Student Mind Maps: Revealing the Remedial Needs of Struggling Writers

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.

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.
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.
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.
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, in Ossining, NY.  To learn more about her products and services, you can go to and 

Follow on Bloglovin

Join Dr. Warren's Newsletter

Subscribe to get our latest content by email.

3 replies
  1. theuniqueclassroom
    theuniqueclassroom says:

    I find that teaching writing to my learning support students can be as frustrating for me as it is for them, simply because, in contrast to reading, the words are in my students' minds, not there on the page for me to show them.
    Because of this "bottleneck" (I love the analogy!), I have felt a bit ineffective to help them. I love the idea of creating a mind map, especially because it enables students to be more aware of their own thinking.
    I also require my students to use a graphic organizer I developed for each type of writing (narrative, expository and persuasive). I see a HUGE improvement in their focus and organization over the course of the school year!
    I agree, we need to take advantage of the assistance technology can give our students. And an added bonus is that they become computer-savvy (more than just clicking on websites for games!). It's a win-win!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Amy Marie

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Thank you for sharing, Erica ! it reminds me of the work of Ingrid Stoop with the Matrix Method. She uses drawing of what is happening inside of your head as a starting point for learning in a different way and for helping to get rid of fears.

  3. Ivana
    Ivana says:

    Thanks for sharing Erica,
    Iam a teacher and I love sharing new learning methods with my students. Since recently we discussed about mind mapping theory and we decide to try some mind mapping tool in order to find out if it would be helpful for all of us.
    After some research we all together made, we find out great mind mapping tool – DropMind (
    All the functionalities we needed are placed in this mind mapping tool and it's FREE!
    Now we are more organized and we improve our creativity and productivity.



Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *