Steve Smith has written a post about them on his blog (with some nice examples).
What are they?
Mostly, they take the form of one A4 sheet with a list of key information needed for one topic.
What are they used for?
To help teachers with their planning and to give students a summary of key facts they need to learn.
Do they allow for deep learning as opposed to just facts?
I'm not sure about this.
It might work in history, geography, or science but I'm not sure it works in MFL.
We don't compartmentalise our knowledge. We revisit grammar and vocabulary constantly. (See my previous post)
Teaching phrases to low ability students might be a good idea under certain circumstances, but if we just taught phrases, it might be enough to pass an exam, but are they really learning the language?
I don't think so.
What's the difference between a knowledge organiser and a vocabulary sheet?
Not a lot, as far as I can make out. Most of them are just a vocabulary menu or a big Cluedo game or trapdoor activity: Pick one phrase from each box and you'll get a grade 5.
There's nothing wrong with this if all you want your students to do is gain a pass at GCSE. However, if you have potential linguists in your groups, (those who may want to study A level or go onto read language at University) then you are doing them a huge disservice.
From what I've seen there are some quite poor ones and some excellent MFL examples being used in schools.
My students create their own personal knowledge organiser sheets before assessments. They use their vocabulary lists and the feedback in their exercise books to create the own revision tool.
I recently saw some excellent student made knowledge organisers from students at St Robert of Newminster School, Washington They were made for a homework task and I've been given permission to share them with you.