Learning Apps & Tools

3 Tech Tools to Help Your Child Conquer Essays

For students with ADHD and/or learning challenges like dysgraphia, writing a research paper might as well be free climbing El Capitan — a long, daunting, totally exhausting climb to an end point that’s sometimes impossible to see. Chart an easier route for your child by introducing these assistive technology tools for planning and writing essays.

Oh, the terror of staring onto a blank page.

It’s just so much space to fill! I can’t write that much! Where do I even start?!

As an educational therapist, I see many middle- and high-school students with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) totally overwhelmed when tackling essays and papers. So many executive functions are needed for extensive writing. And when dysgraphia factors in, an essay can seem insurmountable.

To these students, writing a term paper may feel like building a house all by themselves! So how about some tools to ease the construction task? For those with access to technology, here are three digital tools I’ve used with students facing a writing project that have alleviated stress and helped them start building their essays.

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Digital Outlines and Graphic Organizers

There are now web sites and downloadable apps that help guide kids through the brainstorming and outlining processes through clear and user-friendly interfaces. Readwritethink.org, for example, has an “essay map” interface where students chart out their opening statement, introduction, supporting details/paragraphs and conclusion. I once observed a student with ADHD and spectrum disorder using this site and watched him brainstorm into the map with much less stress than usual; it allowed his mind to jump around but also to keep inputting different idea fragments into various map sections.

Inspiration software has apps that allow students to create bubble maps and mind maps with totally customizable color, size, and shape options for the text boxes. They also automatically generate a standard outline for users once they’ve completed a brainstorm map.

Some students prefer to use PowerPoint or Google Slides to make their own organizers and outlines.

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Speech-to-Text Tools

Many students today are writing their essays on the computer rather than by free-hand, and though typing can be extremely helpful, the writing challenge may still loom large. Thankfully, I’ve seen how game changing speech-to-text (a.k.a. voice recognition) technology can be. I personally use it daily to compose texts, make reminder lists on my phone, or even sometimes while writing on Google Docs.

For our students with ADHD and/or dysgraphia, speech-to-text removes the graphomotor and visual-motor burdens of handwriting by allowing them to speak out their ideas and sentences. I’ve seen this function allow typically stifled students to generate ideas more easily, without worrying about grammar and spelling or how their handwriting looks on paper. I’ve also seen how speech-to-text can prompt them to consider word choice and punctuation more than they ever have, as punctuation must be spoken out by saying “comma” and “period” where appropriate.

Digital Calendar to Plan Out Steps

For better or worse, many teenagers manage their lives on their phones. One positive about this is their access to a digital calendar. I now add all of my projects and appointments on to my phone’s calendar, which alerts me they’re about to come up. But just setting a due date for an essay isn’t going to alleviate anxiety for a student struggling with the assignment.

When my students are overwhelmed with a paper, I help them break down the task into small steps. Step 1 is brainstorming ideas into a list or graphic organizer. Step 2 is considering the ideas they’ve brainstormed to generate a thesis. Step 3 is making an outline of supporting details. Step 4 is writing an introduction. And so on.

And here’s the key component: Students should chart out their steps on their phone’s calendar before starting so that they aim for and reach these incremental goals toward meeting the final deadline. Meeting these smaller goals can give students confidence and propel them toward completion. Ideally, a teacher, parent or tutor would also check in with them along the way to make sure they’re following the steps.

Your student can’t build a house with his bare hands. He needs tools to make the job — namely, writing challenges — manageable. And, in my experience, these digital tools really get the job done.

[Writing Made Easy: Tech Tools to the Rescue]