How to Use Mind Maps

November 6, 2017
Joseph Mazzaro

It’s early in the day — or maybe it isn’t. The creative juices in your classroom simply aren’t flowing. You look out at your students to find a sea of sleepy-eyes and long, repeated yawns. They’re not meeting you halfway. In fact, they’re not meeting you any way, and now you’re worried this apathy will last the rest of the day.

Sound like a sales pitch? Is it a caffeinated snack bar? Is it an energy drink? Nah, we’re encouraging you to stave off classroom fatigue with a more creative, practical solution: mind maps.

What Are Mind Maps?

Mind maps are graphical representations of ideas. A key concept is expanded upon by branches, which contain new (but related) ideas. They’re designed to help the user think creatively, structure information, and generate brand new ideas. As an alternative to traditional note-taking, mind maps can be used in countless ways to present information.

They’re “nodal” in structure, which means they’re built from intersecting pathways, giving the appearance of a net.

How Do I Make a Mind Map?

We’re so glad you asked! Start by determining the main topic you’d like to develop. Then, on a blank sheet of paper laid out in landscape form (wider rather than taller), draw or write that topic in the center.

Next, surround that topic with related subtopics (also by drawing or writing them). Draw lines or arrows from each of these subtopics back to the main topic; this will connect the ideas visually.

Then, repeat the previous step, developing subtopics from subtopics. This process will demonstrate the concept of “radiant thinking,” meaning a single thought generating an ongoing number of associated thoughts. Repeat this step, from subtopic to subtopic, until you’ve exhausted your ideas. (Note: You may have to limit yourself to about a dozen or so topics, or, more practically, stop when you’ve reached the edge of your paper.)

  • Be sure the text is clear and easy to read. For this, we recommend varying text size according to hierarchy. Keep topic names short for conciseness and economy of space. One word topics are perfect.
  • Use symbols and other abbreviations. This will help concentrate ideas and keep things moving along.
  • Review and revisit the mind map, but not before taking a break first to get a better perspective.
Using Mind Maps in Your Classroom

People throughout the world have used the mind map technique for studying, brainstorming, problem-solving and consolidating information. In the classroom, mind maps can be used to generate discussions, organize topics, kick-start projects, and aid students in collaboration.

Your students may find it to be a more productive substitute for note-taking. After all, the central focus of the maps is memorization and connections. Students are encouraged to carefully (and with practice, more quickly) consider and note information presented to them. Developing a map further by adding new notes or aesthetic attributes will help commit information to memory. In time, a student’s natural abilities to distinguish topic relationships and a hierarchy of data will grow, and lend itself to critical thinking, informed opinions, and original ideas.

  • Mind maps can be a seriously useful tool for seemingly daunting tasks like essays and presentations. Their structure makes a great fit to develop an outline on, growing ideas from ideas in a logical and easy-to-follow sequence. Drawing a completed map several times is likely to commit the information to memory. After all, they’re specifically designed to help an individual recall information. That said, drawing a memorized mind map for the class can be a great way for a student to accompany and reinforce an oral presentation (and also take the edge off of his or her nerves).

In a group project setting, mind maps can help teams of students visualize their priorities and stay in synch. A collective map effort may be a constructive activity to begin an assignment, while independently-made maps can give members substantive material to share with the group as the project rolls along.

As for the instructor, well, your own mind maps can help your lessons run more smoothly. Taking a cue from your students, you’ll cut down on note-clutter, making your work prep all the more concise and easily accessible. A mind map’s unique ability to help organize and filter information may be the thing you need to introduce a new subject or a complex topic. Consider sharing fun mind map-centric materials such as handouts and PDFs. For students and teachers alike, they’re a practical and crafty means for sharing knowledge.

We encourage teachers and students to make your mind maps as unique and fun as you can. Make them colorful, lively and striking, which will encourage repeat viewings and reinforce the content!

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