Knowledge organisers in science

A few weeks ago I read this post by Joe Kirby on Knowledge Organisers.  It made a great deal of sense to me for 3 main reasons:

1.  It reminded me of how I learnt to spell – I’d learn the words, cover them up, write them out and then check my spellings.  This process was then repeated – and it worked.

2.  Students having to think about and recall knowledge, is going to make them remember it.  To quote Daniel Willingham:

willingham quote3. I teach science – a subject that requires students to be able to recall a great deal of knowledge.  What’s the point of teaching them how to structure a 6 mark extended writing answer, if they haven’t got the knowledge in the first place?  It’s like asking a builder to build a wall, without any bricks.

Knowledge organisers seemed to address all three of these points.  My Y10 students are currently getting ready for end of year exams.  So, in order to support them with this, I put together a knowledge organiser for their chemistry unit (AQA Science A, C1).  Here’s a section of it:


How have I used them?

Very simply!  Students are asked to learn a section at a time e.g. the ‘fundamental ideas’ section above, either for homework or at the start of the lesson.  I then project up the words and they have to recall and write down the correct definition.  They then self-check and mark their work.  Pam McCulloch, a fantastic science teacher, who used to teach at Durrington, but has now retired, swore by this kind of regular, low-stakes testing at the start of her lessons – read more about Pam’s wisdom here.

It was very interesting to see how the students did this checking.  I simply asked them to check their own definitions, but they used various techniques whilst doing so – all unprompted. For example:

  • They awarded themselves a full mark if they got the definition exactly right and half a mark if it was nearly there.
  • If they got the definition wrong, they rewrote the correct definition underneath.
  • They put a star by the ones they couldn’t remember.

We then discussed how they could use them further.  A number of them said that they would take them home and ask their parents to ‘test them’ on the words.  This was great – the more recall the better.

It was also interesting to see them using them during the lesson, after we had used them for this exercise.  As they were answering other questions, they were using the knowledge organiser as a reference, to make sure they were using appropriate terminology.

Next year

I’ve come to the idea of knowledge organisers late, but already I’ve been thinking about how I’ll use them from September onwards:

  •  Hand them out in September to give students an idea of what they are going to be covering, over the course of the year (supporting the idea of long term learning goals).
  • Encouraging students to be using them during lessons as a reference  – to make sure they are using correct subject specific language.
  • Getting students to use them as a checklist, to tick off work as we go through the course.
  • For homework – getting students to learn the definitions, ready for a test at the start of the lesson, that they then check.  This can be evidenced by them writing out the definitions as they test themselves at home, in their books (signed by their parents?)
  • Alternatively, as a ‘knowledge check’ at the end of a lesson.
  • Stressing to them that doing this learn, cover, write, check strategy just once won’t work – it needs to be repeated.
  • For me (or them) to highlight ideas that they are struggling with and need to focus on.

Now more than ever, with the move back towards terminal exams, students need to be able to recall knowledge.  This is true in all subjects, but is really important for content heavy subjects like science.  I’m pretty convinced that knowledge organisers, used in this way, can support this process and I look forward to developing my use of them next year.

Here are the ones I have produced so far – feel free to download, use and let me know how you get on with them

Chemistry C1

Physics P1

James Theobald has set up a google drive folder for teachers to share their knowledge organisers – get sharing:

Knowledge Organiser Google Drive Folder

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11 Responses to Knowledge organisers in science

  1. An interesting post – thank you! I will definitely take inspiration for an A Level English Literature version!

  2. Reblogged this on David J Terrell and commented:
    For many years I have been teaching my students that the best way to ‘memorize’ something is to think about it, to understand it, and to practice with different approaches within the concept. This blog elaborates even further about the connection between thinking and memorizing.

  3. mrvieito says:

    Hi Hope you don’t mind but I took the liberty of uploading a knowledge organiser I wrote to use with Yr 8 Science.

    Hope it’s of use to someone.

    Working on a Yr 9 one bridging Science SOW

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