Communicating Thoughts and Ideas: Impact of Attention, Memory, Language, Spatial Ordering, Temporal-Sequential Ordering, and Higher Order Cognition

Throughout their school years, students must be able to communicate their knowledge and produce work that is reflective of what they are learning and what they know. The process of communicating what one knows enables interaction, and may enrich understanding, thinking, and continued learning. Students who are adept at communicating their ideas and knowledge in writing are often highly successful in meeting the expectations of school and daily life. Students who are unable to produce adequate written work or to communicate their ideas effectively on paper may not be successful in satisfying either adults or themselves of their capabilities.

Producing quality work and communicating one's ideas depend upon the smooth interaction of multiple neurodevelopmental functions, including attention, memory, language, spatial and sequential ordering, and higher order cognition.

Here are some strategies to help develop and strengthen students' ability to communicate through writing.

Helpful Hints

  • Encourage students who have trouble with simultaneous recall during writing to do their writing in stages rather than trying to spell, punctuate and develop ideas all at once.  
  • Example strategies might include ...
    • COPS (Capitalization-Overall appearance or Organization-Punctuation-Spelling)
    • WRITER (Write on every other line-Read paper for meaning-Interrogate using COPS-Take to someone else to look over-Execute a final copy-Reread a final time)
    • SEARCH (See if it makes sense-Eject incomplete sentences and unrelated information-Ask if it's convincing or what you mean-Review for COPS-Copy over neatly-Have a last look)
    • POWER (Plan: audience, purpose, background-Organize: categorize and order ideas-Write-Extend-Revise and Rewrite).  
  • Remember to model the appropriate use of each strategy and to allow the student plenty of time to practice using the strategy at appropriate times.  
  • Promote metacognitive awareness among students regarding their own writing. Help students understand what the writing process entails, such as what kinds of memory, language ability, motor skills, and organization they will have to mobilize and integrate during the writing assignment. Encourage them to monitor their own progress through this process.  
  • Encourage the use of a tape recorder, semantic maps, planning sheets, or planning software by students to facilitate the brainstorming and organizing of ideas before writing. Students may require direct instruction and supported practice to learn how to use cognitive maps, sheets, and software effectively.  
  • Promote the staging of writing tasks, including use of writing conferences. Ask students to read aloud their drafts to you or to a partner to "hear" spelling and syntax errors that the spell check may not have caught.  
  • Give students a list of transition words (e.g., usually, finally, unfortunately) and a list of sentences. Have students rewrite the sentences using transition words. As students learn to use these new words, they can be given the list of transition words and be asked to generate their own sentences using the words.  
  • Have students jot down ideas throughout the day in their journal. At the end of the day, or for homework, have students turn these ideas into complete sentences. Have students practice previewing by giving them the ending of a story and having them write the beginning.  
  • Make sure student has enough time and is not hurried or rewarded for being done first. Have students hand in their work in stages. Students can collect the different pieces of their writing in a folder and see the process they went through to create their story, essay, or report.  
  • Use newspaper headlines to help students practice putting short ideas into sentences.  
  • Give student a list of sentences to put in right order and add transition words (however, finally, then, while, unfortunately).  
  • The use of "blank books" could help students increase the volume of their written output as well as organize their story or report sequentially. The teacher or parent could construct such books by pasting pictures onto separate pages to form a book. The student could then be asked to provide captions or dialogue to tell the story or make a report. With practice, the student could take over drawing or cutting out pictures, and then with assistance order them and paste them in correct sequence before beginning to write. (Textbooks routinely discarded by schools are a good source for appropriate pictures to cut out.)  
  • Some students may benefit from having an adult transcribe their dictated stories or reports. The student should stand behind the person typing so that he/she can see the words going onto the page. This process helps the student see that what he/she says is what is written. The typist should intentionally make spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and grammatical errors. When the story is complete, the student should be shown how to edit using the computer. Many students are more motivated to fix their own writing rather than that of duplicated texts. As the students gains more skills, they should be encouraged to take over the task of typing by themselves.  
  • Students can practice writing sentences of their own invention. The adult working with them should hold a brief discussion to help the students generate their "story" and have them repeat their sentence(s) aloud before attempting to write it. The students should be encouraged to write as independently as possible using known words and figuring out unfamiliar words by stretching out the sounds and recording them the best they can.