitive organization of the students stronger.  This involves providing clarification, fostering critical thinking about the subject, and ensuring that the new information sticks in the students’  minds.

Advance Organizer Flow Chart

Figure 2

Figure two shows how advance organizers incorporate three important aspects of the learning process.  Advance organizers facilitate a mental framework for the students to incorporate new learning.  It is presented at the beginning of a lesson, and is more broad and global.  Ausubel states that “it makes good organization sense if the presentation of more detailed or specific information is preceded by a more general or inclusive principle to which it can be related or under which it can be subsumed”.  In this way, new information is made more meaningful to students and cements specifics to generalizations.  It integrates relevant facts under common ideologies.

KWL chart

Figure 3

Examples of advance organizers that I have observed are learning objectives and KWL charts.  Learning objectives are posted on the board in the classroom and are frequently updated, usually on a daily basis. It covers success criteria, the daily agenda and the goal of the lesson.  KWL charts are graphic organizers in which students write down what they know about a topic, what they would like to know, and then after the lesson they fill in what they have learned.  For example, in a social studies classroom the teacher may ask the students to do a KWL chart when they are starting a new unit. An example of a KWL chart can be found in figure 3.

As a student, my way of providing myself an advance organizer is to go over questions and prompts prior to doing an assigned reading so that I know what to pay attention to.  Advance organizers are a mutually beneficial practice for teachers and their students.  Teachers are more systematic in the way they transmit new content, and students are more organized in their reception and internalization of it.  In this way, advance organizers set the stage for learning.



Dees, J. (2011, September 7). Why Advance Organizers Are A Crucial Learning Strategy (and 5 Examples). Retrieved from

[figure 1]

Joyce, B. R., Weil, M., & Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of Teaching 9th Edition. New Jersey: Pearson.

Advance Organizer Basics. (n.d.). Retrieved from

[figure 2]