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Writing Workshops for Students with High Verbal Skills and Slow Processing Speed


Many parents have written to me in response to my post about the Frustration Profile: High Verbal Skills with Low Processing Speed.   That article was written four years ago and remains my top post. Many students with the Frustration Profile have difficulty with their writing assignments.


Here is a sample of one of our executive functioning/processing speed/writing sessions. These are progress notes from Ben, one of our academic coaches, summarizing a two-day intensive he did over winter break with Evan, a college student.

DAY 1:

Evan already had Inspiration set up on his computer and picked up the basics of the program quickly. After a short introduction, we started using Inspiration to go through the writing process step by step. We chose Othello as our work for literary analysis, ­­something Evan had already read. This allowed us to jump right into the writing process. The first step is to brainstorm — get ideas down in writing. For literary analysis, Evan should always start with three clusters or bubbles on his mind map:

  1. Characters

  2. Plot

  3. Themes

It’s usually fairly easy to start filling out details in these three areas. Evan was able to come up with many details as he reflected back on the story. This process helps to collect ideas in organized clusters. The key is to get started with the basics and keep jotting down ideas.

Once Evan filled out each of the three main components, I had him step back and examine his ideas. As he worked through the process of writing about characters, plot and themes, he slowly started focusing more and more on one particular theme: power. Part of the beauty of mind mapping / brainstorming is that it takes many disparate ideas and gradually arrives at a more focused topic.

Once it was clear he was interested in the theme of power, we focused only on this particular “cluster” of his mind map. He developed this point until he had it refined to a few topics / concrete details. The final step in the planning process is to find all the specific details and quotes to support each point. I walked Evan through the process of adding quotes to his Inspiration mind map.

DAY 2:

Today’s primary focus was on finding quotes and adding them to Evan’s Inspiration mind map. When done correctly, this step further refines and focuses the thesis and topics. As Evan added each quote to the appropriate group in his mind map, he further organized and refined his ideas. Each quote in his mind map had a separate bubble with analysis.

Once Evan had all his quotes and topics, we switched to outline format and revisited his thesis and topic sentences. Evan was able to write out a thesis that was really close to being good, but he needed a nudge in the right direction. Once I made a suggestion, he was off and running.

The writing process is closely tied to strong executive functioning, so we took some time away from writing strategies to discuss time management. It is not uncommon for students to need a nudge when writing a thesis. College professors are a great resource, and I strongly encouraged Evan to discuss his future theses with his teachers. In order for this to be effective, Evan should organize his ideas using Inspiration and develop a rough thesis. Evan has met with his professors in the past, but it’s not particularly effective if he comes into meetings empty handed.

Time management is key. Ideally, Evan should brainstorm ideas on one day, search for quotes on another, meet with his professor on a third day, draft his essay the next day and allow even more time before going back and revising. Evan knows this but still struggles with procrastination. I gave him the following recommendations:

  1. Set small, easy goals. Larger goals can be intimidating and may lead to more procrastination.

  2. Reward yourself when you meet your goals.

  3. Create deadlines (by setting up a meeting with the professor for example).

  4. Study in a new, less distracting place (like the library)

For the last part of our session, we put all our work together into the writing of the rough draft. Evan used the map we created in Inspiration and did an amazing job of drafting his essay. He wrote two pages of organized content in fifteen minutes and felt great! I was really pleased with his work. More importantly, Evan was amazed and excited by how well the writing process worked. He described the feeling of writing as similar to “driving a fast sports car!”


Today I was talking to a mom of a 19 year old who is working at our center. She made the comment that we should offer workshops so people can come and spend time with us to work on writing skills.

We actually do offer workshops for students. A few years ago a high school student came from Washington D.C. to spend a week with us right before school started. He came to the office from 9 to 4 every day for a week. Here is what his mother wrote after the experience:

 I am so fortunate to have run across your blog, which led me to you and your wonderful organization.  Sam  (who is sometimes allergic to work ) didn’t complain once about using a whole week of his summer to write all day.  Your staff made the difference by connecting with him, and helping him to believe that he could succeed at doing something that had become painful for him.  Please convey my thanks to them. 

He said (and says) that the strategies were extremely helpful, and he has specifically mentioned using them already. You guys really are the best, and it was well worth the trip to California to give Sam the chance to work with you! 

You have made a real difference in his life, and we are so very grateful. 

It is so hard for me to describe how we work with students to be successful, but I think the notes above give a good overview of the process we use. If you are interested in setting up an Intensive please let us know. You can contact Jessica at 310-582-1563 x102 or at and she will  be happy help you.

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