The Versatility of MS Word – #2

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.


  1. I use Word for this type of thing, too. I’ve got a few graphic organizers that you might want to gather up. I even have some put together for weekly vocabulary work that I’ll be posting to my school site.

    Anyhow, the idea of using a word processing application to build these organizers is a good comment. I’ll add that one can use Open Office ( for free. It is slightly different than Word, but the learning curve isn’t too hight and supporting open source software always gives me a warm fuzzy feeling distinctly different than the cold, hollow feeling that comes from supporting Microsoft.

    Also, I’ve had more than one student ask me for the link to Open Office because he can’t afford to buy Word and has been using WordPad this whole time, a terribly limited word processor that doesn’t even allow for double-spacing a document. These students never would have known of Open Office if they hadn’t seen it in my classroom.

  2. I’d love to see your Graphic Organizers Todd. If you don’t have them posted somewhere I can download just send them in an e-mail. Having too many is never a problem.

    I understand looking for ways to use open source solutions; I was actually planning an writing a post about Open Office soon. I’ve been using at home for the past year, and feel comfortable using both it or MS Word.

  3. Ben, I agree with you. Word has many “un-tapped” resources. Everyone just wants to use it as a typewriter. What a shame!

  4. A shame for sure, but a habit tough to break. For most “paper-trained” educators (that’s trained without the aid of computers, not the other type of paper training) they see Word as an extension of the pencil and paper, only in digital form. However, as children start using Word at younger and younger ages, they discover ways to use it that even I have to stop and marvel at.

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