Graphic organizing techniques that build connections between similar words or ideas are referred to by a variety of names, including "clustering" and "web maps"; for our purposes here, we will use "webbing" and "web maps." Webbing works best when you want to show a lot of words or ideas and keep them loosely connected, such as when you're brainstorming ideas in a planning meeting. It's also a great tool for coming up with terms in a pattern writing activity.
The Structure of Webbing
Start by thinking of target-style maps, the kind of graphic organizer we use most often. Suppose, for example, that you're working on an activity about computers—you might come up with a map that looks like this:
In this map, the core topic is "computers," the middle ring is "parts of the computer" and the outer frame is "what the parts do." It could form the basis of a sentence pattern such as "I have a computer with a keyboard that lets me type." With this pattern, however, we may be more interested in coming up with lots of different parts, and we also may be interested in the direct relationship between the computer and its parts because there is not a lot of overlap between what the different parts do. Traditional outlining techniques might represent those connections this way:
1. Type with it
2. Special keys
3. On/off button
1. Shows pictures
2. Move the cursor
3. Shows lots of colors
Although outlining is good for composing reports or long text documents, it is so highly structured that it doesn't work well for coming up with ideas quickly or developing simple pattern sentences with young kids. Webbing creates something between outlines and target maps, and looks like this:
This web map shows the first two levels of the target map above. To create it, you write the topic in the center and circle it, just as with the first map. You then write another word, circle that one, and draw a line between them. As you can see, webbing is easy with only two levels. It gets a little trickier with three levels:
The method still works, but you have to be careful to leave lots of room between your first-level words. If you have more than three levels, this method usually won't work because of space problems; you're better off creating a new map for each third-level word that you want to expand upon. You can see that webbing has the advantage of showing the direct relationship between words, making it a great tool for pattern writing.
Using Webbing for Vocabulary Building and Pattern Writing
Let's stay with our computer example. Gather the kids around you, either at a table or on the floor. Call for a pair-share partner. In front of the group, ask her, "What are things you know about the computer?" After she names a feature (e.g., "They have monitors" or "They're electronic"), you then name a different feature, going back and forth. Now have all the kids pair up to talk about computers for a minute or so. You're not doing any webbing yet—you just want to get the kids thinking about the topic. If you were to leap right into webbing cold, they might not be able to think of features, so you want to get them warmed up.
Now, call the kids to attention and write the word "computer" in the center of the board. Ask your pair-share partner to circle the word "computer." Now ask her to name something about the computer. Write it on the board in a place where you have room for more text, then ask her to circle it and draw a line between the two words. Ask for some more suggestions from the class until the kids have seen enough to get the idea.
Stop now and have the kids pair up again to start working on web maps of their own. After a few minutes, call them to attention and have everyone share his or her ideas. Add the new thoughts to your map on the board. For the first time or two that you do webbing, keep them to just two levels so kids can master the technique. Later, model a three-level web map, paying particular attention to explaining the need to leave space around the topic words so that you can write the others. Now you can go on to pattern writing.
|In activities like this, very young kids are more likely to come up with associations than with adjectives. Up to about age 8 or 9, you'll be hard pressed to get descriptive words, so come up with more open-ended sorts of questions like, "What do you know about computers?" rather than, "What are some words that describe computers?".|
Compare and Contrast With Web Maps
Webbing shows the relationships between words. A variation on webbing, sometimes called a "double-bubble" or "double cell diagram" is great for building compare-and-contrast ideas. For consistency's sake, we will call this technique "comparison webbing" and its products "comparison webs." The method is similar to a Venn diagram, with which you may already be familiar. Venn diagrams are good for math, whereas comparison webbing is more flexible and therefore good for working with language concepts.
Suppose you wanted to compare firemen and policemen. Start by doing the introductory modeling and pair-share as if you were going to begin a web map about the firemen. Don't actually create the map, but ask kids what they know about firemen to get them warmed up.
Now use your oversized paper pad or the blackboard to start your comparison web by writing the following:
Write each of the initial words in a horizontal line half-way down the page and equally spaced so that there is as much room between the edge of the paper and each of the end words as there is between the end words and the word "heroes" in the middle. Use a different color for each word.
