Graphic organizers have come a long way since I was in school. In fifth grade it was called “brainstorming” and our ideas took the shape of a loosely connected spider web with a central idea and lots of connected ideas coming off of the middle. In college I was introduced to the theory of concept mapping; the bubbles and central idea were there, but now relationships between the ideas were written along the lines connecting them. Multiple connections were also encouraged, increasing the appearance of being a spider web. At my last school they subscribed to the theory of thinking maps; the idea that just one or two graphical organizers are not effective enough to map the complex and varying concepts students must grasp. By using eight different maps, students could choose the best way to process and organize information. Connected with all of these different tools are equally different software packages (yes, brainstorming too). The problem with all of these great tools is finding a way to pay for them.
One solution (among others) is to use Microsoft Word. The school has already paid to have it installed on the students machines (when it was ordered), there are no add-ons or upgrades to purchase to make it work, and there’s no free trial version that constantly has to be downloaded. More importantly, Word is more stable than some of the other vendor’s software (the thinking map software would crash daily), and extends the usefulness of the program beyond just a simple word processor. By using the Drawing Tools (View>Toolbars>Drawing) in MS Word you can replicate most of the features of many of the more popular mapping tools. You can create rectangles and ovals; connect them with lines or arrows, and place text or images to depict concepts. Autoshapes such as arrows, flowcharts, and balloons are also very helpful.