The Effect of Graphic Organizers on EFL Learners’ Reading Comprehension

Horas Hutabarat

 Damayanty Hotmauli

Universitas Kristen Indonesia, Indonesia


This study employed the experimental design. It aimed at investigating whether or not graphic organizers (GOs) use affects students’ reading comprehension. The participants were 60 eleventh grade students of SMA Negeri 102 Jakarta. These students were divided into two groups: the experimental and the control group. Each group consisted of 30 students. Both groups were taught reading comprehension in eight sessions using the same learning materials. However, the control group was taught in the way they were used to be taught, and the experimental group was taught using GOs technique. The same pretest and posttest were administered to both groups to collect the data. The obtained data were analyzed by using SPSS 21. The results showed that the post-test mean score of the experimental class is 84.66, and the post-test mean score of the control class is 56.33. The hypothesis test showed there is a significant effect of GOs use. The value of Sig. of equality variances (0. 043) was lower than Sig. α (0.05). Therefore, it was concluded that there is a significant effect of using GOs in advancing the eleventh-grade EFL students’ reading comprehension in SMA Negeri 102 Jakarta. This study pointed out that GOs can be an effective technique to improve EFL students’ reading comprehension.

Key Words: graphic organizers, reading comprehension, EFL

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Reading English texts is very essential for EFL learners because reading is not only a subject but also a service skill. It is also the key channel and the main source for a second or foreign language input When students have learned reading effectively, they will be able to learn the other language skills (listening, speaking, and writing) and components (grammar, discourse structure, and vocabulary) effectively by reading. Krashen and Brown (2007) emphasized that reading is the most important skill among the four language skills as it can improve overall language proficiency.

Although reading English texts is very essential, most EFL students find it very difficult to master. Deporter and Hernacki (1999) stated students find reading very difficult so that they are anxious to read. Despite their realization of the high importance of reading, Indonesian students, according to Kweldju (1996), are not interested to read textbooks due to their inadequate prior knowledge, inability to comprehend the reading texts and complex structure of the textbooks. Fitrawati (2009) also found that many learners face difficulty in understanding textbooks in English. For many Indonesian students in tertiary education level, reading classes were considered boring and stressful because of over long reading text/s, unfamiliar vocabulary, lack of pre-reading activities activating the students’ background knowledge, and repetitive teaching (Firmanto, 2005). Since reading comprehension is very crucial to master, it is very important to find strategies to help their reading comprehension beneficial. This study is an attempt to meet that challenge by investigating whether or not graphic organizers (GOs) use has a positive effect on students’ reading comprehension. GOs was selected to investigate because some previous studies (Fisher, 2002; Parker, 2007; McKnight, 2010; Roa, 2011; Jiang, 2012; Rumiris, 2012; Biria and Sharifi (2013) have claimed its effectiveness to help learners understand the structure of the different texts they read.


Reading Comprehension

Reading comprehension is, in essence, the process of understanding and interpreting texts in order to get some specific or detail information. Klingner and Geisler (2008: 65) stated that reading comprehension is a process of constructing meaning from a text which involves the complex coordination of several processes, including decoding, word reading, and fluency along with the integration of background knowledge and previous experiences. This is confirmed by Grabe and Stoller (2002) who defined reading as the ability to draw meaning from the written text and interpret it appropriately. They argued that the process of reading involves a number skills, such as word recognition and syntactic processing, and those skills enable the reader to anticipate text information, select key information, mentally organize it, summarize it, monitor comprehension, repair comprehension breakdowns, and match comprehension output to readers’ goals. Thus, reading is an active, not a passive process.

These definitions indicate that while reading, a person should not only receive the message or meaning embedded by the author but also “constructs” meaning based on the information provided in the text. Smith, as cited in Pardede (2010) posited reading is not just extracting meaning from a text but a process of connecting information in the text with the knowledge the reader brings to the act of reading. This is supported by Maria (1990) who suggested that reading comprehension is a “ …holistic process of constructing meaning from written text through the interaction of (1) the knowledge the reader brings to the text, i.e. word recognition ability, word knowledge, and knowledge of linguistic conventions; (2) the reader’s interpretation of the language that the writer used in constructing the text; and (3) the situation in which the text is read. (p. 14-15).

