Mind maps for generating knowledge: A guide for teachers

Paul Main

Mind maps for generating knowledge: A guide for teachers

What is a mind map?

Mind Mapping is an effective technique of connecting key concepts using lines, images, and linkages. A Mind Map shows the relationship between different ideas and facts, supports learning and improves creative problem solving and information recording. They can be used to organize your thoughts, plan projects, brainstorm new ideas or solve problems. 

A well-structured Map is created in the form of a diagram to show tasks, concepts, words, or items connected to and arranged around a central subject or concept in a graphical pattern that creates an instinctive framework around a fundamental concept. These visual tools can change a long list of unappealing information into an attractive, memorable and colourful organized illustration that has particular implications for how our mind stores information. They have a psychological significance for studying as they offer a framework for student revision activities. As well as showing the relationships between ideas, they offer lower-ability/attaining students the opportunity to engage in an active learning technique. All of this cognitive activity deepens academic engagement and promotes comprehension of curriculum content.

History of Mind Mapping

People have been building maps through an image-centred radial visual organization method for years. They were originally developed in the 1960s by Tony Buzan a British Psychology author, who was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks. Since then, mind mapping software has become increasingly popular among students and professionals alike. '€Tony Buzan claimed that 'traditional' ways demand the reader to scan the knowledge from top to bottom and left to right; but our brain's natural way is to scan the written details as a whole, in a non-linear fashion. A mindmap is a visual representation of ideas, thoughts, concepts, or anything else that might be difficult to express in words. Mind maps are used to organize large amounts of information into a single diagram.

Here's a basic example of to structure complex ideas into visual diagrams.

It's easy to create a mind map, whether you're doing it digitally or manually. Start by drawing a central circle representing your topic. Then add branches off of each side of the circle to represent different topics within the subject. Finally, connect the dots to indicate relationships between topics.

A mind map is a visual representation of concepts and ideas. It is a graphical thinking tool that helps to structure knowledge, that helps to better synthesize, comprehend and analyze new ideas. Following are the steps to draw a Mind Map.

Step 1: Make a circle at the centre of a page and write the title of the project or subject inside the circle. 

Step 2: Draw several lines out of the circle, according to the number of important tasks or facts about the topic, and label them with the sub-heading.

Step 3. Try to reveal the subsequent level of information (tasks, sub-topics or facts). Then, link these to the related subheadings.

Step 4. The above step would be repeated for the subsequent level of facts or tasks. Lines would be labelled and drawn out from the applicable headings and labels.

Step 5. As you discover new information or get new ideas, add these to your Mind Map at able places.

A detailed Mind Map may have basic topic lines extending in all directions from the middle. The structure of the Mind Map may follow any pattern – according to the topic and sub-topics.

Starting with a simple mind map template
Starting with a simple mind map template

Effectiveness of Mind Mapping

According to a study by Johns Hopkins, in regular schools, students increase their grades by 12% by using Mind Maps. Also, students with autism or dyslexia show a better understanding of the concepts and strategies when they use Mind Maps. Strategies like Mind Maps are identified as valuable learning tools for all the students. Mind Mapping provides students with a great way to:

It is difficult to exactly tell the number of uses mind maps can have. They can help demonstrate one's thinking in many different contexts such as personal, educational, business or family. A Mind Map would help in anything from planning one's day to planning his life, from writing blog posts to outlining a book etc.

Mind mapping tools from Structural Learning
Mind mapping tools from Structural Learning

Uses of a Mind Map

Sometimes named as a spider or brainstorm diagram, a Mind Map is a graphical thinking tool used to present ideas and information. Mind Maps provide effective ways to enhance memory, creativity and productivity. The unique structure of a Mind Map, which begins from the main topic and divides into Key Themes and additional ideas, has a large variety of uses. Following are some of the most popular ways to use Mind Maps:

  1. Students: They are useful for the students as they help young people to stay on top of their work through effective note-taking and efficient revision.
  2. Teachers: A visual structure can be used by the teachers to plan their next class and using it as an interesting tool to improve students' engagement in the class.
  3. Writers: They can be used by the writers to create connections or to provide a structure to their story.
  4. Marketing Teams: School marketing teams use a mind maps to brainstorm, work out and implement their most innovative marketing campaigns.
  5. Project Managers: Mind mapping software tools would help project managers to organise their projects to perfection by designing everything from start to finish.

