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Improving mindmapping skills for report writing with Spiderscribe

Tags: Effective pedagogy | English | Interactive/thinking tools | Primary | Upper primary |

Students from Ashburton Intermediate used mindmapping technologies to prepare and manage the organisation of their report writing.

“In our school, we regularly inquire into the way higher order learning, enabled by digital technologies, meets learners’ needs.”
eLPF 2014

Focusing inquiry

A teacher from Ashburton Intermediate wanted a way to help the students in her year 8 class take notes digitally in a quick and efficient manner and then to use this information to write a biography report under test conditions. She had noticed that when her students researched topics there was a tendency for them to copy/paste, change a few words, and believe they were writing ‘in their own words’. Their work often showed chunks of information with vocabulary and phrasing untypical of other work they produced. This was more obvious with students less able to create their own text from research, many thinking that to change one or two minor words for a synonym was sufficient to call it their own writing.

The class had begun a new unit that involved researching the biography of a sportsperson. Students had chosen a person to research and were underway with copying key information into a Word document to use. Their next step was to use a highlighter and make notes from this to use for their writing; a tedious process of double handling information.

Choosing an online mindmapping tool

The teacher, after exploring a couple of different options for taking notes digitally, chose Spiderscribe , an online mindmapping and brainstorming tool, because it seemed user-friendly, and would allow students to:

  • create mindmaps
  • add text, images, documents, maps, and dates to their mindmaps
  • group information readily
  • add information from more than one source (another goal)
  • move or add information over time
  • customise individual items within their mindmaps.

Teaching and learning

Using Spiderscribe for notetaking while researching

Student notetaking

Before introducing the tool to her students the teacher created her own mindmap to explore the features available. When they were ready to go the students first printed out their copies of Word document information they had gathered earlier. They then worked directly from the website/s they were using for their research, reading online and putting notes onto their Spiderscribe mindmap, which they had open on another tab. As they worked they were able to drag boxes out to make the headings they would use, and then create text boxes of key information that connected to each of the headings.

Re-organising mindmaps

As the students neared the completion of their mindmaps, they were asked to re-organise their information according to the paragraphs they intended to write. They did this by moving text boxes around and grouping ideas together.

When they were satisfied with the way they had arranged their mindmaps, the students printed them off and used this to refer to when writing their assessment task biography. 

Learning inquiry

The assessment task was a hand-written biography in the format of a report (previously taught in class). It was completed in class with their only reference being their mindmap and personal knowledge about the sportsperson.

Students had also begun to complete a template with their gathered information prior to the change to using Spiderscribe. Some used this template to organise their information report alongside their computer generated mindmaps to provide them with key information to include in the report. These information reports were mostly clear and well-ordered with good information. The information was correctly paragraphed, sequential, and generally in students' own words.

Most of the students wrote a report that met asTTle Level 4. The teacher believed that they were more confident undertaking the assessment with the mindmaps as a point of reference and that the process they went through helped to improve their information literacy skills.


Once the students were shown how to use Spiderscribe they immediately switched to it.

The majority of the class used this as their preferred option with the copying and pasting onto a Word document step missed out completely.

A small number of students who were less confident in using ICT and/or reading and writing stayed with using the Word document option, highlighting and making notes on the print-out.

Teacher reflection

The teacher found this to be an extremely useful activity for the students to engage with to help improve the organisation and quality of their writing.

While the format of the information report still needed explicit teaching, the ability to label and move grouped information around within the SpiderScribe mindmap as they researched was a significant advantage.

In future the teacher would not expect the students to copy and paste text from Internet sites into a Word document before starting to work on their mindmap. This proved to be an unnecessary step as it was double handling information and the students naturally moved away from doing this as they began to see the benefits of using the online mindmaps.

The appeal of using an online tool was motivating for students, and they seemed to have more information organised in a shorter time. To be able to print out their mindmaps and and use them as notes gave students confidence to write as they had already sorted their ideas and had them available to refer to during the writing process.

Student reflections

The teacher asked the students to write a comment about how they found the use of the mindmaps in Spiderscribe and what impact they thought it had had on their learning:

  • "Spiderscribe is very useful to use and you can easily organise topics into sub-topics."
  • "I found the programme very very helpful; instead of having my planning spread out on a word document, it makes it succinct and it's easier to write your biography."
  • "Spiderscribe is very useful to use and it helped lots with note-taking. I had more than enough information to write a biography."
  • "Very fun with a new experience and it was easy to write a biography on the notes."
  • "This was useful for note-taking and helpful for recording information."

Next steps

The teacher noted she would definitely use this tool again in class.

"I can already see another application for this tool for improving writing outcomes in imaginative writing. Students could use a mindmap to map out the key events of their story. This could help them focus them on the structure of narratives and provide a useful scaffold during the writing process."

Software types

Find out more about the software types used in this snapshot.

Interactive/thinking tools