Using the Frayer Model in Your ELL Classroom

The Frayer Model is a visual organizer that helps students understand key ideas and words by linking the new ideas to their existing knowledge. The graphic organizer looks like this, with the word or concept that you are teaching at the center:

Frayer Model

Some graphic organizers include a fifth section where students can add a visual representation of the word. This illustration section is particularly useful for younger students who might struggle with long definitions but find visual cues memorable.
An example of a simple filled out Frayer Model is below:

Frayer Model Completed

Who should use the Frayer Model?

Everyone! The Frayer Model is designed to apply across the curriculum and across grade levels. Research has shown the use of the Frayer Model or other graphic organizers to be beneficial in subjects ranging from elementary mathematics instruction (Monroe, 1998) to high school reading instruction (Peters, 1974) to science instruction for students on the autism spectrum (Knight et al., 2013).

Why should I use the Frayer Model with my ELL students?

The Frayer Model creates a web of knowledge around a key concept that makes it easier for students to remember, access, and apply the central concept. For ELL students trying to learn large amounts of vocabulary, the model provides a clear structure for organizing their existing knowledge around the new idea. The Frayer Model can also be used to help bridge the gap between first language and English, as students can fill out some of all of the supporting boxes in both languages.

How can I use it in my classroom?

Though the possibilities for use are nearly endless, here are some ideas for using the model in your classroom, regardless of age and level:

  • Use the Frayer Models to create word walls for different units, as student each create one key concept on a topic and then share their research with their peers.
  • Use it as a jigsaw activity, where each student is responsible for filling out and presenting one segment of the model to their group, then each group presents their whole model.
  • Turn it into a matching game, as students must match their words with the filled out Frayer Models. Or, the advance version: cut up multiple models and have students try to unscramble them.
  • Use it for students to track their progress in connection with a KWL chart.

What should I be aware of before using the model?

Using the Frayer Model is time-consuming–and it should be. By including multiple ways of understanding a new word or concept, the model requires students to build new networks of comprehension. However, the process can take a while if done with attention to detail. Therefore, it is better to have students make Frayer Models for key concepts rather than for every vocabulary word in a unit.

References and Resources

“Frayer Model”

Hogan, E. “Supporting Vocabulary Acquisition for English Language Learners.” National Council of Teachers of English.

Knight, V. F., Spooner, F., Browder, D. M., Smith, B. R., & Wood, C. L. (2013). Using systematic instruction and graphic organizers to teach science concepts to students with autism spectrum disorders and intellectual disability. Focus on autism and other developmental disabilities, 28(2), 115-126.

“Linguistic scaffolding strategies for ELLs” (2009) LEP SSI Instruction Excellence Center; Project Tesoro.

Monroe, E. E. (1998). Using graphic organizers to teach vocabulary: How does available research inform mathematics instruction? Education, 118(4): 538-540.

Peters, C. W. (1974). A Comparison between the Frayer Model of Concept Attainment and the Textbook Approach to Concept Attainment (Abstract). Reading Research Quarterly, 10(2), 252–254.

A former teacher from a high ELL-incidence district in Massachusetts, Alea is now finishing her doctorate in Education from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She also works at Mawi Learning as the School Partnership Specialist. When she isn't writing her dissertation, Alea can most often be found watching her beloved Red Sox, reading an unabashedly trashy romance novel, or eating her husband's homemade bread.

Category: Lessons