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Alliance Educator’s Graphic Organizers Support Writing

Jennifer Zappia, fourth-grade English language arts teacher at Alliance Academy of Cincinnati, has been with the school for four years and has experienced the difference the pandemic has made in the classroom. She knew she needed to do something to help her students stay on track with writing, and her winning idea for graphic organizers hit her while she was lying in bed one night trying to figure out how to support her scholars.  
 student working on a worksheet

"I noticed at the beginning of this school year that my students were really struggling with writing – more than I've seen in years past,” said Ms. Zappia. “I know that the past two years have been difficult and not all our students had the academic supports they normally would. I realized that the process of teaching writing this year needed to be different to give them enough support to be successful.” 

The goal of graphic organizers is to give students support with writing, but the idea is to taper it back more and more until students are able to answer prompts with less support.
To create the organizers, she first looks at the writing prompt for each week’s quiz, which she then breaks down to create scaffolded questions that help students build a paragraph to fully answer the prompt. Each of the questions helps them draft a sentence for their paragraph.
For example, if the original prompt asks how the author develops the theme throughout the story, the scaffold questions could be: What lesson did the character learn? What evidence shows what lesson the character learned? What is the universal lesson?
“They are helping students construct a well-written paragraph and providing the guidance and structure that they need right now to be successful,” said Ms. Zappia. “They are also allowing students who, before the graphic organizers, could only write one or two well-written sentences, now write a complete paragraph that fully answers the prompt. They are helping students be successful where before they were really struggling. Students are showing so much pride in their writing now and are more motivated to write because they are seeing themselves be successful.”
 student worksheet

Her favorite part of the whole thing is seeing her students get excited about their own writing, and she’s seen a big difference in their writing since the beginning of the school year. But the impact doesn’t stop in her classroom – her idea has expanded to other grades at Alliance. Middle school and third grade classes have adjusted them to meet the needs of their scholars.

Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Zappia!

About Alliance Academy of Cincinnati
Alliance Academy of Cincinnati is a tuition-free, public charter school in Cincinnati, Ohio, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes more than 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit

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