Introduction to Concept Mapping
Used as a learning and teaching technique, concept mapping visually illustrates the relationships between concepts and ideas. Often represented in circles or boxes, concepts are linked by words and phrases that explain the connection between the ideas, helping students organize and structure their thoughts to further understand information and discover new relationships. Most concept maps represent a hierarchical structure, with the overall, broad concept first with connected sub-topics, more specific concepts, following.
Concept Map Example
Definition of a Concept Map
A concept map is a type of graphic organizer used to help students organize and represent knowledge of a subject. Concept maps begin with a main idea (or concept) and then branch out to show how that main idea can be broken down into specific topics.
Benefits of Concept Mapping
Concept mapping serves several purposes for learners:
- Helping students brainstorm and generate new ideas
- Encouraging students to discover new concepts and the propositions that connect them
- Allowing students to more clearly communicate ideas, thoughts and information
- Helping students integrate new concepts with older concepts
- Enabling students to gain enhanced knowledge of any topic and evaluate the information
How to Build a Concept Map
Concept maps are typically hierarchical, with the subordinate concepts stemming from the main concept or idea. This type of graphic organizer however, always allows change and new concepts to be added. The Rubber Sheet Analogy states that concept positions on a map can continuously change, while always maintaining the same relationship with the other ideas on the map.
- Start with a main idea, topic, or issue to focus on.
A helpful way to determine the context of your concept map is to choose a focus question—something that needs to be solved or a conclusion that needs to be reached. Once a topic or question is decided on, that will help with the hierarchical structure of the concept map.
- Then determine the key concepts
Find the key concepts that connect and relate to your main idea and rank them; most general, inclusive concepts come first, then link to smaller, more specific concepts.
- Finish by connecting concepts--creating linking phrases and words
Once the basic links between the concepts are created, add cross-links, which connect concepts in different areas of the map, to further illustrate the relationships and strengthen student’s understanding and knowledge on the topic.
Concept Maps in Education
When created correctly and thoroughly, concept mapping is a powerful way for students to reach high levels of cognitive performance. A concept map is also not just a learning tool, but an ideal evaluation tool for educators measuring the growth of and assessing student learning. As students create concept maps, they reiterate ideas using their own words and help identify incorrect ideas and concepts; educators are able to see what students do not understand, providing an accurate, objective way to evaluate areas in which students do not yet grasp concepts fully.
Inspiration Software®’s Inspiration®, Kidspiration® and Webspiration Classroom™ service all contain Diagram Views that makes it easy for students to create concept maps; students are able to add new concepts and links as they see fit. Inspiration, Kidspiration and Webspiration Classroom also come with a variety of concept map examples, templates and lesson plans to show how concept mapping and the use of other graphic organizers can easily be integrated into the curriculum to enhance learning, comprehension and writing skills.
For more concept map examples as well as other graphic organizer examples, mind map examples and more, click here.
English learners face a common problem: their writing often lacks clarity and cohesion.
That is according to Babi Kruchin and Alan Kennedy who teach at the American Language Program at Columbia University.
They recommend that English learners use concept maps – images that show how ideas are connected.
What is important is how you put it together
Let’s consider a comparison. In some ways, the writing process is like cooking.
Gathering the ingredients for a meal requires effort. But, understanding how to put all the ingredients together is far more difficult.
Similarly, learning nouns, adjectives, and verbs can be hard to do. But, putting them together into a meaningful story, email, or essay is what is difficult.
Doing these things becomes even more difficult when you are writing in a second language.
So, writing clear, cohesive paragraphs or essays, can be hard for English learners.
To overcome this problem, Kruchin and Kennedy recommend that students make concept maps before writing.
Kennedy says concept maps show a writer when his or her writing lacks clarity.
Kruchin adds that concept maps help visual learners – people who learn better by seeing ideas.
What are concept maps?
Concept maps are tools for organizing ideas. They usually have three parts: concepts, arrows, and linking phrases.
The concepts, which are the main ideas, are in circles or boxes. They are often nouns or noun phrases.
Arrows show how concepts are connected.
Linking words or phrases go above the arrows and explain how the concepts relate to one another.
Linking phrases are especially important. They are the groups of words that show relationships between concepts.
Joseph Novak, the creator of concept mapping, says such linking phrases give meaning to statements:
"If you say dog and food, those two concepts by themselves don't mean anything. They don't make a statement about the world. But if you say "dogs need food", then you begin to express an idea that's significant."
Novak adds that the linking words or phrases should be short. "You do not want a story between two concepts," he says, "just the expression that is needed to say, 'this concept is significantly related to another concept.'"
Generally, the generic ideas are at the top of the concept map and the specific ideas are at the bottom.
Kennedy explains what this looks like:
"So, for example, if you wanted to explain that trees provide wood, and wood is used to make furniture, you could have a circle around the word trees… and then you could have an arrow between the word wood and the word furniture, which would also be in a circle, and on top of that arrow it would say "is used to make""
From this starting point, writers can expand concept maps to include many concepts, arrows, and linking phrases.
Regardless of how simple or complex the map is, the most important point is that every concept has at least one arrow attached to it, and that every arrow has a linking word or linking phrase.
Building a concept map before writing an essay or email will make you think about how your ideas relate to one another.
You will realize when you are not explaining the relationships between ideas if you make a concept map that does not have arrows or linking phrases.
What can you do?
So, what can you do to start practicing concept maps?
You can start by reading and learning common linking words.
#1 Start by building a concept map of a paragraph
Kruchin recommends that English learners begin to use concept maps by studying the writing of others.
Learning how good writers have connected and developed ideas is an important starting point for learners who want to improve their own writing.
Kruchin adds that English learners should begin with a small amount of writing, such as a paragraph.
Kruchin suggests that English learners study the paragraph, or essay, by looking for the following information:
"The author's main idea is this, because of A, B, and C and here is one example to support A, one example to support B, one example to support C."
Doing this exercise, Kruchin adds, will give English learners information about how they can show relationships between ideas in their own writing.
#2 Learn common words and phrases that connect ideas
Kennedy recommends that English learners master words and phrases that show relationships between ideas. These linking phrases often show cause and effect or tell about the order of events.
English learners, Kennedy explains, should practice using a few of these phrases before moving to phrases that are more complex.
In particular, he recommends that English learners first use phrases such as "leads to", "causes", "is a type of" and "requires", before moving on to other phrases.
Read the article that goes with this story
Whether your goal is to write novels, poetry, or a message to a co-worker or friend, being able to show a relationship between ideas is an important skill.
Concept mapping might seem complicated, but Kennedy and Kruchin wrote an article that can help clarify their ideas. You can find the article on this page in PDF format. Download the article, read it, then try practicing with concept maps.
Let us know how concept maps work for you!
I'm John Russell.
John Russell wrote this story for Learning English. Mario Ritter was the editor.
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Words in This Story
cohesion– n. a condition in which people or things are closely united
concept – n. an idea of what something is or how it works
ingredient – n. one of the things that are used to make a food, product, etc.
overcome – v. to successfully deal with or gain control of (something difficult)
phrase – n. a group of two or more words that express a single idea but do not usually form a complete sentence