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Student Mind Maps: Revealing the Remedial Needs of Struggling Writers

Having an understanding of how each student processes information and conceptualizes ideas is key in the remedial writing process.   Students can think in a sequence of images, a series of words, webs of pictures, an outline of phrases, a collage of imagery, a patchwork of terms, movie-like scenes and more.  By evaluating the ways your students conduct the process, you can help them to tweak their method so that writing can become a fluid and enjoyable process.  This can be done through discussion, but what I find to be most helpful is having your student(s) conduct a drawing of how their mind works – a mental mind map.

I discovered the utility of this mindful approach when working with a student, JT.  Time and time again, JT struggled to get his ideas on paper, and beginning the process was always a chore.  What’s more, first drafts tended to be a hodgepodge of overlapping ideas.  We often referred to JT’s difficulties as road blocks, and when I finally asked JT to draw what it was like in his mind to write, we discovered a very different issue.  JT didn’t suffer with writers block, he experienced more of a writer’s bottleneck.   The term bottleneck is a metaphor that is often used to describe the traffic congestion created when construction takes a multilane road and limits travel to a single lane.  Soon traffic gets backed up and travel becomes slow and frustrating.  It comes literally from the slow rate of liquid outflow from a bottle, as it is limited by the width of the exit – the  bottleneck.  JT’s challenge was not a result of a lack of words and ideas as we once thought.  Instead, he was overwhelmed with competing and overlapping ideas as represented in the image on this page.  JT drew a complex web of lines that was dotted with what he described as both good and bad ideas.  Also, he remarked that darker lines represent stronger ideas.  Once I saw the image, it all made sense.  JT is highly intelligent, but he also has ADHD as well as dyslexia.  Now it is clear how these diagnoses impact his writing.  JT is bombarded with a plethora of ideas and he has difficulty funneling and organizing his thoughts into an ordered sequence of words.  When he writes, he too becomes frustrated with the slow and labored process of writing in a linear fashion.  What’s more, his dyslexia, which impacts his spelling, is an added hurdle and annoyance that distracts him during the writing process.

So now that I know JT’s challenge, what can I do to help him?

1) From the very beginning, I can help JT to define the main ideas and topic sentences. 
2) I can also encourage him to use graphic organizers or programs such as Inspiration to help JT to categorize his supporting details and examples.
3) I can offer JT a computer with a spell check and word prediction software.
4) When conducting research papers, I can help JT define each main idea on a different colored index card.  Then, JT can organize each nugget of information onto the best colored index card so that all the supporting details and examples are categorized under the same color as the most appropriate main idea.  Then, I can let him sequence the supporting details and examples in an orderly fashion by arranging the cards.  Finally, when JT is ready to type his paper, he can alter the font color to match the colored index cards so that he can be sure to get all the correct details and examples under the best main idea.   Once the paper is complete, JT can select the whole document and change the font color back to black.

I hope you will try having your students draw their own mental mind maps.  Allowing them to show the workings of their inner mind will not only help others remediate areas of difficulty, but it will help each individual have a better understanding of and power over his or her own ways of processing.

I would love to hear your thoughts.
Dr. Erica Warren is the author, illustrator and publisher of multisensory educational materials at Good Sensory Learning and Dyslexia Materials.  She is also the director of Learning to Learn and Go Dyslexia, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to &  
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