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Prewriting and Drafting

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This page focuses on supports that help learners take an idea from just thoughts in their minds to an initial draft that can be refined in the later stages of the writing process. It should be emphasized that writing is not a linear process. Sometimes an idea does not pan out, and it may be necessary to return to the earlier stages of the writing process to do additional research and rethink how ideas are organized.  

Prewriting

Prewriting is everything that a learner does before sitting down to write an initial draft of their ideas. It includes research to understand the topic better, brainstorming to generate and organize new ideas, and talking to others to try out ideas and see if they are worth pursuing further. 

Most operating systems have a basic note-taking app that is ideal for quickly capturing initial thoughts or creating a basic outline. These built-in apps have limited formatting capabilities, but that is a good thing. Too many options can be distracting at this stage of the writing process. 

  • Windows has a simple text editor called Notepad. You can quickly launch it by typing “Note” into the search field in the Windows taskbar and selecting it from the search results. 
  • Apple devices have the built-in Notes app. On iOS devices (iPad and iPhone), swipe down with one finger in the middle of the screen to bring up the search and start typing the word “Note”. On the Mac, press Command and Space on your keyboard and start typing the word “Note” for quick access.
  • On Chromebooks, you could use a simple note-taking app such as Google Keep. You can quickly start a new note by going to keep.google.com and, assuming you’re already logged into your Google account, selecting “Take a note” at the top of the screen. 

Voice memo apps that can another helpful tool for capturing initial ideas quickly:

  • On the iPad and iPhone, you can use the built-in Voice Memos app to create short recordings using a simple interface. 
  • On Windows, the Voice Recorder app can be launched quickly by entering the word “Voice” into the search field in the taskbar. As you record, you can tap the flag icon to set a marker, indicating a thought or idea you want to find later. 
  • On a Chromebook, the online Voice Recorder app provides basic recording and editing capabilities. 

Some learners may prefer to capture their ideas visually. Concept or mind mapping involves starting with a central idea and organizing related ideas as a series of connected nodes. Concept or mind mapping apps include:

  • MindMup: cloud-based mind mapping tool with support for unlimited maps as long as they are under a certain size (100 KB). Larger maps can be saved to Google Drive. 
  • MindMeister: web-based mind mapping tool with collaboration features. It requires a subscription but three mind maps can be created for free. 
  • Mindomo: desktop mind mapping software with versions for Windows and the Mac. An online version provides syncing of mindmaps created offline. A subscription is required, but 3 mind maps can be created for free.
  • MindNode: this mind mapping software for Apple devices is one of the few applications in this category with support for a screen reader (Apple’s VoiceOver). Another unique feature is the ability to create nodes as a checklist that shows progress as the items in the node are marked complete. An outline view is available and kept in sync with the mind map. 
  • Inspiration Maps: this app for iOS (iPad and iPhone) includes a number of graphic organizers and supports switching between a diagram and an outline view. Nodes can be represented with a number of icons that are included with the app, and there is a RapidFire feature for quick brainstorming. 

Sketchnoting with an app such as Paper and a stylus is another way for learners to brainstorm ideas and capture notes visually. 

Learners also need to be able to manage the information they collect as they research a topic, to ensure it is easily available to them when they sit down to write their drafts. Options for storing links to websites, videos and other resources include:

  • Wakelet: bookmarking service where learners can organize resources into collections that can be shared.
  • Pocket: a “read later” service for collecting resources found online or through social media. There are Pocket apps for the most popular mobile devices, including iOS (iPad and iPhone), Android and Amazon (Fire Tablet). Learners can also add a Pocket button to their web browser to save resources as they surf the web on a computer. 
  • OneNote: Microsoft’s note-taking app is available in web and desktop versions. Notes can also be saved to OneNote with the OneNote Web Clipper Google Chrome extension

Low-tech methods can be helpful as well, but it is recommended that learners take a photo of any sticky notes to make sure they are not lost or damaged and the great ideas captured in them are lost. 

Drafting

In this step, learners develop their initial ideas into sentences and paragraphs that start to show some connections in their understanding of the topic. This step involves the mechanics of writing: taking what is in the learner’s mind and getting it into a more tangible form that can be refined in later steps of the writing process. 

Typically learners will create their drafts using a word processing application. Some learners may encounter barriers with typing due to physical or cognitive challenges, and typing on a touchscreen can be difficult for everyone. Fortunately, word prediction and dictation are now included as built-in options on many devices. Originally created to make interacting with a computer easier for people with disabilities, these two features have become helpful aids for everyone. 

