This post first appeared on Free Technology for Teachers.
Over the summer, I had an interesting conversation with a group of teachers in a writing workshop. When exploring ways to enhance the pre-writing process with technology, we ended up in an interesting debate: graphic organizers vs mindmaps – which best supported the pre-writing process?
Digital Graphic Organizers
The debate began when I introduced participants to the Holt Interactive Graphic Organizer web site. I would like to note that there is NOTHING interactive about this site; however, it does provide some fantastic, FREE graphic organizers in PDF form. My participants explored the possibilities of interacting with these graphic organizers through the DocHub Chrome app, which I have written about previously, as well as a host of iOS apps.
Several of the teachers in the room saw tremendous benefit in being able to type or draw on these PDFs and to work within the confined structure of the graphic organizer. With digital graphic organizers, students have the look and feel of paper combined with the benefits of digital tools such as the ability to type, draw, and even record audio. We also explored the possibility of using these PDFs with screencasting tools so that students could explain their thinking.
On the other hand, some students find the confines of an 8.5×11 page to be constraining to their thinking. They need a larger canvas as well as a more flexible environment to map out their thoughts. After pre-writing with graphic organizers, we repeated the process with a handful of mindmapping tools. At the time, we focused primarily on Popplet and Lucid Chart (both available on the web & iOS). However, I would now add Coggle into the mix. In fact, the one embedded below provides an overview of how and why you may choose to use it.
With all of these tools, it is possible for students to expand on their ideas with an infinite amount of space. Students can include text, links, and images in their maps as well as collaborate with others. Like with the graphic organizers, these mind maps could also be combined with screencasting tools to encourage students to elaborate on their thinking. While some of my workshop participants found working with mindmaps to be liberating, others preferred the organized nature of the PDF graphic organizers.
Though our debate proved to be inconclusive, we did reach the consensus that a host of free tools exist to support students’ writing.
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