To efficiently get the meaning of the text, readers are required to fulfill three things: (1) identify and understand the words in the text or words recognition, (2) construct and understand the words, and (3) coordinate the words and interpret them so that there is an accurate understanding (Leipzig (2001). Nation (2001: 339) and Richard and Bamford (as cited in Harmer (2001: 210) supported this by describing that a text can be understood by the reader when it is written using specialized vocabulary and grammar that exist at the level of the readers’ ability. Thus, to make sure that students can read effectively, Brown (2004, p. 206) recommended the teacher to include their understanding of the basic ideas, expressions, idioms, phrases in context, grammar, supporting ideas, and vocabulary in the evaluation of reading skills.

As suggested by Heilman (1981), reading comprehension can be classified into four levels: literal, interpretative, critical, and creative. Literal reading comprehension refers to acquiring directly stated information in a text. Thus, in literal reading, one aims only to understand the explicitly stated information, and the reader’s understanding could be checked by examining his ability to recognize and recall facts; identify the main idea and supporting details; categorize, outline, and summarize the information. Interpretive reading deals with what the author means by what is said. It, therefore, necessitates the ability to read between the lines and make inferences about things implicitly stated. Interpretative reading could also include the skills to interpret figurative language, draw conclusions, predict outcomes, determine the mood, and judge the author’s point of view. Critical reading, defined as “an active and purposeful process of comprehending, questioning and evaluating printed material and in order to react intelligently to the writer’s ideas (Pardede, 2007), deals with why the author says what he or she says. In critical reading, the reader should use some external criteria from his/her own experience in order to evaluate and judge the quality of the information, the values of the writer’s use of language, and the writer’s reasoning, simplifications, and generalizations.  In other words, the reader should react emotionally and intellectually to the texts. Creative comprehension involves the formulation and rethinking of ideas. It necessitates the reader’s involvement with the information presented as he uses it to formulate or rethink ideas of his own, his skills to understand implied and inferred meanings and to evaluate and appreciate reactions.

According to Adler (as cited in Rumiris, 2012, pp. 49-54) there are seven strategies having a firm scientific basis for improving text comprehension: (1) monitoring comprehension, (2) metacognition, (3) graphic and semantic organizer, (4) answering questions, (5) generating questions, (6) recognizing story structure, and (7) summarizing. Monitoring comprehension could be done by students when instructions are explained clearly. Clear instruction guides them to be aware and understand when they have to “fix” the problem in their understanding. Metacognition could be defined as thinking about thinking. A good reader uses metacognition strategies to think about and has control over their reading. In line with this Block, Grambell, and Presley (2002) stated that metacognition is an awareness of and knowledge about strategies for planning, monitoring, controlling one’s own learning. Graphic and semantic organizers illustrate a concept and relationship between concepts in a text using a diagram. Regardless of the table, GOs can help readers focus on the concept and how they are related to other concepts. GOs can help students in text structure “between fiction and non-fiction” as they read, provide them with tools they can use to examine and show relationships of text and help them write well-organized summaries of text. 

The fourth strategy, answering questions, can be effective because they give students a purpose for reading. Focusing on what the students are going to learn, helps them think actively as they read, encourage them to monitor their comprehension, and help them review the contents and relate what they have learned to what they already know. The fifth strategy, generating questions, makes students aware of whether they can answer the question. If they understand what they are reading, students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. Recognizing story structure enables students to learn to identify the categories of contents: covering characters, setting, events, problem, and resolution. The seventh, summarizing, requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words.

Graphic Organizers

GOs are “Visual devices that depict information in a variety of ways. Most commonly, they employ lines, circles, and boxes, to form images which depict four common ways information is typically organized: hierarchic, cause/effect, compare/contrast, and cyclic or linear sequences. These images serve as visual cues designed to facilitate communication and/or understanding of information by showing how essential information about a topic is organized” (Ellis & Howard, 2005, p.1). This is in line with Parker (2007) and McKnight (2013) who defined GOs as visual representations that help to gather and sort information.

