Learning Challenges

Writing Made Easy: Tech Tools to the Rescue

Writing is one of the most challenging tasks for kids with attention challenges. Here, top software picks that will turn your child into a better writer.

Hand of student with ADHD scrolling on laptop
Hand of student with ADHD scrolling on laptop

Writing is one of the most challenging tasks for kids with attention challenges. Although composing a paragraph looks like a single task, it consists of many smaller tasks. A student has to come up with ideas, organize the ideas, remember what she’s learned about paragraph structure, recall what she’s already said and what she plans to say next, choose the right vocabulary, remember spelling, punctuation, and grammar rules; and recall how to form each letter. Writing requires working memory, the cognitive function that allows our brains to multi-task.

Luckily, there are lots of tools that can help students with weak attention manage these tasks.

Tools for Planning

Comic Creator is an outstanding tool for young students. Kids can choose between several different comic strip-style boxes, which the can fill with characters, props, and speech bubbles. Arranging a story into a series of frames helps developing writers sequence the events they imagine before writing their stories down.

Draft:Builder 6, from Don Johnston, makes writing process feel less overwhelming. The software guides students through three critical stages of writing: brainstorming, note taking, and drafts. The clever, color-coded idea webs reinforce organization.

Inspiration is one of the best planning tools available. Like other software, it allows writers to create webs that represent their ideas, complete with images and colored boxes to help them organize related content. Unlike other software, Inspiration automatically creates an outline from the graphic web. Students don’t have to choose between visual webs and sequential outlines. Kidspiration works well for younger kids in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Tools for Drafting

For students who have difficulty with spelling or word retrieval, WordQ is an excellent solution. The predictive software uses the content of partially typed sentences and/or the first letter or two of a word to “guess” which word might fit next. Students can keep typing if the predicted word isn’t the one they had in mind, or insert WordQ’s suggestion with the click of a button. Best of all, WordQ “floats” on top of most word processing programs, so there’s no need to sacrifice the formatting tools your student uses.

Co:Writer 7, also from Don Johnston, is a very good word prediction tool that can be used on PCs as well as mobile devices. Co:Writer 7 is very helpful with spelling and grammar.

Tools for Revising

Lots of writers with weak attention find it hard to spot small errors in their writing. Hearing them is much easier. There are numerous programs that can read typed paragraphs aloud for a writer’s review, such as Kurzweil, Dragon NaturallySpeaking, WriteOnline, and Ultra Hal. Keep in mind that Microsoft Word also has a text-to-speech function.

Tools for Older Students

By late middle school, most writing assignments take the form of analytical essays. The rigid format requirements for such essays can be challenging for many students with attention difficulties, but Rationale software is an outstanding lifeline. Using a graphic format, Rationale gives a series of prompts to guide writers through each step of an argumentative essay, from thesis formulation to concluding argument. Your student supplies the ideas and Rationale supplies the skeleton, resulting in well-formatted, thorough essays.

Mendeley is a wonderful tool that simplifies research and writing. It compiles source documents into a searchable library and allows users to annotate and highlight as they read. The sharing function makes it easy to collaborate with others. But one of the best parts is the auto-citation function: Mendeley automatically generates correctly formatted bibliographies, so students can submit their sources with ease. Mendeley works on desktop computers, tablets, and iOS devices.

A note about working with your child’s teacher: Many teachers mandate that students use a specific process for planning and executing writing. If your child finds one of the tools above helpful, ask her teacher if she can use it for the teacher’s assignment. Be ready to show the tool, and the product it helps create, so that the teacher will understand how it benefits your child. Chances are the teacher will be receptive if you can demonstrate that the tool yields the same kind of result as a more traditional paper graphic organizer or outline.