Monday, October 7, 2013

One: 6 Actions to iPadify the Writer's Process #ipad #edtech #writing #ec3ta13

Note: This continues a series begun in a previous blog entry.

Action #1 - iPadifying Pre-Writing:
“You want me to make a what?” asked my 13 year old daughter.
“You know, a concept map. . .” I sputtered, afraid of the implications of this conversation. “A graphic organizer? A way to figure out how you’re going to structure your piece?” We were discussing her upcoming essay and I was trying to gift her with my years of experience. Unfortunately, that experience was getting in her way more than anything else. As it turns out, graphic organizers were a some time thing to share with students. My daughter had seen semantic webs but seldom seen one.

For her writing involves making sense of concepts, not by diagramming the stars and constellations of chaotic content captured in her mind’s eye but describing what she saw in a gush of words. And, as a writer myself, putting one word in front of another to discover what I had to say, I certainly could appreciate the value of that effort.

As a writer, I know that reading often preceeds writing. Pre-Writing is essentially our first effort at wrestling with ideas, putting them down in a structure or form that is changeable, malleable and impermanent. There are several ways to accomplish this, and the iPad makes that work possible. Here are some ways that one can iPadify PreWriting:

1) Organize Your Reading - Content curation, another popular term for organizing what you’re reading and then sharing that with a larger audience of interested followers via social media, can be enabled by apps like those listed below:
  • Zite or Flipboard, which serve as online magazines rich with content that you choose;
  • ReadItLater’s Pocket app, which allows for easy saving of web sites worth accessing again to an online repository.
  • Evernote and, two note-organization and sharing tools that make it easy to capture snippets of content (Evernote) and then share them online (

While there are many tools like this available, it’s important to find a way to organize all we read that is relevant in a way we can interact with it, juxtapose it with unrelated ideas. These apps on the iPad make organizing one’s reading a fun endeavour, especially for grades 6-12. For younger grades, you may have to skip to graphic organizers.

2) Map Your Readings and Brainstorms - One of my favorite ways to take notes on a text isn’t to deface the book with my profane thoughts and ideas. Rather, it is to grab a blank page and sketch out a graphic organizer that covers the main points. As I read the piece, I pick out main ideas, supporting details, draw dotted lines between them, make connections to my own experiences, then put them down as brief one word to several word phrases. Creating word maps is easy on the iPad and I love being able to quickly publish them as summaries of what I’m reading or thinking. Instead of reading and gathering ideas that die on a wrinkled sheet of paper, the very construction of ideas begets a new creation inspired by another author’s musings.

Brainstorming and freewriting can sometimes be as daunting trying to fill an empty page with words and thoughts. As a result, I find myself creating concept maps that tease out in my mind what I might write about. Like a designer of an ill-structured problem linking issues and topics to curriculum, I try to find a way to embrace the totality of ideas and problems in a concept map.

There are a multitude of graphic organizers one can use, but the best concept map is ofen the simplest, unless you want to push your mind in another direction. If you Google concept map, you will find a treasure trove of schemas that you can use to push your mind ( Why not introduce one per week to your students, to help them think differently?

Adam Renfro ( suggests that our use of concept maps with novice writers, which covers many young writers should look like this rather than something a bit more cramped and “bubbly:”

You can easily iPadify your concept maps using apps like the five below:
  1. Idea Sketch (free but $2.99 with in-app purchase) - This is my favorite concept mapping tool--and I’ve tried the expensive ones--because it’s easy to use and inexpensive. It features Dropbox support and exporting to multiple file formats.
  2. Popplet ($4.99) - The free version lets you create 1 popplet, while the paid version lets you share content you create with others.
  3. iThoughtsHD ($9.99) - A powerful, massively compatible with other desktop graphic organizers.
  4. Total Recall - MindMap (Free) - A free, easy to use mindmapping tool.
  5. Penultimate (Free) - A nice app that you can type and/or “write” in with your finger or stylus. I haven’t quite warmed up to this app, even with its ability to synchronize to Evernote.
Not having written a memoir before, i thought I'd start with this piece. This happened when I was 7-8 years old, so it's stuck with me. The diagram above was made with Idea Sketch app on my iPad.

Pre-Writing can also involve trying to come up with ideas to write about. Another approach involves using an app that provides writing prompts. This is a fun alternative to reading and coming up with ideas:

Another neat idea for coming up with writing prompts is to use augmented reality apps. In this blog entry, Augmented Reality to Inspire Creative Writing, the blog author (Drew Minock;   on Twitter) shares how students are using the ColAR Mix app:

via Drew Minock at Eastover ES
I gave the students a choice to pick one of the 10 different coloring pages from the app ColAR Mix, and use the image on the page as a prompt to write a creative story. There was only two rules for the assignment:
1. Have fun
2. Use your imagination
The students got started right away, some writing their story first, and some coloring. Many students were very excited about their stories saying, "Can I please share my story?!" This all happened because I gave the students a choice to create what they wanted and NOT what I wanted.

As you might imagine, this is an engaging approach for students who have regular access to an iPad.

For those writers who would like to simply just write their hearts out without word processor features--it’s just you and the blank space--then there are several apps that may fit the bill. Again, when quickly trying to jot down ideas during a freewrite or brainstorming session, simple can be powerful.

  1. Nocs (Free) - Although intended as a note-taking tool with Dropbox support, you can’t beat how simple and feature free this app is for quick writing. What’s more, it includes markdown support so you can quickly type in # symbol and you’ve changed that line into a heading or an * will get you a bullet point.  
  2. PlainText  (Free) - A simple straightforward text editor with Dropbox support.

Now you don’t have to have a stripped-down, featureless text editor app for your iPad to get writing done. If you need something fancier, then definitely consider Apple’s Pages as a writing tool; just realize that it comes with a lot of features that may get in the way of students who are captivated with adding images, changing font colors, etc. Not a bad thing to do that, only not really the focus during pre-writing.

Playing Around with MarkDown Text - The Essence of Simplicity

By the way, if you really like the idea of featureless text editing, consider using a markdown editor:
Markdown is a text formatting syntax inspired on plain text email. It is extremely simple, memorizable and visually lightweight on artifacts so as not to hinder reading (Source: Byword markdown editor web site).

Here are my top picks for Markdown editors that sync with Dropbox:
  • On Android, Draft  ($2.49) is the app to get. It allows for markdown (md) format for your text files. This allows you to bold,as well as other things, your text, which is a plus!
  • On iOS, use Nocs (free) or if you need more firepower, use WritingKit.
  • On Windows, try MarkDownPad (free)
  • On Mac, try Byword. It's also available for your iPad, so it may cover both angles for you.
I know, I're saying, why go through all this trouble when you have everything else? For a writer, it's the blank page and the word. I've found that when I change the medium I'm working in, it enhances my writing process, making it easier for me to get in "the zone."

You can also use Safari browser on your iPad and access the web site. While you will need an email account and password, it’s not too difficult to just start writing there, as shown below:

Give it a shot! Ample tools, both apps and web-based, you can take advantage of for writing!

Check out Miguel's Workshop Materials online at

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure

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