What are knowledge organisers and how can we use them in the primary classroom?

Melanie Moore

Melanie Moore

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Have you noticed that knowledge organisers have recently made more of an appearance in primary schools? This is undoubtedly due to the recent focus on the importance of a knowledge-rich curriculum from Ofsted, the DfE and other influential bodies. Whatever the reason for their presence, knowledge organisers look as though they’re here to stay.

So, what exactly are knowledge organisers, what’s their appeal and how do you use them with primary children?

In this blog, Cornerstones Curriculum Director Melanie Moore takes a closer look at this popular resource, explaining the importance of keeping knowledge organisers primary-focused and exploring ways of using them to support children’s understanding of key concepts and subject knowledge.

What is a knowledge organiser?

A knowledge organiser is a document, usually no more than two sides of A4, that contains key facts and information that children need to have a basic knowledge and understanding of a topic.

Most knowledge organisers will include:

  • essential knowledge about a topic or concept, usually laid out in easily digestible chunks
  • key vocabulary or technical terms and their meanings associated with the key concept or topic
  • quality images such as maps, diagrams and photographs
  • features such as a timeline
  • famous quotations, if relevant.

It can be hard to know what to include and what to leave out. This difficulty can be a blessing in disguise, as Mary Myatt explains in The Curriculum: Gallimaufry to Coherence: ‘The real power of knowledge organisers is that they make us think hard about what we are going to teach.’ (Myatt, 2018). So, creating your knowledge organisers will always be easier if you have a clear focus on the knowledge and concepts you want your children to learn.  

Supporting a knowledge-rich curriculum

Knowledge organisers are your curriculum’s ‘foot soldiers’, helping children to learn and retain the knowledge of your curriculum. Therefore, they should not be seen as a bolt-on resource. They are only effective at helping children to learn and remember more when they are built on a knowledge-rich curriculum, sequencing knowledge over time that links to children’s previous and later learning across the whole school.

How to use knowledge organisers in your classroom

There are countless ways to use knowledge organisers, but here are my top 10 favourite ways to make the most of them in a primary setting.

  1. Give them to the children before the start of a topic to encourage discussion, research and retrieval of knowledge from previous learning. You may also choose to send a copy home.
  2. Use them as a stimulus for talk. Discuss the knowledge organiser at the beginning of the topic, asking the children what information has sparked their interest and if they have any questions.
  3. Use them as a tool for retrieval alongside low-stakes quizzes.
  4. Use them to identify gaps in children’s knowledge throughout the topic: What have they understood? What needs more work?
  5. Display an enlarged copy on a working wall, encouraging children to add information around it during the topic.
  6. Use them as a means of strengthening your own knowledge in a subject area. Published schemes are brilliant for this as the knowledge has been written for you.
  7. Glue them into the children’s topic books so they can refer to them regularly.
  8. Cut up the sections of your knowledge organiser to use as a focus for group or guided reading or discussion.
  9. Make links between knowledge organisers to help children understand how their learning connects. For example, remind the children of a previous year’s knowledge organiser and discuss how their new knowledge links and builds upon it.
  10. Use them as a handy spelling and vocabulary reminder. Keep it visible, and expect the children to use the proper vocabulary correctly.

What are the benefits?

The main benefit of using knowledge organisers is that they give children and teachers the ‘bigger picture’ of a topic, subject area or specific concept. Some topics can be complicated, so having the essential knowledge, clear diagrams, explanations and key terms on one document can be beneficial.

Research shows that our brains remember things more efficiently when we know the ‘bigger picture’ and can see how chunks of knowledge within that subject area link, forming powerful schemas. Making links helps information move into our long-term memory. And, as Ofsted’s Sean Harford explains, knowledge becomes ‘sticky.’ (Harford, 2018). The more you know, the more you learn, which helps children gain a deeper understanding over time.

Another key benefit is their use for retrieval practice. Regular retrieval of knowledge helps us remember more effectively, as Roediger and Butler explore in their article ‘The critical role of retrieval practice in long-term retention’, featured in Trends in Cognitive Science. Again, it helps us store and recall knowledge from the long-term memory and frees up space in the working memory to take on new knowledge (Hirsch, Why Knowledge Matters, 2016).

The other benefit is that they make the knowledge explicit. So, even if a child misses a lesson, they have a constant point of reference. They give a class a ‘level playing field’ of knowledge, with more children having a general awareness and set of knowledge about a topic, rather than just a handful of children who did hours of research over half term!

For a teacher, the knowledge organiser supports or directs what you teach in each lesson. You can shape your teaching around it to ensure that you cover the key information over a sequence of lessons and assess knowledge-based outcomes based on it. As mentioned before, it is essential that already have a well-mapped curriculum that details the larger concepts, aspects and essential component knowledge that you intend children to learn over time.

What are the potential pitfalls?

As with any teaching resource, there are pitfalls to knowledge organisers—mostly around the way they are used. Here are some of the main issues and how to avoid them.

Use them as another tool in your resource kit and not as an end in themselves. The body of knowledge that children gain at the end of a topic should be deeper and wider than what is outlined by the knowledge organiser.

If you don’t have a coherent, well-sequenced curriculum with the larger concepts and key knowledge mapped out first, then it’s hard to create knowledge organisers that build upon each other across year groups. There will be unnecessary overlaps or gaps in knowledge. Avoid this by being clear about the key knowledge you want your children to attain as they move through school. For more on how to plan your curriculum intent, we give you three simple steps in our blog Curriculum intent for primary schools.

Writing knowledge organisers is tricky; I have written many, so I can attest to this. They take time, you need to read deeply around your subject, and your colleagues may disagree on what to include and omit.

Facts need to be accurate, relevant and up to date. Use trusted sources of information or incorrect facts will be learned that are hard to unlearn. Likewise, don’t just copy and paste from online encyclopaedias or use resources that may be protected by copyright laws—always check.

Ensure they suit your class, age-related expectations and national curriculum programmes of study in that subject. They should be engaging, clear resources that children trust and use regularly.

Some children may need another mode of making knowledge more explicit. Record an audio version or ask children to role play or present the information in their own way. Use other visual representations if that helps, such as mind maps or flashcards.

Finally, if you include everything on a knowledge organiser, it could give the game away before a topic has even begun. You’ll need to decide which facts are ‘spoilers’ and which will encourage curiosity.

These potential pitfalls are easy to avoid and should not put you off writing and using knowledge organisers in your school. Indeed, they are an essential tool in your resource toolkit, supporting a coherent, well-planned curriculum.


Knowledge organisers are a key part of helping children know and remember more. However, they must form part of your well-sequenced and knowledge-rich curriculum for maximum benefit. They should also be engaging, well written and use quality images and diagrams.

While some schools like to write their own, at Cornerstones, we have hundreds of knowledge organisers linked to every curriculum topic. They are downloadable, easy to use and fact-checked. You can download a couple of free examples by clicking the button below.

For the Maestro user

If you already have an active Curriculum Maestro licence, we have uploaded knowledge organisers for all of our KS1 and KS2 projects, including new design and technology knowledge organisers. For Early Years, we have designed a ‘Did you know’ sheet that teachers can share with children at the start of each topic.

Maestro allows you to define your curriculum intent, check live coverage and view subject progression. You’ll also have access to the new fully-sequenced Cornerstones Curriculum, hundreds of resources and more.

With Maestro, you have the power to design, deliver and manage an impactful curriculum that’s right for your school and more than meets the requirements of the new inspection framework.

This blog was originally posted on May 14th 2019 and has been updated on December 20th 2022