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Research School Network: Knowledge Organisers: Facilitating Elaboration Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, on how we can elaborate on material


Knowledge Organisers: Facilitating Elaboration

Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, on how we can elaborate on material

by Bradford Research School
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In our series so far, we started with a definition of a Knowledge Organiser:

A Knowledge Organiser is a one-page document which presents curated, essential, organised knowledge with clarity. Knowledge is presented in a format which facilitates retrieval practice, elaboration and organisation, in order to develop a schema.

Following our last blog on how we can facilitate retrieval practice using Knowledge Organisers, in this blog we will focus on elaboration.

Put simply, elaboration is when we associate to-be-remembered information with material that is already known. And again, we’ll point you towards a good summary of the evidence in this paper from Weinstein Y, Madan CR, Sumeracki MA (2018): Teaching the Science of Learning.

Elaborative interrogation

One of the simplest forms of elaboration is asking how or why. We call this elaborative interrogation’, and it works because the question makes us link to other information. Not only does this make the material stick, but it also helps to build those connections and links that form part of the well-organised schema. And it’s also useful to identify gaps and misconceptions.

Elaboration 1

Take this item. We can easily ask:

does the skeleton keep the body upright?
does the skeleton keep the body upright?
do muscles attach to the skeleton?
do muscles attach to the skeleton?

Obviously, the teacher is going to constantly elaborate on this information too. This is very much in the category of we’ve always done that’, but the revelation for me is that questioning isn’t just the way of getting things out of the head, it’s a way of getting them in

General approaches

We should encourage general questions to reflect on the material, both for teachers and for pupils:

  • How does x relate to y?
  • What else do I know about this?
  • What else do I know that can relate to this?
  • How do we know this?

They always have the goal of connecting the to-be-remembered information with other material.


So, for this Maths example, we could ask what else we know about this. This might be everything else they know about equilateral triangles, everything about triangles, internal angles of any polygon, the formula for calculating external angles. All of this serves to strengthen the knowledge and connect the knowledge.


This item from the a prehistory Knowledge Organiser could be linked to what else they know about this. We could ask how we know that humans began farming; we can consider what came before and after. Prefixes like neo’ can be elaborated upon too.

And because definitions are a common feature of Knowledge Organisers, we can look at ways that we can elaborate on vocabulary and concepts. The Frayer model is a simple graphic organiser that prompts elaboration.


Elaboration in subjects

While this approach is a long-established method for elaborating on vocabulary, there is nothing to say that you could not use this model as inspiration for approaches to elaborate on items other than vocabulary, e.g. by changing the categories, such as this example from history


This idea of subject specific adaptation is important. Whilst there are general approaches – how does item x relate to item y – there are subject specific questions and approaches.

As an English teacher, I often require pupils to memorise a range of quotations. It is helpful to look at specific questions that we can use to elaborate on quotations. Not only will these help things to stick, but they will give a richness of understanding that will prove far more useful than a quotation memorised in isolation.

  • Who said it to whom?
  • Who or what is it about?
  • What does it mean?
  • Where does this occur in the text?
  • Which quotation is this similar to?
  • What else do I need to know to make sense of this?
  • How does this link to context?
  • What methods can I spot in this quotation?
  • What are the connotations of x?

    Another way to elaborate on material is to reorganise it. And that will be the focus of our next blog.

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