It can be said that we all can benefit from the powerful learning technique, which is commonly known as Mind Mapping. It is a powerful technique whether you’re planning an event or writing an essay. Mind Maps are successfully used by a variety of people for many different purposes.

choosing the right mapping tool
Choosing the right mapping tool

Suggestions for Using mind maps

After understanding the basic concept of mind mapping, users can then begin to add their own ideas for taking it further. This might include iconography and the use of different colours. These visual tools are often associated with project planning but they have many other utilities including as a revision tool or a knowledge consolidation activity. If your students are engaged in group work then effective project planning is a pre-requisite for success. These mental diagrams are often used as creative method of note taking, they are for both lower ability students and high ability students the opportunity to organise their ideas into a schematic format. Following are the suggestions for the most effective use of Mind Maps:

  1. Use Uncomplicated Phrases or Single Words: It is suggested to keep things simple. It's better to use short, meaningful phrases and single strong words as they can express the same meaning with more power.
  2. Print Words: It is suggested to print words on the Mind Maps as these will be easier to read than indistinct or joined-up handwritten words.
  3. Colours to Identify Different Ideas: Colors can emphasize the organization of the topic. They would also make a Mind Map more attractive, and help in visualizing various parts of a Mind Map for recalling in the future.
  4. Images and Symbols: We are more able to remember information through pictures than words. Therefore, it is suggested to use symbols and pictures on a Mind Map.
  5. Cross-Linkages –Lines must be drawn to show that the information in one part of a Mind Map is relating to another part. This cross-linkage will help to identify how one part of the topic affects the other part.

Collaborative mind mapping
Collaborative mind mapping


Mind maps for promoting creativity

Mapping has long been associated with helping develop the flow of ideas. They can be used to unpick complex ideas into categories of digestible information. We know that our minds work by putting things into categories. The more organised it is the easier it is to retrieve information. Starting with the central idea in the middle of a page enables us to explore the connections between ideas. In this way, these visual tools can be seen as a way of analysing the hierarchy of ideas. Students need help making connections and organising information into categories. Without a process of doing this learners can easily be overwhelmed with the sheer quantity of information they face in the classroom. The knowledge-rich environments promoted in the UK often present information in lists that are difficult to understand and remember. Using a mapping pedagogy can help pupils unpick the major ideas they are encountering in the curriculum. Used systematically, they can help students generate creative ideas by highlighting the conceptual connections within a topic. Previously dissociative ideas can be connected up into powerful schema that are easier to understand and remember. In this way, we can think of an idea as the glue or connection that someone makes. The more organised the content the more chance we have of the generation of ideas.


Dual coding with mind maps

Visual tools often display an idea with pictures. We have explored the concept of dual coding in a previous article. It has been said that the use of pictures displayed alongside words has a computational advantage for the mind, we are more able to process the flow of ideas if we have access to a simple picture that represents the conventional notes. These powerful features of dual coding are often understated. They are not just there to make beautiful mind maps, they enable the learner to generate more meaning in a quicker time. Why do we use symbols at airports? It's the same principle.

Collaborative mind mapping also has an additional advantage. As learners draw and create their amazing mind maps, they explain their thinking to one another. This can turn an average mind map into an oracy tool used to promote focused learning conversations. The nodes can be used to join the individual ideas together and generate deeper meaning. It can be thought of as a rehearsal for the writing. Clearer thinking usually results in clearer writing.

Structural Learning tools used for Mind Maps
Structural Learning tools used for Mind Maps

Technology-enhanced mind tools

In recent years we have seen many applications that help the user to create elegant mind maps. These mind mapping applications such as Coggle, Mindmeister, Bubbl, Mindmup and more recently Miro enable students to engage in a brainstorming session that can be saved and reworked at a later date. Although this format for brainstorming requires the student to look at a screen, the results are usually an elegant mind map that's easier on the eye. Utilising a robust mind mapping tool usually requires a subscription but they do not need extensive knowledge of technology to produce stunning results. Sometimes it's easier to start with a template rather than a blank piece of paper. If you want to utilise ready-made mind tools then please do explore our repository of visual tools.

Final thoughts on mind maps

The above discussion shows that Mind Mapping is a powerful visual learning technique, that does not only highlight important facts but also demonstrate the entire structure of a topic while emphasizing the relative importance of individual segments of it. These are great for helping us to think creatively, and can help in building new connections between concepts. A Mind Map is specifically useful to help your pupils consolidate their knowledge and make those all-important conceptual connections.

Once teaching staff and students are comfortable with the concept behind mental mapping then it is suggested to use different colours, images and symbols to engage students and increase the effectiveness of a Mind Map. 

If you have to perform any form of research or note-taking then a mind mapping application might do just the job.