A few thoughts on using (digital) mind maps effectively

A key element for effective learning is the student’s ability to structure their findings effectively and to their personal learning benefits. Identifying important pieces of information and putting them into a context for good re-use. It is often useful to understand a new idea, adding to an already familiar concept but also good at mastering workshops, meetings and projects. Often teachers like their students to use mind maps for this kind of work. Using paper is one way to cope with this but maybe you have seen ‘mind maps’ like this as well:

This maybe looks more like a sea urchin than a systematic or useful display of thoughts or ideas. Even if the teacher gives feedback and chances to revise it means to start again from the scratch. Every feedback or every revision means doing it again.

Students need guidance and they need chances to practice to become better mind mappers, to be able to decide if the idea of mind maps is suitable for their personal learning.

Digital tools (CmapTools, Popplet or SimpleMind, just to name a few, there are many more) are quite handy here. They make it easy to revise, edit and re-arrange.

I’d like to expand a bit on CmapTools, as it offers the chance to focus on mind mapping, offers some extra features and could help to improve student’s reading skills as well.

The following steps (1-7) are useful for students to attack a reading text and converting it into a concept map. If they stick to the plan students can use their mind map (i.e. concept map) to foster their speaking / presentation skills and to talk about texts and their content effectively.

1. Read the text completely.

2. Note down ‘Key Words’ (nouns only!)

3. Use the App CmapTools and type in your key words.

4. Group and connect the boxes with the nouns using arrows.

5. Label the arrows using only verbs or adverbs or prepositions.

6. Read your concept map.

7. Revise your concept map in front of your mind’s eye.

By doing this students will be more effective and productive in structuring their findings. Especially younger student’s often seem to benefit from that approach, as they sometimes find it a bit difficult to get main ideas from texts right or to focus on important information (vs. unimportant).

Why don’t you try the following sample. You may find that you can retell the original story (main parts) without even having read the original text.