Word Prediction

Word prediction saves time and effort by requiring the learner to enter tjust he first few letters of a word. The word prediction feature then presents a choice of potential words or phrases for the learner to choose the best option based on the context. This can be especially helpful to learners who struggle with spelling.

To use word prediction in Windows 10: 

  1. Open your Windows Settings: a quick way to do it is by typing “Settings” in the search box of the Taskbar and pressing Enter. 
  2. Select Devices, then Typing.
  3. Make sure the “Show text suggestions as I type” option under Hardware Keyboards is selected. Now when you start typing a word, suggestions will appear right above the cursor.

On the iPad and iPhone, word prediction suggestions will appear above the onscreen keyboard if this feature has been turned on in Settings (it is the Predictive option found under General, Keyboard). Android devices work in a similar way if word prediction is enabled for the current onscreen keyboard (this can be done in Settings, Language and Input by choosing your current keyboard and selecting “Text correction”). 

More advanced word prediction is available through third-party apps or extensions, including:

  • Read and Write: available for Windows, Google Chrome (as an extension), the Mac and the iPad (as a third-party keyboard). 
  • Co-Writer: available as extensions for the Google Chrome and Edge web browsers, and as an iPad app and a third-party keyboard. Co-Writer provides topic-specific word prediction. 
  • Keeble: available as a third-party keyboard that replaces the default keyboard on the iPad and iPhone. In addition to advanced word prediction, Keeble provides many options for customizing the display of the onscreen keyboard by making the keys larger, adjusting the color contrast and more. 

These apps and extensions provide feedback with text-to-speech that can be helpful for proofreading. With Read and Write and Co-Writer learners can hover over the word prediction suggestions with their cursor to hear them read aloud with text-to-speech. Similarly, Keeble has options for hearing each word or sentence spoken aloud as it is entered into the text.

Dictation

Dictation uses speech recognition to turn what learners say into text. Learners can typically speak punctuation as well as use some basic formatting commands. The accuracy of the recognition will depend on the quality of the audio and how clearly learners speak. For the best results, an external microphone is recommended.

Dictation is available as a built-in option on all the major operating systems:

  • Windows: press the Windows and H keys to start the dictation, and say “Stop Dictation” to stop it. On a touchscreen device, press the dictation icon (a microphone) on the onscreen keyboard to start and stop dictation.
  • iPad and iPhone: Tap the dictation icon (a microphone) on the onscreen keyboard to start and stop dictation. If you don’t see the dictation icon, you may need to enable dictation in Settings (under General, Keyboard). 
  • On a Chromebook, highlight some text and press the Search and S keys. You may have to go into your Chromebook’s settings to turn dictation on first (the option is found under Settings, Advanced). 
  • On a Mac, press the Function key twice to start and stop dictation. You may have to turn it on in Settings first (the option is found under System Preferences, Keyboard, Dictation). You can turn on Enhanced Dictation to use the feature while you are not connected to the internet. 

Dictation is also built into Google Docs, where it is known as “Voice Typing.” To use it, you must open Google Docs in the Chrome web browser, then select Tools, Voice Typing or use the keyboard shortcut Control, Shift, S. A floating window with a microphone button will appear. Select this button to start and stop dictation. Microsoft Word also has a dictation feature available in the Home tab of the Ribbon. 

Revision History

As learners develop their drafts, there may be times where they have to go back to an earlier version. Fortunately, this is easy to do with cloud-based writing tools. 

To revert to an earlier version of a draft in Google Docs:

  1. Choose File, Version History, See Version History.
  2. A list of the various snapshots of the current document will appear in a pane on the right side of the screen. Select any of these snapshots to see the document as it appeared at the indicated time.
  3. To go back in time to a snapshot, choose the “Restore this version” button at the top of the screen, or just select the arrow on the left to return to the most current version of the document.

A similar feature is built into Microsoft Word, but it only works for files stored in OneDrvie or SharePoint Online. The process for restoring an earlier version of a Word file will depend on the version of Office that is installed.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

Federal law governing rights of children with disabilities to receive free and appropriate public education in least restrictive environment.

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Text-to-Speech (TTS)

Artificial production of human speech, using special software and/or hardware.

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Audio

Digital form or representation of a sound which may be used for non-visual access to text and images.

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