Tools and Strategies for Writing

This page is not a course for professional development credit. It is provided as a resource and point of discussion for educators and parents. Source: AT Tools and Strategies for Reading Workshop hosted by the AZ Dept of Ed as part of the Technology for Learning Communities Workshop Series presented by Kelly Fonner on November 5-6, 2009.

Assistive Technology assists individuals to complete tasks - it is required when the student can't accomplish the task the way the other students are doing it.
Instructional Technology can assist students in acquiring information and is used to acquire or reinforce certain skill(s).

Before deciding on specific reading tools or strategies for students, we need to think about their needs and functioning levels as well as the tasks that they will be completing.

Assessment Tools available in our district include:

  1. Assistive Technology Assessment: Developing a Written Productivity Profile by Denise DeCoste, Ed.D., OTR, Published by Don Johnston Incorporated
  2. Functional Evaluation for Assistive Technology FEAT (coming)
  3. Georgia Project for Assistive Technology - LEARNING AIDS EVALUATION SUMMARY. Writing and Spelling
  4. Link here to read Adapted Pencils to Computers: Strategies for Improving Writing, a wonderful booklet of ideas from Johns Hopkins Center for Technology in Education.

Students struggle with writing in the areas of (Dr. Mel Levine)
  1. Graphomotor – the ability to use muscles in the fingers & hands to form letters legibly & to maintain a comfortable grip on a writing instrument.
  2. Attention – writing demands considerable mental energy & focus over long periods of time. Writers must not only preview what they want to convey as they put their ideas on paper, but also continually self-monitor to stay on track.
  3. Language Production – the essential ingredient of writing. The ability to recognize letter sounds, comprehend words & their meanings, understand word order & grammar to construct sentences, & describe or explain ideas.
  4. Memory - the rate at which students generate ideas must coincide with their retrieval of necessary vocabulary, spelling & prior knowledge.. When organizing essays, writers much be able to think about a topic, draw upon facts & concepts & sequence ideas & facts in the right order.
  5. Higher Order Cognition – in upper grades, writing relies on functions of generating original & creative ideas while integrating spelling, grammar & punctuation rules. Written assignments demand critical thinking skills & conceptual ability such as evaluating opposing arguments & drawing conclusions.

The Writing Tools Continuum covers no tech through high tech strategies and solutions.

Writing Solutions- No Tech

· Consider changes to the student's position and surface - limit distractions, check desk height, writing surface/angle

· Think about how the students form the letters - adjust the pencil grip, offer alternatives such as magnets, try different types of lined or colored paper (one resource: Onion Mountain Technology )

· Address word choice/ideas by providing supports - word cards, word wall, sentence/story starters, outlines, cued notetaking

· Check out this website for ideas from the High Incidence Assistive Technology (HIAT) Team at Montgomery Public Schools:

Writing Solutions - Low/MidTech provides a quick introduction to some low and mid tech strategies. · When we describe midtech solutions, these typically involve portable electronics - different types of voice recorders, spelling and grammar checkers (e.g., Franklin Children's Dictionary ), portable keyboards (e.g., Neo and Fusion ), and SmartPhone or Windows Mobile solutions.

Check out this blog entry for links to reviews of voice recorders: How to select a digital voice recorder

Writing Solutions - HiTech Technology can provide many solutions for students who struggle with writing. Think about built-in adaptations to the classroom and/or computer lab computer:

· Mouse controls and size of cursors

· Keyboard equivalents and adjustments for repeat rate

· Start-up features

· Font options

· Color screen options

· Label & Menu Controls

· Alias & Shortcuts

Search the atomic learning collection for video tutorials for setting accessibility features.

There are also many specialized programs/strategies that are worth exploring.

What are Onscreen Keyboards?

· A keyboard that appears on the screen
· Activated by a mouse or mouse alternative (e.g., SmartBoard)
· An input method of computer access

Options currently being used in our school district: IntelliTools Classroom Suite , Boardmaker Plus , Writing with Symbols
All of these are dedicated keyboards that are customizable, used to type into their own programs, and can use letters or symbols. Think about using these as electronic word banks (with or without pictures).

Graphic Organizers and Outliners

· Are flexible
· Show order and completeness of a student’s thought process
· Strength’s and weaknesses of understanding
· Most use short words or phrases so they are ideal for different types of learners
· Presents a picture of the main ideas and the subsidiary ideas of any subject
· Examples include class reading assignment, an essay, a term paper, a book review or a speech

Our district has license for Inspiration and Kidspiration software. Many ideas can be found at

Why Use Talking Word Processors?

· Used to create or work with text, writing spelling lists, letters, reports

· Assist with spelling, grammar & vocabulary, proofreading

· Used to read back existing text
· Increase motivation in language learning
· Give access to those who find it hard to focus on printed text

Our special education teachers have primarily used IntelliTalk from Intellitools and Write:OutLoud from Don Johnston Inc . However, we are looking into adding the WordTalk feature to Microsoft Word on all student computers to provide this type of speech feedback across the district.

Quick Overview Summary of AT Ideas for Writing
The following charts were d
eveloped by Easter Seals Southwest Human Development AT Program, Phoenix, Arizona, 2009. Adapted from a project in collaboration with the Arizona Department of Education. If you want to view without downloading, right-click below and choose "open link in new window."

This 70-minute recorded webinar features Gayl Bowser: Integrating Assistive Technology Writing Tools. Click on to watch.