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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Get Graphic with Gliffy: Sharing Mind Maps Online

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger

It's no news to anyone here that visual learning plays a critical role in instruction at all levels. Each of us works hard to ensure that we're reaching each learner and that we're employing various modes of presentation and interaction in order to teach in the most efficient and effective way.

Those of us who have been in the classroom also know that incorporating visual teaching and learning strategies is a highly effective way to help display mind maps, engage students in effective brainstorming, communicate ideas in a variety of ways, aid students in recognizing patterns and connections between concepts, and so on.

As a former fourth-grade teacher, I can remember that one of the hardest concepts to teach was effective outlining -- taking ideas and organizing them in a flow that made sense. Being able to visually represent concepts, brainstorms, and related bits of information graphically reached students at a deeper level than simply using text-based descriptions.

I'd like to introduce you to a Web site called Gliffy. According to its creators, "the word gliffy is an adaptation of the word glyph, a symbol or character that imparts information nonverbally." They go on to say, "Gliffy is an online diagramming service that helps users communicate with a combination of shapes, text, and lines." I describe it as a combination flow-chart and brainstorming tool mixed with a social, collaborative wiki.

What's especially fun about this tool, aside from it having a free option, is that it's collaborative: I can develop a mind map with you, and we can invite collaborators to work with us in a password-protected environment. I can email individuals or post the shared URL to my blog. The tool offers dynamic publishing, which means that if you link a collaborative gliffy document to a blog, it remains live; any changes to the original are always reflected in the blog links, and so on.

Those interested can check out a tutorial on YouTube. Gliffy is a great tool for those who either can't afford a commercial graphic organizer or want to take graphic organizing to the next level and involve collaboration and group work in the process. As always, let us know what you think, and share links to similar Web sites.

Chris O'Neal

Educational consultant and former Edutopia.org blogger
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Comments (25)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Christy Stanford's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I totally agree with you about how children learn. They learn by doing. As teachers, it's our job to expose children to a variety of methods, in hopes that every child will understand the concept being taught.

Risa Cloud's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too, believe that it is so important with todays students to provide a visual aspect to learning. I do think however, that the amount of content that is being required to teach does effect how much of that visual aid we integrate. I know from experience that kids prefer to use tools such as graphic organizers to learn and display information. And the great thing about graphic organizers is that they are cross-curriculum tools. No matter what subject you are working on, students, through these graphic organizers, can express their thoughts. And most the time they will discover that writing can actually be fun. I am excited to check out that Gliffy site.

Risa Cloud's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I too think that it is so important to use visual aides when teaching today's students. I do believe, though, that the amount of content that is being required of these students to know is hendering the use of such tools as visual aides. I think due to the lack of time some teachers feel as though such technology can't be implemented. using graphic organizers,I think, is a great way to pull the students into a lesson and get them really thinking. By using graphic organizers to help process those thoughts, students can visually see what they are planning to do. The great thing too about graphic organizers, is that they are cross-curriculum tools. No matter what subject you are teaching, students can use and manipulate graphic organizers to help get their point across. I know from experience that most of the time students will quickly begin to actually enjoy writing and thinking if they can use the graphic organizers to help them.

Jen Swenton's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I had never heard of Gliffy before and had fun exploring the website! I teach kindergarten and I know the importance of using visual aids with every single lesson. I have used Kidspiration before with the little ones to make story maps and graphic organizers. You can get free trial softward for this program to try it out! It is important that these programs have pictures because we are not reading yet in my class. We have been working on the beginning, middle, and end of a story so it will be fun to try out Gliffy in the classroom!! Some students do not respond without some sort of visual to go along with the lesson.

Joel Zehring's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Class brainstorming and notetaking would be a pleasure, especially if students are allowed to add items to the diagram. Our team is collecting projector-based lessons on this wiki -


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