Knowledge organisers are short documents summarising essential information children must understand when learning about a topic.
Fundamentally, knowledge organisers are a means of presenting core knowledge – for example, key facts and vocabulary – around a specific topic.
How did knowledge organisers in primary schools take off?
Knowledge organisers originated in secondary schools as a means of revision. Pupils would use the documents as a basis to revise a particular unit or subject and test themselves on it. Generally, they tend to be one or two sides of A4 paper in length.
Now, primary school teachers are using knowledge organisers to help pupils remember critical information on a topic.
What should knowledge organisers include?
The content of a knowledge organiser varies depending on the subject and year group. Naturally, knowledge organisers for older pupils will contain more complex information. Yet, a knowledge organiser requires its creator to think ruthlessly about what facts they need to include.
Sticking to one or two sides of A4 enables teachers to drill down on the most necessary information. Therefore, creating a knowledge organiser can be a useful exercise for teachers to lay out the fundamentals of a topic.
Are knowledge organisers useful in primary schools?
Over the past few years, they have become increasingly popular in primary schools. In fact, knowledge organisers can be a useful tool for primary school settings when used in the right way.
Who are knowledge organisers for?
Knowledge organisers are for teachers, SLT, pupils, parents and even Ofsted.
Primarily, they’re a tool for pupils to access essential information on a topic. They come in a digestible format, so they explain what their teacher expects them to learn by the end. Pupils can use them to check information, learn vocabulary and spellings or test themselves ahead of quizzes or exams.
Class teachers usually write them. However, senior school leaders may access them to make sure the school is teaching cohesively with clear progression across subjects. During an inspection, Ofsted inspectors may ask to see knowledge organisers when performing a deep dive into a particular subject.
Additionally, parents can find knowledge organisers a handy overview to help their child learn key facts and information. Plus, parents can use them as a talking point to explore the topic with their child. In this way, they can see how their understanding of it is developing.
Why use knowledge organisers?
You may be wondering: what exactly are the benefits of knowledge organisers? Particularly as primary schools managed without them for so long.
Five benefits of knowledge organisers for primary schools
Creating a knowledge organiser is an exercise in discipline for teachers. It forces you to think deeply about a subject. Plus, you have to be ruthless about the core information you want pupils to take from it.
Similarly, when teachers use a knowledge organiser created by someone else, it encourages them to stay on track and focus on the essential information they need to teach pupils about a particular topic.
Knowledge organisers can be a handy tool for teachers when it comes to setting homework for pupils. Using the sheet as a basic structure for your topic, teachers can pick out elements of a knowledge organiser to set homework.
As everyone in the class has a copy, this makes it easier to set homework, too. There’s no need to print out additional documents or rely on pupils having access to technological tools or devices.
Spaced retrieval is proven to aid better long-term learning than last-minute cramming. So, a knowledge organiser can be a fantastic vehicle for regular recall of information relevant to your topic.
Plus, once pupils understand and easily recall specific chunks of information, it helps them to absorb other facts and ideas linked to the topic more readily and easily.
Often, pupils and parents don’t understand the broader view or goal of a particular subject or unit.
By giving everyone access to a knowledge organiser, it helps pupils and parents to understand what teachers expect of learners and how it connects to the bigger picture.
Everyone is on the same page
Quite literally, everyone is on the same page when learning a specific topic if they all have access to the same sheet of core information.
Factoring in absences, different rates of learning, varied abilities and diverse circumstances pupils in any given class will experience, having a knowledge organiser to hand aids learning for everyone by setting out clearly what they need to know.
Pit’s certainly a good starting point and reference tool for all.
Is there a downside to using knowledge organisers?
Remember, knowledge organisers started life in secondary schools for good reason. So, their use in primary schools shouldn’t mirror that of older learners.
Primary school knowledge organisers must be child-friendly, age-appropriate and realistic. Therefore, don’t overwhelm KS1 and KS2 pupils with too much information (for example, numerous dates in history). This can cause unnecessary worry, not to mention cognitive overload.
Another disadvantage of knowledge organisers comes when using them as a substitute for a curriculum. They can serve as a handy overview of a topic. However, don’t rely too heavily on them as a teaching tool. Children’s overall knowledge around a subject should be much broader and multi-dimensional.
Providing you have an outstanding primary curriculum, you can use knowledge organisers to complement, rather than define your teaching.
Five ways to use knowledge organisers in the classroom
There are several ways you can use knowledge organisers in the classroom.
- Hand them out at the start of a topic. This will show children what you expect them to understand by the end of it.
- Pin a larger copy of your knowledge organiser onto the classroom wall to refer to throughout teaching the topic.
- Send a copy to parents to help them understand the basics of what their child is learning.
- Quiz pupils on the topic using the knowledge organiser. Use it as a spaced retrieval tool gives it a clear purpose.
- Use it to remind pupils of essential vocabulary frequently used in the topic. Then, they understand and remember how to spell useful words associated with it.
How to create a knowledge organiser
Firstly, think carefully about what to include in your knowledge organiser. Bear in mind, too, what not to include. Avoid spoilers that may affect your pupils’ enjoyment and interest in a subject, or anything that overcomplicates it.
Read around the subject then pick out key information, facts and vocabulary. All of these must aid your pupils’ comprehension of the subject area.
Don’t copy and paste information without checking it, and make sure it’s personalised to your class and topic.
Remember to try and stick to one or two A4 pages. In fact, this is a good exercise for both you and your pupils. Knowledge organisers must reflect age-appropriate expectations, so bear this in mind at all times when creating yours.
Make your knowledge organiser visually appealing, without being too cluttered or busy. It’s tempting to pack in as much information as you can. However, this doesn’t lend itself to long-term learning or easy understanding.
Therefore, be selective and targeted in your approach to what you include and omit from your sheet.
As a basic rule of thumb, a good knowledge organiser may include:
- Bitesize, basic facts around your topic
- Helpful images, maps, diagrams or charts
- Useful vocabulary or a short glossary of key words or phrases
- Short bios of crucial figures featured in the unit
- Important dates (only if crucial and easy to remember)
- Key themes
- Relevant quotations
Most knowledge organisers will contain some of the above, depending on the topic and age group.
The most important advice when preparing yours is to tailor it carefully to your class.
Where to find knowledge organisers
Dimensions member schools already have access to WhISK (“what I should know”) sheets. They form part of the resources we provide alongside our curriculum. Simply log in and you’ll find your WhISK sheet, also known as knowledge organisers, under the relevant topic section.
Alternatively, book a bespoke Discovery Session and one of our curriculum experts will talk you through the role knowledge organisers play in teaching our global curriculum.