Bridging the Gap: Advance Organizers

Advanced organizers are practical tools that function as a scaffold for student cognitive development across the curriculum. David Ausubel, the developer of advanced organizers envisions their use as a means to “bridge the gap between what the learner already knows and what he needs to know before he can meaningfully learn the task at hand” (Ausubel, 1978). They are effective instructional strategies as evidenced by Dean, Hubbell, Pitler & Stone (2012) due to a .74 effect size on student achievement, though these results are best achieved through the communication of what students are expected to learn and will be assessed on. Moreover, Ausubel warns that factual material is more readily learned than abstract (Ausubel, 1978).

Surprisingly, there seems to be some discrepancy between the two texts in our class as to the level of conceptual abstraction that advance organizers should function at, as well as the allowable presence of “to be learned material”. According to Dean et al. (2012) there are four primary formats for advanced organizers including expository, narrative, skimming, and graphic. In their description of an expository advance organizer, Dean et al. (2012) state “advance organizers describe or explain in written or verbal form the new content students are about to learn…they might also include more detail about or an example of what students will be learning” (p. 57). As well, if one is “quickly looking over material to get a general impression before reading it fully” (Dean et al., 2012, p. 59) then this seems like students are being exposed to information that will directly be taught. Conversely, Dell’Olio & Donk (2008) make the emphatic statement that none of the specific information that will be taught later should be included.

In my thinking, it really comes down to creating a situation where students are able to make connections between their existing knowledge and content that is to be learned. An advanced organizer shouldn’t give all of the content away, since their purpose is not to serve as a mere summary of things to come, but more as a platform to frame the conceptual learning that will take place while making connections to prior knowledge. Indeed, Dell’Olio & Dean (2007) acknowledge that even Ausubel did not include a strict guideline for the construction of advance organizers noting that, “perhaps the key is flexibility and consideration of the learners and the content” (p. 394).

Like so many practices that I employ in my teaching, I was using this strategy without necessarily knowing what it was called. Last year when I was teaching middle school language arts at an international school, I relied heavily upon the use of both expository and narrative advance organizers to help my students activate prior knowledge to make connects to the historical and sociopolitical context of a story, such as The Red Scarf Girl with my Grade 7 students, or To Kill a Mockingbird with my Grade 8’s. This is a link to the NEA website on Jim Crow in the South and the concept of courage that I used with TKAM. This typically centered on the reading of text, or perhaps a video clip coupled with a graphic organizer detailing what students are expected to know. When I was teaching Grade 5 at a different international school, I would often use BrainPOP videos and supporting materials to support our math program. My students loved the videos (what ten-year-old wouldn’t like a video with a boy and his super cool robot?) and it helped my students in the encoding process of oftentimes-difficult information. This is a link to an article that talks about a partnering between MCREL and BrainPop on the use of advanced organizers in the classroom.

My first instructional strategy, implementation and video submission will be using an advance organizer. I will be teaching the social studies concept “The Movement of People and Goods”. I will take a more laissez-faire approach to advance organizers ala Dean et al. (2012) by showing an online video clip of the exchange of goods, ideas and people along the Silk Road, specific to China. While there is passing mention of some of the goods exchanged, I believe that the reference is general and abstract enough that my advance organizer will stay true to Ausubel’s intent of “bridging the gap” between my learner’s prior knowledge and content we will be interacting with.


Ausubel, David P. 1978. The Nature and Use of Organizers in Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. Retrieved from

Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, & Stone. 2012. Classroom Instruction that Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement 2nd Edition. Washington: American Psychological Association.

Dell’Olio, Jeanine M. & Donk, Tony. 2007. Models of Teaching: Connecting Students Learning With Standards. California: Sage.



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