Since you warmed up with "firemen," take the pen that matches the color of the word "policemen" and ask the kids, "What do we know about policemen that's only about policemen?" As they suggest answers, write them in around the word "policemen." They might say things like "catch crooks" or "wear badges," but they might also say something like "save people." When they suggest something that is also true of firemen, don't write it down. Instead, ask "Firemen save people, too, don't they?" Reinforce the point that this part of the map is for things only about policemen. Because you're just modeling now, write only about three to five words on this part of the map. As you write each word, remember to connect it with a line to the word "policemen."
Now take the pen that matches the color of the word firemen and ask the kids, "What do we know about firemen that's only about firemen?" Write down the same number of characteristics about firemen as you did about policemen. Again, gently reinforce the "only" criteria if they suggest something that is also true about policemen.
Now take the final color pen and ask the kids, "What do we know that's true about both firemen and policemen? Immediately go back to any kids who suggested any "both" ideas earlier, and keep going until you have the same number of words as you do for the other two. Remember to connect each new word with lines to both "firemen" and "policemen." Your map might look like this:
Now have the kids work in pairs on their own maps. You can see that comparison webbing is good for creating more complex and various pattern writing sentences like the following:
I know a fireman who fights fires.
I know a fireman who does not catch crooks.
I know a policeman who catches crooks but does not fight fires.
I know a policeman and a fireman who wear uniforms.
In addition, this web presents organized ideas for writing a paragraph or a paper that compares and contrasts two things (in this case, firemen and policemen).
Other Uses for Webbing
Although we've focused on them mainly for pattern writing, web maps and comparison webs can be extremely useful for other projects as well:
Try webbing for brainstorming activities in which you simply want to collect as many ideas as possible quickly and want to maintain a way of showing relationships. For example, suppose that you wanted to do an interviewing project with the class. Before having them make up a list of questions for the interview, get their top-level thinking organized by using a web map to figure out the topics for questions first. Then the class can come up with specific questions around each topic.
Webbing can be extremely helpful in pre-outlining long papers or reports for inquiry-based projects. To get their thoughts in order, kids will probably need a traditional outline before beginning to write anything longer than a page (whether it's presented as a paper, slide show or Web page). Doing web maps first will help them focus on the order of the concepts and main points; they then can add the subpoints in traditional outline form.
Another brainstorming application is an open-ended variation on web maps called "clustering," in which one lets one's thoughts run free in a stream of consciousness while recording those thoughts. It's an exercise that can help release a person's creative side and overcome writer's block. Start with your main word in the center as usual, but now just let each part of the word web run until it dead ends.
For example, if you were trying to come up with a name for a newsletter, you would write the name of your learning center in the middle of the page. Quickly now, what's the very first thing that you think of when you think of that name? It doesn't matter what it is, even if you can't figure out why you thought of it—just write it down and draw a line to connect it to the center word. Quick! What's the next word that pops into your head? Write it down, and connect it to either the first or second word, depending on which one made you think of it. Just keep going, following the web of words as they pop into your head. If you reach a dead end, go back to a part of the web where you've already been and see what it brings to mind. You'll be surprised at how many great ideas you come up with that you never would have found if you had been sitting with furrowed brow, waiting for inspiration.
By the way, clustering is a great technique for starting long or creative writing projects and for writing poems. For example, suppose you wanted to have kids write a paragraph (or a page) to describe how a person looks. Without a clustering exercise first, they might write mundane ideas, such as "he has big, hairy eyebrows." When you do clustering first, it focuses the kids' concentration and frees up the imagination. The word "caterpillar" might just jump out from the back of their mind, leading to "He has eyebrows like caterpillars crawling across the top of his face." Now that's a bit more vivid, isn't it? For more on clustering and other creative writing techniques, see the book Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Lusser Rico.
Webbing on the Computer
A number of computer software programs are available to help kids organize their thoughts. One that we like is called Inspiration. It offers a variety of tools and formats, including webbing options; a version called Kidspiration is specifically designed for children. If you use Inspiration or a similar program at your center, try the activity called Build Your Own Zoo to create a simple web map presentation. It's a good project to try when introducing the software to kids, but be sure you've explained the web map concept first and that kids have already tried one or two on paper.