Class Teaching

Using knowledge organisers to improve retrieval practice


At our school, all subject departments are in the process of creating knowledge organisers to support each unit of work. For the uninitiated, a knowledge organiser is a simple tool that provides clarity for both teachers and students. A successful knowledge organiser summarises and condenses all the most vital, useful and powerful knowledge on a single A4 page. We do not have a standard knowledge organiser template; each department designs them in a way that suits the bespoke needs of the subject discipline. For example, here is the knowledge organiser the English department have designed to teach John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men to Year 9:

Knowledge organisers are all the rage at the moment. However, if they are going to help support learning and retention, departments and teachers must be very clear about their purpose and how to use them effectively. Used well, a knowledge organiser can support students in grasping the foundational concepts that will pave the way for future learning. Used badly, then it is little more than a list of disassociated, indigestible facts – another thing to glue neatly into the back of an exercise book and forget about. At our school, knowledge organisers are used as a focused curriculum guide for teachers and a revision tool for students. They also lie at the heart of our literacy strategy: departments use them to list the relevant Tier 2 and Tier 3 vocabulary that will be taught in the lessons.

Once the most important facts and concepts have been taught, the knowledge organiser can be used as the basis for retrieval practice. In simple terms, retrieval practice involves using a cue – usually a question – to test previously covered material. The act of dredging up knowledge from memory, or retrieving it, increases the likelihood that it will be remembered next time, and the harder it is to recall this knowledge, the more powerful the effect. Testing not only shows what a student knows at a given point in time but also increases the likelihood that the material will be remembered later. Studies also show that the best way to revise is to repeatedly test yourself; it is a far more powerful method than reread­ing or restudying the material. Quizzing, multiple-choice questions and flashcards are all effective forms of retrieval practice.

In a recent INSET, we discussed how knowledge organisers can be used to support retrieval practice:

There are plenty of ways to use knowledge organisers to support retrieval practice and more. Please add any other ideas you have in the comments below.

If you would like to know more about retrieval practice and other evidence-informed strategies for boosting memory, we are running a three-day training programme at Durrington Research School – on 1st October 2018, 6th February 2019 and 10th June 2019. The course will help you to understand and evaluate the evidence and, more importantly, support you in implementing and mobilising it in your classroom, department and school. For more information and booking, please follow this link.