Mind Mapping for Children with Dyslexia

The problem of too many words-

Mind mapping is often recommended as a way to support children with dyslexia. It is often suggested as a way to help with planning longer written work or sketching out ideas. It is a great way of reducing the number of words a child has to read and write to access and record information. However, mind maps can play a much more fundamental role in learning and revision.

I have used mind mapping both as a student and as a teacher working with students with literacy difficulties and find them an invaluable support. As their use becomes more common I am meeting more and more adults with dyslexia who also swear by a good mind map. I firmly believe that knowing how to mind map effectively can make the difference between academic success and failure. We teach children how to write an essay and how to take notes, but tend not to explicitly teach mind mapping. Often a child is taught how to draw a basic spider diagram in primary school and that is about it. If we are going to give all children the tools they need to succeed, then mind mapping is a skill that needs to be taught too.

The evolution of my mind maps - my personal approach

When I began my A levels my ‘spider diagrams’ became 'mind maps'. They became the most useful way for me to record information. I didn’t take notes as I couldn’t write fast enough and re-reading notes never helped me remember them anyway. By the time I was doing me degree I only used mind maps. Other than the essays I had to summit I did not write a single paragraph of notes in the three years of my degree.

USE SPACE - By organising the mind map carefully I can use spatial information to  ‘find’ related information by thinking of what was nearby on a page.

USE COLOUR - Initially I just used different colour pens to indicate headings and names. Soon I added colour to the blocks so that the different areas were easier to see.

USE PICTURES - Over time I used fewer words and more pictures. Pictures provide great visual prompts and only key words need recording.

As you can see as time went on my mind maps looked less and less like 'normal' note taking. The mind maps became more visual and less wordy. Although I felt self conscious about how my notes looked they proved to be highly effective. I have a slow reading and writing speed. Using mind maps allowed me to excel as I wasn't held back by my poor literacy skills.

Technology and mind maps

I tried various mind mapping computer programmes, but found them too constricting. Often the images were limited so I ended up adding hand drawn prompt images over the top which was time consuming. I gave up and reverted to hand drawing. However, mind mapping programmes have come on in leaps and bounds since then. There is more flexibly and it is easier to add images. They don't suit everyone but they are definitely worth considering, especially if you don't enjoy drawing.

One bit of technology that I have used consistently over the years is a voice recorder. This allows me to listen to the lecture without trying to take notes, and to take 'mind map' notes later at my own speed.


Introducing mind maps

I would suggest that mind maps come into their own when children are 7 or 8 years old. At this age there is a steep increase in the amount of information children are expected to access and children with dyslexia often find it hard to listen/read and take notes. At this point in primary school mind mapping can be introduced as an alternative to note taking, and as a way of planning work. Just as we teach numbering or bullet pointing for effective noting taking, we need to teach children to how to colour sections and draw prompts to create effective mind maps. While some children love the creative freedom that mind maps provide others feel that colouring-in and drawing are 'babyish'. Make sure you explain that they are something grown-ups find helpful too. Encouraging the whole class to choose which method suits them rather than teaching only children who struggle with the literacy will reduce stigma. It will also allow every child to experiment and find what suits them.  

Mind Mapping - hints and tips for older children

A good mind map provides a visual representation of the relationships between and within topics.  Put the most central information centrally and more peripheral information on the periphery. Put information on related topics next to each other. This is essential for planning essays and discussions.

Don't worry about how a mind map looks. It is only for you to see and only created to help you. It doesn't matter if they don't make sense to other people as long as they make sense to you.

For note taking

  • Always start in the same place and work around in a circle. That way you record the order in which information was presented.

  • Focus on recording key information- dates, names, new terminology and facts.

  • Don't worry about keeping it tidy. Note taking mind maps are always 'rough' copies as you cannot plan them accurately. As long as you can read your writing it is tidy enough.

  • Do not write down unnecessary words or write in full sentences. Stick to key points and essential information.

For revision

  • Draw a rough or pencil copy first. This is a great way to think about what is essential, and how things relate to each other.

  • Don’t make the structure too similar for you maps. They need to look distinct from one another.

  • Put a clear topic based image in the centre so you have an instant visual link to the map when given an exam or essay question. This images acts as an easily memorable 'hook' to the topic.

  • Don't worry that creating your revision notes takes time. The process of creating will help you remember them, so you will spend less time revising later.

Mind maps are a great way of organising information. They can be really useful for all children. However, the key thing for children with dyslexia is that mind maps separate ideas from textual information. For children with dyslexia the sheer number of words required by standard note taking formats can be a barrier to success. Good mind mapping skills can provide an essential alternative route to success.

I'm sure other people have different approaches and styles for mind mapping. Please share what works particularly well for you or the children you work with.