Graphic organizers have been used in classrooms for many years, but we are far beyond the days of smelling Ditto machine ink on duplicated Venn diagrams.
Today, there are numerous options for students to create electronic graphic organizers, and for those with dyslexia, that is a good thing. Even though dyslexic students have difficulty with language-based activities, visual learning is often a strength for them. Electronic graphic organizers, which can be paired with other assistive technology (AT), such as dictation and word prediction, can provide a means to visually organize ideas while writing essays, taking notes on lessons and readings, and preparing for quizzes and tests.
The Writing Process
Writing an essay, which involves multiple steps from brainstorming to outlining to drafting, can be difficult for students with dyslexia. Graphic organizing software can be used to make the process easier and more efficient. Students can utilize dictation or word prediction technology to brainstorm ideas, and then drag and drop those ideas to organize them visually in categories. Several graphic organizing programs will then automatically convert the visual diagram to a formal outline. Finally, the outlined ideas can be expanded into complete sentences, again using dictation or word prediction, before being exported to a word processor for drafting in paragraph form. In that manner, the writing process is made more efficient, as each step builds upon the previous one and work does not need to be repeated.
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Reading and understanding the written word can be major challenges for dyslexic students. Organizing vocabulary, main ideas, supporting details, and comprehension questions into an electronic graphic organizer is one way that these students can improve their reading comprehension. Another is to use classic comprehension strategies, like KWL or the 5 W’s, and organize the information visually using a graphic-organizing application. Attaching a specific image to each element of the organizer and activating text-to-speech technology can elevate the exercise to a multisensory experience, increasing the level of understanding.
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Many students, particularly those with dyslexia, struggle with effective note taking and preparing for quizzes and tests. These are skills that can be acquired, and graphic organizing software is one tool that can help. Students can create visual notes, rather than using a linear format, like two-column notes, in order to make ideas and vocabulary more accessible. Furthermore, once students create notes using an electronic graphic organizer, those notes can double as multisensory, interactive study guides. Several applications allow students to open and close individual elements of the organizer so that students can quiz themselves on the information, even receiving auditory reinforcement via text-to-speech technology.
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Electronic Graphic Organizers to Try
While there are many options, the following programs, apps, and web-based services are worth trying:
- Inspiration: A full-featured desktop program, compatible with Windows and Mac computers, Inspiration has many formatting options, built-in templates, and useful tools like a word guide, spell check, and integrated text-to-speech. It even has a function that will automatically turn a graphic organizer into a slide show that can be exported to PowerPoint for further editing.
- Inspiration Maps: An iPad companion app to Inspiration, Inspiration Maps retains most of the functionality of the desktop software. Students can also start a graphic organizer on the iPad app and finish it later on the desktop.
- Draft:Builder: A combination graphic organizing and outlining program for desktop computers, Draft:Builder has a unique note-taking feature that students can use to expand their ideas after initial brainstorming. The notes can then be dragged and dropped into a basic word processor, making the writing process more efficient.
- Popplet: A web-based graphic organizing tool, which also has an iPad app, Popplet limits students to basic formatting and functionality. For students who are easily distracted by too many options, it is a great choice.
- Mindomo: Another web-based tool with a companion iPad app, Mindomo lets students create graphic organizers that can double as presentations. The presenting function has a unique zooming tool that allows users to focus on individual elements of the organizer.