Research School Network: Knowledge Organisers: Organising the Organiser Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, explores how we can organise information

Knowledge Organisers: Organising the Organiser

Mark Miller, Head of Bradford Research School, explores how we can organise information

by Bradford Research School
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The clue is in the name. They are called Knowledge Organisers, not knowledge lists. And yet many Knowledge Organisers have become filled with information shared simply in lists. In this post, we are exploring how we can move beyond simply the listing of information and focus on the organisation of the organiser. 

Before we continue, you might want to catch up with the rest of the blogs in the series:

Knowledge Organisers: Setting out a Definition

Knowledge Organisers: Facilitating Retrieval

Knowledge Organisers: Facilitating Elaboration

Making Knowledge Rich’

And here’s a reminder of our 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.

It’s that final phrase, in order to develop a schema’, that we have to think about. We’re not merely aiming to memorise a list. Lists have a place, but we don’t think in lists, we think in networks. And lists are pretty hard to remember anyway.

Frederick Reif (2008) argues the following:

As much attention must be paid to the organization of knowledge as to its content. When trying to convey a body of knowledge, teachers should attempt to develop explicitly, and then gradually expand, a well-organized knowledge structure that students can actively use. In this way, a student's knowledge can be well organized at every stage-and and can be gradually reorganized as more knowledge is acquired. The student can then begin to appreciate the advantages of well-organized knowledge and can consistently practice using such knowledge. This way of proceeding is much better than letting students acquire new knowledge in piecemeal fashion-so that they are afterward left with the need to reorganize all this knowledge at the end.

So a good start in developing well-organised knowledge, is to present it in a way that is organised.

Organising lists

Knowledge does exist in sets of information, and there may well be a need to collate these lists on a Knowledge Organiser. When doing this, we should consider if there are any organisation principles that can be built into the design.

Suppose we wanted to learn the planets in the solar system, what would be the optimal way to present it on the Knowledge Organiser? (Illustration below) (1) We could write a random list, but large sets like this are quite difficult to remember, so we should organise in some way. (2) For example, we organise in terms of distance from the sun. This is better, because in learning the list we also learn the sequence, but it’s still difficult to remember that list. (3) Perhaps this might be better as a diagram. This also brings in size and the relationship to the sun. Does it lead to misconceptions though about the space between each? Finally, we might consider an additional memorisation strategy e.g. My very educated mother just served us nachos. There are no rules, just that we take time to consider the best way to organise these lists.


When a list is inevitably long, perhaps a character list from a novel or a set of French nouns, we can organise the set into sub-sets. Instead of a list of historical figures from the Elizabethan era, we could break down into Elizabeth’s advisers, Elizabeth’s enemies, Elizabethan explorers. This helps the organisation and will facilitate retrieval practice, because instead of trying to recall a whole set of information, they recall the items within a subset.

We can also consider the relationship between lists of information. We know that elaborating, connecting pieces of information with that already known is an effective strategy. The example below is an interesting innovation on that point, making the connections explicit. And whether we present it in exactly this way, we should always be thinking about the best way to design these so that the material is organised in some way. If there are no connections between the information, we are learning items in isolation and not developing a schema.

KO links

Subject specificity of organisation

How do you think about knowledge in your subject? What patterns exist regularly across the domain, and what unique processes and concepts exist? In history, the idea of consequences if common, so we might make this a feature of the KO design as below:

History 2

Often, the topics we are looking at, or the ideas we wish to organise are quite unique, so we have to consider what might be the optimal way of presenting the information. This organisation of information is unique to the topic of glands. The design of the table reflects the information and relationships. There is no template to follow.


I must be honest, this is the kind of thing I nerd out about. And it is really quite joyful to discuss the ideas in our subjects. Often, these discussions can be fruitful for our own professional development and understanding of the topics.

We are quite excited to see the publication in September of Organise Ideas’, a book from Oliver Caviglioli and David Goodwin. While we understand that it isn’t a book specifically about Knowledge Organisers, we are confident that reading about practitioners who are organising ideas will be great.

Next, we will look at how you can organise items beyond the Knowledge Organiser.

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