Mind-Mapping as a Teaching Tool

As I planned out the first unit on Scarcity for my Introduction to College Writing course, I realized that the text presented a unique challenge. It seemed to me that the authors’ extensive research and personal examples served to clarify the concepts while at the same time complicate the relationships between ideas. While reading Scarcity myself, I found that I needed to track how the central themes related specifically to the examples found in any particular chapter. This experience made me realize that I needed to find a better way to support my students in identifying the various concepts and how they related to the arguments presented in Scarcity. I decided that Mind-Mapping was the most appropriate tool for handling the complexities within the text. I spent two class periods teaching the basic concepts and methodology of Mind-Mapping; much to my chagrin, it seems to have marvelously affected the quality of my students’ first essay drafts.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with Mind-Mapping, Brian Weller and Tony Buzan developed the concept in the 1970’s (for more information, see:http://www.tonybuzan.com/about/Mind-Mapping/). Essentially, Mind-Mapping is a methodology for linking written notes, pictures and colors to memory that is, according to research, more effective than traditional note-taking methods. The process of Mind-Mapping arranges info-graphics (combinations of words and images), picto-graphics (pictures that tell a particular story), and meaningful phrases, keywords and symbols organically on paper in order to capture ideas.

There are five central steps for creating a successful mind map:

  • Identify a central idea
  • Add branches of varying thickness
  • Add key words
  • Color code branches
  • Include images
How-to-MindMap-imindmap

As in the image above, a well-designed Mind-Map combines note taking and concept mapping as a means of activating both hemispheres of the brain. The intended result is a heightening of ‘fact-memory’ and the ability to retain the broader relationships between ideas. For these reasons, I taught the analysis of the text’s core concepts using Mind-Mapping exercises. Each student walked away with a much stronger understanding of the text’s main ideas as evidenced by the quality of class discussions and their first essay drafts.

Though Mind-Mapping is traditionally done by hand with colored pencils or fine markers, Mind-Mapping software now offers electronic solutions for easily creating sophisticated diagrams. Although I have not tested the software, I am thinking through how Mind-Mapping software might be used in conjunction with Canvas.


To provide a sense of how Mind-Mapping functioned within my class, below is an overview of the two lessons I used to introduce and encourage my students to engage in the Mind-Mapping process:

Before the first class on Mind-Mapping, I assigned students a chapter from the first part of Scarcity and asked them to engage in preliminary concept mapping. Students were asked to:

  • Define all key concepts in their own words
  • For each concept, list supporting examples from the text (with page numbers)
  • Explain how various concepts connect with other concepts

I then compiled all of these concepts, examples, and connections into one document, so that we could use it as a reference during our first Mind-Mapping lesson.


I structured the first class on Mind-Mapping as follows:

  • Introduced the Mind-Mapping strategy by walking through the steps
  • Modeled the strategy on the board using a concept from the previous week
  • Presented some examples of Mind-Maps done by other students
  • Provided each student a copy of the compiled concepts document
  • Explained the assignment: Using scarcity as the central idea, create a mind map that represents how the various concepts relate to scarcity and to each other.
  • Handed out materials: large paper, color pencils, markers, and crayons
  • 30 minutes was spent working the scarcity mind map. I walked around coaching students who needed additional support, while I also worked on creating my own scarcity mind map.
  • The last five minutes of class was spent sharing our progress and brainstorming solutions for challenges we were facing.
  • Students were expected to take their mind maps home and complete them for the following week.

Before the second class on Mind-Mapping, students were assigned a chapter from the end of Scarcity. Each student needed to create a chapter mind map as a way of practicing the Mind-Mapping strategy as a note-taking tool.


For the second class on Mind-Mapping, I used the chapter Mind-Map homework to structure classroom time:

  • Students were put into groups so that each chapter from Scarcity was represented. Each student brought three copies of their chapter Mind-Map to class, so that everyone in their small group had a copy. This allowed every student to have a mind map for all chapters of Scarcity.
  • Students had 40 minutes to walk their team through their chapter mind maps. This allowed for students to further strengthen their understanding of the concepts.
  • The last 20 minutes of class was spent discussing questions that arose during the small group discussions.

The following week, students were given the Scarcity essay assignment. As we worked through the various aspects of the paper, we relied extensively on our Mind-Maps. Students used their Mind-Maps to help select the elements of scarcity they wanted to focus on in their essay and to identify quotes from the text that could effectively support their analysis of their personal assignment. Furthermore, class conversations reflected a deep understanding of the concepts at play within Scarcity, as students used terms and referenced the text with ease.

While I have had success with Mind-Mapping in various other classrooms, this class engaged with the strategy on a different level. The students in this class are self-identified artists, which may be why several of the mind maps are extremely engaging. I am discovering that my students are now selecting to use the Mind-Mapping technique to take notes in class. In addition, several students have self reported that they are using the tool to help them analyze ideas and texts in other classes.

To provide a sense of what is possible through Mind-Maps, here are some examples (with student permission):

ScarcityMindMap1
ScarcityMindMap2
ScarcityMindMap3

For anyone that is interested in learning more about how to integrate Mind-Mapping into your teaching, please feel free to contact me at sykesa@mail.montclair.edu

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One thought on “Mind-Mapping as a Teaching Tool

  1. Thanks for sharing, Ariel. I’m definitely going to try this approach in my classes.

    I’m guessing it works especially well with a class of self-identified artists (the quality of their artwork is really impressive), but it sounds like something that should be able to translate easily to varied classes.

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