In the context of learning, GOs are a visual frame employed to represent knowledge and understanding of a subject matter by organizing important aspects of a concept or topic into a logical pattern using labels. GOs have many patterns, i.e. maps, graphs, charts, diagrams, or clusters. McKnight (2010) claimed there are 100 reproducible GOs that can be used in reading, writing, and the content area. Despite their various form, each their purpose is similar, i.e. to depict the relationships between facts and figures or key concepts and ideas within a learning task. In reading comprehension context, GOs can be effectively used in all lessons for students of all educational levels to check not only their understanding but also to motivate and enhance their thinking skills. According to Krasnic (2011, p.24), by organizing and linking key concepts connected to what students are reading, they will be able to clear their thoughts and refine their thinking.

Various studies have been conducted on the use of GOs as a reading strategy to improve EFL learners’ reading comprehension. Fisher (2002) carried out extensive research on the effect of GOs on student reading comprehension. Based on his findings, he concluded GOs are the most helpful strategy employed by students belonged to the experiment group. Roa (2011) investigated GOs impact in the reading comprehension of eighth-grade students in a private all-girls bilingual school. In the study, many positive results regarding the use of GOs as a reading strategy were presented. It indicated that GOs enhanced reading comprehension in students almost any level and any age, promoted the development of strategic reading by processing information skills, advanced students’ metalinguistic awareness, and provided opportunities to practice memory strategies.

Rumiris (2012) conducted an action research to improve the students’ reading comprehension using GOs technique in a private university in Jakarta, Indonesia. The finding indicated that GOs was successful in improving students’ reading comprehension. Jiang (2012) studied the effects of a 16-week reading instruction program with GOs on the development of college-level EFL students’ English reading comprehension. The results revealed that GOs instruction significantly improved reading comprehension and the learned information was retained seven weeks after the instructional treatment. Additionally, Biria and Sharifi (2013) studied the impact of GOs on reading comprehension ability. The results revealed that compared to other post-reading strategies, GOs were statistically more significant and effective for the low-skilled readers.

The main objective of this study is to investigate the effect of GOs on eleventh grade EFL students’ reading comprehension in SMAN 102 Jakarta. Based on this objective, the question of this study is stated as follow: “Is there a significant effect of GOs on the eleventh graders’ reading comprehension at SMAN 102 Jakarta?” Based on this research question, the hypotheses to be tested in this study were formulated as follow:

Ho: There is no significant effect of graphic organizers on the eleventh graders’ reading comprehension at SMAN 102 Jakarta.

Ha: There is a significant effect of graphic organizers on the eleventh graders’ reading comprehension at SMAN 102 Jakarta.


This study is quasi-experimental research design investigating the effect of GOs on EFL students’ reading comprehension. The variables of this study were the use of GOs as the independent variable and reading comprehension achievement as the dependent variable. Conducted in SMAN 102 Jakarta in March to April 2015, the participants were 60 eleventh-graders who were selected via convenience sampling. Due to administrative restrictions, the participants could not be selected randomly. They were also grouped by treating XI Social 1 the control group, and XI Social 2, the experimental group and. Each group consisted of 30 students.

Both groups were taught reading comprehension in six sessions using the same learning materials. However, the control group was taught in the way they were used to be taught, and the experimental group was taught using GOs technique. To suit the students’ educational level and the types of text they read, 12 types of GOs employed in the experiment, i.e., ABC Brainstorm, Venn diagrams, Spider, Cornell Notes, Three-Column Notes, Analysis Notes, Summary Organizer, Story Board Notes, Outline Notes, Cycle of Food Chain, Chain of events, and Beginning-Middle-End.

