Why Writing Works

Disciplinary Approaches to Composing Texts


Resources include graphic organizers, videos, webpages, and handouts. 


Graphic organizers

The editors of Why Writing Works would like to extend a big thank you to Mary Gruis & Alissa Martinka!

Most of the graphic organizers in this textbook were developed by Mary Gruis and Alissa Martinka, English instructors at Ridgewater College in Wilmar, MN. (Any that are not theirs are clearly labeled.) We were able to add graphic organizers to Why Writing Works through a Pay-It-Forward grant awarded by the Minnesota State Office of Educational Innovations.

Here are Mary and Alissa explaining why they developed these graphic organizers and how instructors and students can best utilize them:   (11:08 minutes: summary below.)

Why graphic organizers? Aren’t those for K-12 students?

College professors ask students to engage in various kinds of reading, whether a textbook chapter, a scholarly article, or a piece of literature. As Alissa points out, experienced readers have strategies to make sense of readings, but less experienced or resistant readers often lack those strategies. Graphic organizers can help. In a nutshell, graphic organizers are a sense-making tool that can be used for making sense of readings, keeping track of research, or organizing your writing.  

Browse through them and see what might work for you or your students, and don’t be afraid to adapt the graphic organizer so that it makes sense to your brain!  

For instructors:  

If you’re assigning reading, you’re teaching reading: try using a graphic organizer (G.O.) to help your students get the most out of the class assignments. 

Alissa & Mary’s guidelines:

  1. Model it for your students: Use your document camera to model how YOU would fill out this G.O. Do not bring a filled-in G.O.! That would promote passive learning. They need to see your process of active (sometimes messy) reading/sense-making. Let them see that we, too, have to work at understanding difficult texts.
  2. Brain research indicates that graphic organizers work best when filled by hand rather than typed. Typing is merely recording; writing by hand develops/enhances neural networks.
  3. To encourage use of G.O.s, give some kind of credit to students for completing this work (especially early in the semester):
    1. Allow them to use it on a test
    2. Give them points for completing a G.O.
    3. Allow them to use G.O.s for group work


IMAGINE your students coming to class having read & understood the chapter. (You would be able to go more deeply into your expertise area—isn’t that what you want?!)