charts are one type of graphic organiser where students’
thinking can be made visible. Creating a flow chart
from oral, visual, and written texts will help students
think, and reflect on their thinking. Flow charts visually
represent textual relationships that are linked by time.
In creating a flow chart, students describe a sequence
of events, stages, phases, or actions that lead to an
use of graphic organisers has been found to improve
reading comprehension at all levels and across content
areas. The National Reading Panel (2000) cited the use
of graphic organisers as being one of the seven most
effective instruction strategies for improving reading
comprehension. Flowcharts were introduced in the 1940/50s
and popularised in the 1970s, particularly in the business
flow chart can be used formatively or summatively to
assess student understanding of:
stages in a linear process, e.g.,
- a plan to save up for a new iPod;
- how a permanent change comes about;
- how butter is made;
- how an acid becomes neutralised.
a sequence of events or actions, e.g.,
- how a conflict came about;
- what lead to a character’s downfall.
the strategy works
students create (or fill in a blank) flow chart, their
thinking about the following will be made explicit:
understanding of the initiating event and subsequent
events, ie., their ability to rank;
understanding of the stages in the process, i.e.,
their ability to order;
understanding of how the stages are connected, i.e.,
their ability to link; and
understanding of the goal or final outcome, i.e.,
their ability to conclude.
Finding the main idea of a text.
establish the main idea of a text, students need to
work through the following stages. As students
details that appear to be important to the text.
that their groups are still the right ones. If their
groups aren’t, students make new groups.
Continue to add details to their groups and check
that the groups and the details in them are the right
students have finished reading, they:
that all their groups and the details in them are
the right ones.
the groups in order to establish the main idea.
assessing students’ understanding, you may wish
ask them to construct their own flow
chart outlining the stages they go through. Note that
no two people will go through the exact
same stages; or
ask them to complete a flow chart while
they are reading, such as the following:
Boxes 1, 3, and 5 are to be filled in according to where
significant points of the text are reached.
Using flow charts when finding the main idea
the flow chart above is presented as a linear process,
finding the main idea is never truly linear, just as
thinking is not. No two students will approach the thinking
in the same way. If the text has a high reading load,
recognise that this process is about comprehension,
not decoding, and read it aloud to students. If the
text is long, this process can become laborious. Either
do some of the work for students yourself, or:
the lesson over a number of sessions;
groups or individuals take responsibility for analysing
particular sections of text; then integrate
those sections as a whole group exercise (e.g., Jigsaw
Using flow charts in general
flow charts can over-simplify a process. Other forces
can affect a linear process, and on a sequential flow
chart, these forces will not necessarily be depicted.
It is also important to recognise that for a student
who clearly understands a process or sequence, filling
in a flow chart may be a pointless and frustrating exercise.
of ARB resources where flow charts are constructed by
that involve constructing flowcharts.
of ARB resources where flow charts could be applied
on the key word permanent
change in the science bank.
links below are from the English bank. They assess the
comprehension strategy of identifying the main idea.
Note that these are all scaffolded tasks so parts of
the process have already been done for students. Teachers
may wish to apply the above flow chart model to the
texts used in these resources.
S., Irvine, R. & Dow, A. (1999). Top Tools for Social
Science Teachers. Pearson Education New Zealand Ltd,
I.C. & Pinnell, G.S. (2001). Guiding Readers and
Writers: Grades 3-6. Heinemann, Portsmouth, NH.
National Reading Panel, 2000.
Teaching Children to Read: An evidence-based assesment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instructions.
Retrieved 5 November 2007 from
strategies | ARB