A Lesson in Concept Mapping

Concept mapping is the use of graphical tools for representing, organizing, and enhancing knowledge. The process of concept mapping starts with writing a main idea on the top of a page (it can be a word, phrase or idea), then related concepts are placed on branches that radiate from the main idea. Concept maps are very useful for students, business professionals and writers. For example, a business manager who worked for a Fortune 500 software company was introduced to concept mapping by a friend. The business manager took what he learned to the executives of the company and they, being so impressed by the process, applied concept mapping throughout the whole company, making it mandatory. Company production went up, employees got excited about the projects they were working on and teams began to work more closely together to bring their goals to fruition. 

How to do a Map
There are countless ways to create a concept map; everyone will have their own style and materials they use. If you are working in a group, it is best to have a huge piece of paper(they sell it in rolls at your local office supply store) that you can use, so that all team members can participate and see the map as it expands and grows and several members can work on it at the same time. If it is just you, an art notebook or piece of large art paper will work well. Make sure the paper is unlined so not to constrict your drawings and big enough so you can expand your ideas.

 Steps for Creating a Concept Map

  1. Identify the specific topic that you want to expand upon. Write it at the top of your page. Keep your map in hierarchical fashion with the topic at the top and then the most related concepts closer to the main topic and ones that are related to subtopics farther down and so on.
  2. Identify the major ideas for the topic. Then come up with other keywords or phrases that are closely related to the topic and write them in boxes or circles then connect them to the main topic.
  3. Then further branch off the last keyword or phrase you just created. The idea is to really brainstorm and come up with as many connected ideas and concepts as possible. 
  4. Cross-link concepts when applicable.
  5. Be sure to work fast, keep up with the flow of ideas, and write everything down that comes to you without editing yourself. 
  6. Color code your ideas to keep them grouped even further.

This is a discovery learning process that will help you find the answers to the questions you have about the original topic.

Organizational Patterns in a Concept Map
The most used form for concept mapping is the top-down tree diagram. The main topic is at the top of the diagram, and then secondary concepts flow downward from the top. Each concept is linked with an arrow or line and can be enclosed in a box, oval or circle. You may also want to use explanatory notes in the map itself like a question about two concepts, or to explain the concept a bit further.

 There are other forms of concept maps but many authoritative sources suggest the top-down form as the best. String mapping is considered the poorest form of concept mapping because it shows poor understanding of the initial topic and does not connect ideas but simply gives a list of concepts.

 Advantages of Mapping
Concept Mapping has many advantages such as: the fitting of ideas together allows for convergent thinking; it allows you to define a central idea; indicates relative importance of each idea; allows for linking among ideas; it’s easy to add new information as it comes to you; helps you see complex relationships among ideas; shows gaps, contradictions and paradoxes in the material. All this adds up to concept mapping being a very powerful learning and evaluation tool.

Uses of Mapping:

Summarizing Readings
You can use concept mapping to summarize what you have read to understand it better. It facilitates critical thinking which is so important to the student, business person and the writer.

Summarizing Lectures
Lectures are fast paced, so if you are going to be using concept mapping instead of note taking you need to just flow the ideas onto the page as the instructor is talking. Get the most important points down then you can later expand on them after class.

Making Notes in a Seminar or Workshop

Seminars differ from lectures in that it puts more emphasis on the process instead of the material. There is an open floor so ideas flow from all sources in the group not from just one individual. Using a map in this situation could be advantageous in that it will help you keep track of the ideas and help you relate them together for further discussion.

Reviewing for an Exam
The use of maps for exam review can help tremendously in bringing the most important concepts of the material to light and helping make the connections between ideas. This way you can truly learn the material instead of just memorizing it.

Working on an Essay

Use a concept map early in the research process to help you gather the right information you need to start writing. Mapping can help you focus on ideas and topics that need to be concentrated on and show the peripheral concepts that aren’t as important but still need to be included.

Creative Writing
Mapping may help inspire you by sifting through your brain for ideas that may be central to whatever you are thinking to write about. It may create a revelation or help you in character development. Anyway you look at it concept mapping can help you creatively.

  • Creative Concept Mapping: Provides information on using concept mapping in fiction and nonfiction writing.
  • Concept Mapping: Covers common organization patterns, uses of mapping such as: Summarizing readings, summarizing lectures, making notes in a seminar or workshop, reviewing for an exam, working on an essay or in creative writing.
  • Concept Maps: Sample maps and discussion of the connection to inquiry and standards when mapping.