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The knowledge rich curriculum: Could knowledge organisers be the solution?

The forthcoming changes in the Ofsted inspection framework have prompted many schools to look at their curriculum and consider whether the curriculum they teach is ‘knowledge rich’. Recent Ofsted research defined a ‘knowledge-rich’ approach as one in which curriculum leaders have a clear idea of the ‘invaluable knowledge they want pupils to know’. In order for this to be achieved it has been suggested that schools need to make choices about what they are teaching and keep these choices clear and focused. It has also been suggested that schools should consider how the learning is sequenced and how this sequencing will facilitate pupils in remembering what they have been taught. For some schools, the introduction of knowledge organisers has been a way to promote the focused and sequenced teaching of the curriculum.

What is a knowledge organiser?

Knowledge organisers work on the principle of backwards planning. The first step of creating a knowledge organiser is to figure out what you want pupils to know by the end of the teaching unit. A knowledge organiser specifies, in detail, the exact dates, events, characters, facts, concepts and definitions that pupils are expected to know by the end of teaching, and, most importantly, retain in their long term memory.

A knowledge organiser can make it much clearer for everyone exactly what is being taught. They allow teachers to prioritise certain learning and keep the lessons focused and sequenced in the best possible way to facilitate learning.

Knowledge organisers are not just for the benefit of teachers. They are given to pupils at the start of a unit of work so they know what they will be learning. The knowledge organisers also allow pupils to easily recap their previous learning. Instead of forgetting what they learn from one lesson to the next, knowledge organisers give pupils the opportunity to continually revisit their previous learning, increasing the likelihood of the information being remembered in the long term.

Below is one example of what a knowledge organiser could look like. (Taken from ‘Beyond Knowledge Organisers; Building The Best Curriculum in the World’ – A blog post written by Jon Hutchinson, 2018)

Can you over use knowledge organisers?

A potential problem with using knowledge organisers is the temptation to over use them. If knowledge organisers are over used, then pupils are merely taught a selection of facts. This leads to pupils having ‘inflexible knowledge’, meaning they cannot apply the knowledge nor link it to other knowledge which they have. Therefore, when using the knowledge organisers teachers must ensure that the explanations of the facts and the connections between the facts are provided for pupils. This explanation of facts and their connections makes the knowledge more memorable, flexible and transferable.

What about teaching skills?

One critic of knowledge organisers is the sole focus on knowledge and a lack of focus on skills. As teachers, we want to develop a young person’s ability to think critically, therefore, using a knowledge organiser, which seem to promote mindlessly regurgitating facts, is not the way to do this.  Hutchinson answered this critic in his blog post ‘All Knowledge? What about Skills?’. Hutchinson references empirical evidence from Daisy Chirstodoulou who argued that there is no such thing as a ‘generic skill’. So trying to teach the skill of critic thinking directly is not attainable. A pupil’s ability to think critically about a subject is determined by their underlying knowledge of that subject. The more knowledge a pupil has on a particular topic the more critically they can think about that topic. More knowledge leads to more discussion, more debate and more questioning of the subject. Therefore, even though skills do not feature on knowledge organisers they are still the ultimate aim when delivering a unit of work.

Are knowledge organisers enough?

Another critic of knowledge organisers is that, potentially, they are not enough. Even if teachers plan a focused, perfectly sequenced unit of lessons based on the knowledge organiser there is still the question of whether this is enough for all pupils to develop memorable networks of powerful knowledge. David Perkins wrote about ‘fragile knowledge’ and this demonstrates how a focused, sequenced curriculum may not enough for all pupils. ‘Fragile knowledge’ can be broken down into four parts.

  1. Missing knowledge – important knowledge that is simply missing. Perhaps it wasn’t on the knowledge organiser so hasn’t been taught, perhaps it has not been revisited so has been forgotten.
  2. Inert knowledge – knowledge that is present but lacks the ability to be applied to different scenarios.
  3. Naïve knowledge – knowledge that takes the form of naïve theories or stereotypes, even after discussion and instruction.
  4. Ritual knowledge – knowledge that is useful for academic tasks but not much else.

Knowledge organisers do not account for ‘fragile knowledge’ nor do they take into account how different pupils learn. Therefore, it has been suggested that we should, instead, focus on developing pupils’ knowledge of; themselves as learners, of different learning strategies and of different tasks. This may then give us a higher chance of ensuring that pupils’ learning is secure and memorable. However, this could potentially be developed alongside the use of knowledge organisers to create a ‘knowledge-rich’ curriculum.

How can I use knowledge organisers in my classroom practice?

  • Think about what knowledge you want your pupils to have by the end of the unit. Including different aspect of the unit such as facts, definitions, concepts etc. Make your own knowledge organiser which includes this knowledge. Templates can be found here: Blank Template
  • Use the same knowledge organiser for all pupils but differentiate the input or task.
  • At the start of the unit give the knowledge organisers to your pupils. This allows pupils to know what they are learning and recap any information when they want to.
  • Recap the knowledge regularly. Don’t just recap something once and assume that it is learnt. For the knowledge to secure in long term memory pupils must revisit it on numerous different occasions.
  • Allow pupils to use the knowledge organisers as self-evaluations. Pupils can highlight the knowledge which they are secure with, allowing both themselves and you to keep track of their learning.
  • Use the knowledge organisers as assessment tools. Complete regular quizzes for the children based on the information on the knowledge organiser. If, by the end of the unit, pupils can answer questions based on the knowledge organiser then they have met your expectations for that unit of work.
  • You could incorporate different aspects of learning into the assessment, such as a completing a piece of writing which links with the topic, allowing pupils to include the knowledge which they have learnt.


John Hutchinson’s Blog posts:

‘Using Knowledge Organisers in Primary School’ (2016)

‘Knowing Stuff is Cool’ (2017)

‘Beyond Knowledge Organisers; Building The Best Curriculum in the World’ (2018)

EEF Blog post, written by Alex Quigley (2019)