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Using BrainPOP as an Advance Organizer

By December 15, 2009June 14th, 201611 Comments

One of the most effective strategies that teachers can employ when first starting a unit is to use advance
 to help students activate background knowledge and organize potentially confusing new information. Advance organizers can take many forms, including graphic organizers, skimming, narratives, and simply giving an overview of the content (expository advance organizers). They are given to students in advance of the
learning activities to help scaffold their learning. This “front-loading” before new material is presented increases
opportunities for student success as they’re able to connect to prior knowledge and organize new information more easily.

For example, a middle school teacher is beginning a unit on forces and motion, with an emphasis on types of bridges and forces that act upon a bridge. He knows that his students have studied some of these concepts before and wants to remind them of their background knowledge on the subject as well as get students personally
interested. In order to do this, the teacher will utilize several types of advance organizers as his kickoff activity.

He begins by creating a graphic organizer to help students organize the new terms and definitions they will be learning. This also serves the dual purpose of helping them to focus on what’s important while not being distracted
by taking lots of notes. In this way, the teacher is modeling teacher-prepared notes. (More about this in an upcoming blog post.)



The students do several activities to help them fill out their graphic organizer. One is to watch the BrainPOP movie on Bridges. Before or after watching the movie, they might explore the intriguing facts and comic in the related FYI on BrainPOP as another means of piquing student interest and activating prior knowledge. He also uses other online and print resources to help students find the information for which they are looking. In effect, the teacher is using these resources as expository advance organizers, but using a variety of media to engage students and to speak to different learning styles.

As a narrative advance organizer, the teachers shows a video clip of “Galloping Gertie,” the Tacoma-Narrows bridge that collapsed in 1940. Students ask questions such as, “What made the bridge ‘gallop’?” and “Was this a mechanical error or did a natural disaster occur?” In this way, the teacher is again using multimedia to tell a narrative and to get students interested in the subject at hand.

By the end of the activity, the students are more familiar with key vocabulary and concepts that they will need as they progress in their studies of force and motion. They are likely far more engaged than they would have been had they simply been asked to read the opening paragraph of their textbooks. Even better, they can go back and visit the resources again or quiz themselves on basic concepts to self-assess their understanding.

Are you a BrainPOP Educator? Sign up today for BrainPOP Educators, our free professional community, where teachers can find and share innovative lesson plans, graphic organizers, video tutorials, and best classroom practices.

by Elizabeth Hubbell, Educational Technology Consultant at McREL, and Allisyn Levy, Director of BrainPOP Educators

(*Note: this post is the first of a series of collaborative posts between BrainPOP Educators and McREL’s Using Technology with Classroom Instruction that Works. These articles will be cross-posted on the McREL Blog and on BrainPOP Educators Blog.)

McREL is a non-profit, non-partisan education research and development organization that since 1966 has turned knowledge about what works in education into practical, effective guidance and training for teachers and education leaders across the U.S. and around the world.


  • Ian says:

    Great post, Elizabeth. Our elementary teachers tend to use BrianPop in a similar way to what you described above. They show the video first as an activating strategy. Incorporating the the graphic organizer just makes the introduction that much more effective. Thanks for the idea.

  • Elizabeth Hubbell says:

    Hi Ian,
    Thanks for your response! I agree, the graphic organizer helps teachers and students to use the movies more effectively. I see teachers pause the movie at certain points as students draw or write to fill in parts of the organizer.
    I’m very glad to hear that your teachers already see the power of using these resources at the *beginning* of the lesson. Too often, technology and other multimedia are saved for the end of the unit as an “extra.”

  • Thanks for the awesome scenario, Elizabeth. I’m wondering about the title of the post (which got my attention) – it appears to me that BrainPOP is used with an advance organizer, not as one. BrainPOP provides one mode of explicit content that is used in the graphic organizer, but it is not the organizer itself.
    This is more semantics of some wording – as I said, your scenario is great!

  • Elizabeth Hubbell says:

    Hi Michael,
    Both the graphic organizer and the movie are advance organizers. In Classroom Instruction that Works (2001), the authors describe four types of advance organizers: expository, narrative, skimming, and graphic. Expository advance organizers “describe the new content to which students are to be exposed.” (p. 118). Using the BrainPOP movie is using multimedia as an expository advance organizers.
    Other examples of advance organizers can be presenting information to students in a story format (narrative) or having them find the major headings and vocabulary words in the upcoming chapter (skimming).

  • Thanks, Elizabeth. The wording issue is in my brain – when I think of advance organizers, I mistakenly define advance as “complex” (as in advanced), rather than “before”. BrainPOP videos are certainly expository advance orgainzers, presented in a way to not only activate knowlegde but do it in an engaging way for many students.

  • Bre says:

    Unfortunately, I think that one of the first things to be eliminated during a lesson is the opportunity for students to activate prior knowledge about a subject. Teachers feel so crunched for time just trying to get through the content that they are required to “cover.” Students end up losing out on one of the most important and effective pieces of the lesson. We need to do a better job of educating teachers on the value of activating prior knowledge and organizing new information. We need to let teachers know that just because it is important, that doesn’t mean that it has to be complicated or time consuming.

  • jedele says:

    I teach fourth grade and I use BrainPop all the time in my classroom. I use it as an activating strategy as well as a reinforcement activity. Thank you for posting the link to BrainPop Educators. I will definetly taking part in the elluminate sessions to learn ways to incorporate BrainPop into my lessons.

  • Meghan Watters says:

    Good post Elizabeth,
    I have used BrainPop in my classroom and it has served as an excellent organizer and prior knowledge activity. The kids are much more interested in watching a video and are excited about where the lesson is going to go!

  • Ginger Johnson says:

    I am really excited about using BrainPop with my first graders. I think that utilizing a simple graphic organizer will be effective with my class. Thanks for the great ideas!

  • Marise says:

    What a great way to get the students ready for learning. I will be using BrainPOP with my middle school science classes! Thanks!

  • tina says:

    This is such a wonderful idea. I just had a promethean board installed in my room. I can not wait to try BrainPop.

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