Knowledge Organisers: Making them worth more than the paper they’re written on

A great blog from Durrington Research School:

As we have previously blogged about here and here, we at Durrington are currently implementing knowledge organisers across the whole school. At the moment, we have knowledge organisers in place in all subjects for Year 9 and Year 10. The knowledge organisers themselves are disciplinary, by which we mean they are subject specific and so show variation according to the curriculum that they support. However, we have also tried to ensure consistency through adhering to the following principles:

  • The knowledge organisers include judiciously selected tier 2 and tier 3 vocabulary. This vocabulary will be taught explicitly to students.
  • The knowledge organisers incorporate the building blocks for learning in that subject that all students are entitled to know and understand.
  • The knowledge organisers are designed to aid retrieval practice and metacognitive learning.

Here are some examples of the knowledge organisers that we are currently using in different subject areas:


We are very aware that knowledge organisers by themselves are fairly meaningless; it is how they are used for planning, teaching and testing that will have the intended positive impact on our students’ outcomes, experiences and future opportunities. Consequently, we are keen to share the simple yet effective ways in which different subjects are utilising their knowledge organisers in lessons, as described below.

In geography the team are collating the words that students most frequently misunderstand or confuse (these are words from the knowledge organisers). The students then take a two-part quiz: In part 1 they choose the correct explanation of the word from three options, and in part 2 they identify the word in the correct context from two options. This is a great example of how the vocabulary from the knowledge organiser is being taught explicitly to students and misconceptions are being tackled at the same time.

In history, the curriculum leader emails out weekly slides, comprising a section of the knowledge organiser, to be used across the department. These slides ensure that there is consistency to the use of knowledge organisers and retrieval practice in every history lesson. The students complete the slide-task, for example filling in blanks in sentences with appropriate tier 3 vocabulary, and then use the knowledge organiser to self or peer check their response. The tasks in themselves are simple but they effectively focus the students’ efforts on improving specific areas, for example accurate use of tier 3 historical words and phrases.

Maths are using their range of knowledge organisers to support homework tasks. Firstly, the students can access their maths knowledge organisers are any time using our online system Connect. This means that students have scaffolding in place for when they are working outside of the classroom. Furthermore, every fortnight the maths team set a homework that is based on retrieval quizzing. The students are required to use the knowledge organisers to find the answers to upcoming quizzes and then actually sit the quiz in class on the due date for the homework. Students who score less than 12 out of 15 are then supported in making flashcards on the questions, again gaining the information from the knowledge organiser, and use these to retest until they are successful. This strategy demonstrates how knowledge organisers can be used to support learning through the testing effect.

The science team have carefully selected the tier 3 vocabulary that they feel is imperative to scientific success and published these on their knowledge organisers. In class, the teachers explicitly teach this vocabulary using a morphological approach, i.e. by drawing students’ attention to prefixes such as mono, hetero, pent etc.. The beauty of this approach is that once the vocabulary has been decided there is no need for any further resources or planning. It is simply a case of the teacher taking a few moments of the lesson to highlight the prefix in order to activate students’ prior knowledge of this word part (or teach it for the first time) so that students can go on to decipher the likely meaning of the entire word.

Finally, in English the team are making frequent use of their knowledge organisers to retrieve the contextual knowledge, key themes and authorial methods linked to literary texts. In addition, the English team are also making students use identified tier 2 vocabulary by linking it to characters and plot situations from multiple texts, thereby giving the students ample and varied examples of the words in use. Knowledge organisers in English tend to be produced on PowerPoint and use a grid format. This makes it incredibly quick and easy to extract sections, put this on a slide and blank out boxes ready for students to fill as a 5 minute starter every lesson.

Our use of knowledge organisers is a journey and one in which we have only taken the first few steps. To move forward we will:

  1. Share examples of effective practice from the our colleagues in other curriculum areas, especially the practical subjects where the use of knowledge organisers may well yield some very different ideas for practice.
  2. Talk to students and make them a greater part of the knowledge organiser dialogue in our school. In particular, we want our students to have a secure understanding of how knowledge organisers work to support retrieval practice and vocabulary instruction, where they can find them and how they can use them for effective learning outside of the classroom, for example self-quizzing.
  3. Make knowledge organisers accessible for parents and carers via our VLE, online Connect system and through making them a key component of conversations at upcoming parents’ evenings.
  4. Reflect on how to improve and develop the work that we now have in place ready for our new batch of knowledge organisers that are required for later this year. In particular, we will consider the need for accumulation of knowledge across units of work and year groups in order to meet our end goals for every student who is part of our school.

If you are interested in learning more about our approach to teaching and learning please take a look at our upcoming training days here.

Fran Haynes.