Never underestimate what the visual can do in planning a major writing task
When it comes to planning out a major assessment task, like the International Baccalaureate's Extended Essay--a piece of persuasive prose that is 4000 words long--have a look at what a student at The York School did in planning out her paper on the character of John Watson in the Sherlock Holmes stories. The great thing about the visual here is not that it simply beautifies the planning process. Rather, it gives the student an opportunity to mull things over as they write, create, make connections, and attempt to articulate an approach to the essay.
The next time you have students engage in a visual brainstorming activity, get them to consider what they are thinking in the moments when they are "merely" drawing. Chances are they are thinking about a wealth of different ideas and considering how to make additional connections among them.
Their doodling, after all, is just the hand's way of expressing how hard at work the brain really is.