Data were collected using a pre-test and a post-test. The pretest was intended to see the initial condition of the two groups, while the post-test was used to measure the students’ achievement by comparing it with the pretest results.  Both tests were designed in 20 multiple choice questions. To measure the validity and reliability of the instrument in this study, the researcher conducted a deep consultation with the experts. After getting the approval that the test was valid and reliable, the researcher distributed the test to the students. The SPSS 22.0 was employed to analyze the data. Independent t-test analysis was used to determine whether there were any differences between the critical reading skills of participants in the experimental group and that of the control group.


Participants’ Initial Competences in Reading Comprehension

Viewing from the pretest results, which was administered to see the students’ initial reading comprehension competence, the competence of the control and experimental group was relatively similar. The mean score of the control group was a bit higher than that of the experimental. However, the difference is not significant (see Table 1).

Participants’ Development in Reading Comprehension

As shown by Table 2, despite the increase of the maximum score (from 80.00 in the pretest to 85.00 in the posttest, the mean score declined 0.17 point. This indicated the conventional way of learning reading employed in the control group did not enhance the students’ reading comprehension competence.

Table 3 reveals the significant improvement of reading comprehension competence in the experimental group. Seeing from the mean scores change, the experimental group got 32.83 increase. This indicated the use of GOs significantly enhanced the students’ reading comprehension competence.

Hypothesis Test Results

To test the hypotheses proposed to answer the research question, the independent sample t-test was administered. The results were presented in Table 4.

As shown by Table 4, the results obtained from the independent sample t-test showed there was a significant difference in the scores for the use of the use of GOs technique (M=84.66) and the use of conventional technique (M=56.33) on conditions t (58)= -10.840, p = 0.000, and t (-0.840) was lower than Sig. α (0.05). This suggested that the H0 was rejected and Ha was accepted. Thus, it was concluded that there is a significant effect of graphic organizers on the eleventh graders’ reading comprehension at SMAN 102 Jakarta.  Specifically, the results suggest that when GOs technique is used in teaching reading, the students reading comprehension will develop higher than when conventional technique is used.


This study examined the effects of using GOs on teaching reading comprehension to Indonesian secondary school EFL learners. The data analysis showed the significant instructional effect of GOs on EFL learners’ reading comprehension. Thus, the study showed that the instructional effect of GOs instruction on reading comprehension is more significant than the conventional techniques. This study provides empirical evidence, in line with the findings of Fisher (2002), Roa (2011), Rumiris (2012) and Biria and Sharifi (2013) concerning the positive effects of using GOs on students’ reading comprehension.

As shown by Table 2, despite the increase of the maximum score (from 80.00 in the pretest to 85.00 in the posttest, the mean score declined 0.17 point. This score decline might be due to the waning of the students’ reading interest. Based on the results of several studies, Miranda et al. (2011) noted that reading interest and engagement are the key factors that determine reading success. This also verified Crosby’s (2013) findings indicating that readers with more positive attitudes toward reading also had better comprehension scores.

The findings designated that this study supports the use of GOs in facilitating reading comprehension since it can the retention of unfamiliar but meaningful material by the prior introduction of relevant concepts so that provision of GOs technique to learning materials improve the students understanding the material. Most readers must have experienced that questions assist readers to activate his prior knowledge and to make an association between the new information and existing knowledge.  Thus, when EFL learners are provided with GOs prior to reading comprehension activities, they would read more effectively, and when they read effectively, higher comprehension will be achieved. Therefore, this study supports the use of graphic organizers to promote students’ reading comprehension and learning from texts.


Based on the findings and discussion presented in previous sections, it can be concluded that the GOs technique can be used as an alternative instructional strategy to improve students’ reading comprehension. In relation to this, EFL teachers are recommended to employ GOs technique in their classrooms. Despite that, due to administrative and time restrictions, this study has some limitations. First, the participants of this study were limited to the students of the same grade of the school. To get more valid results, further study is needed to investigate the effect of using GOs to develop reading comprehension at different levels of language proficiency, comparing gender, comparing children and adults, and comparing learners with different learning styles. In addition, investigating the students and teachers’ views of using GOs is also recommended.


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Note: This article was presented in UKI English Education Department Collegiate Forum held on Friday, December 4, 2015


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