Understanding How Visual Thinking Strategies Support Dyslexic Learning

What is a visual thinking strategy?

A visual thinking strategy helps with arranging thoughts, concepts, facts and ideas in a way that helps with understanding and communicating information especially for dyslexic learners. Let us look at why this is the case and what types of visual thinking strategies are useful...

Why visual thinking strategies are helpful for dyslexic learners

The British Dyslexia Association’s video, ‘Seeing Dyslexia Differently’ explains how people with dyslexia think differently. One of the strengths of a dyslexic mind is to think visually and this ‘trend’ is evidenced by the number of dyslexic thinkers who work in our creative industries, such as architecture.

The school environment can be challenging as it often plays to the weaknesses of dyslexic thinkers.

Visual thinking plays to the strengths of a dyslexic mind, helping the user to develop a useful overview of the information that requires consideration prior to presenting that information in a linear way.

Click here to watch the British Dyslexia Association's video, 'Seeing Dyslexia Differently'.

Types of visual thinking strategy and when to use them

Concept Mapping

The term 'Mind Map' is often confused with the term 'Concept Map'. Concept Mapping, is a way of visually illustrating the relationships between concepts and ideas. Often represented in circles or boxes, concepts are linked by words and phrases that explain the connection between the ideas, helping users to organize and structure their thoughts, further understanding and discover new relationships. Concept mapping is popular in science, health education, engineering and more.

A Concept Map is a useful tool for those who feel stuck with writing essays as it helps them to arrange key information it in a way that makes sense.

DNA concept map creating using Inspiration 10

DNA Concept Map made in Inspiration 11

The key benefits to using Concept Mapping are:

  • It helps users generate new ideas
  • It encourages users to explore and make connections between topics
  • It allows users to clearly communicate information
  • It helps users to integrate new concepts with existing concepts
  • It enables users to gain enhanced knowledge and evauate that information

Digital Concept Maps can also be converted into Microsoft Word documents for further editing. This is ideal for expanding on written assignments.

There is a useful Concept Mapping 'explainer' video: How to make a concept map

Mind Mapping (Brain Storming)

Mind Mapping is a visual representation of hierarchical information that includes a central idea surrounded by a series of branched associated topics. Mind maps can be used to develop 'thinking templates' that can be used for specific thinking activities for example, a SWOT analysis that has a structure for thinking but needs populating with relevant details. For example, a student could use a mind map to organise how they prepare for an exam. The following is an example of a mind map that helps students get ready for exams:

Exam Mind Map made using Inspiration 11

Find out more about mind mapping at Inspiration 11's Mind Mapping page

Graphic Organizers

A graphic organiser is a visual display that demonstrates relationships between facts, concepts and ideas.  It can look like a template of blanks that need filling in with information.  The example below shows the relationship between two books leading a student through a ‘Compare and Contrast’ exercise.  They are designed with a specific objective in mind.

The benefits of a graphic organizer

  • Students can organise ideas and explore topical relationships
  • Reading comprehension is improved as information is broken down into disgestible chunks
  • Students improve their understanding of processes by systematically exploring cause and effect

Find out more about graphic organizers on Inspiration 11's Graphic Organizer Page

Final Comments

The great thing about using visual thinking strategies is that it is something that anyone can use to reach a deeper level of thinking and productivity.  It is especially useful for students with dyslexia who are especially creative or have a tendency for non-linear thought that makes conventional essay writing difficult to engage with.

Using visual thinking strategies can reduce coursework overwhelm and procrastination. For many students, using visual thinking strategies digitally, with software such as Inspiration 10, is a perfect starting point to then go on to edit mistakes and expand on written assignment within Microsoft Word.

About John Hicks

John Hicks is an accredited therapeutic counsellor and assistive technology advocate who supports young people and adults in unlocking their strengths and managing their weaknesses. He is responsible for The Studying With Dyslexia Blog and for supporting some 2500 families with his Parenting Dyslexia online initiative.

Author, John Hicks