Concept Mapping: The Map that Leads to Effective Instruction

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When thinking of concept mapping, graphic organizers often come to mind. But concept mapping is more than that. The graphic organizer is the tool for this strategy, but can often be confining to our students that see connections outside of the typical graphic organizer. Concept mapping has an effect size of .64. It is important to highlight that this is effective when students are making their own connections and not the connections predetermined by the teacher.

This instructional strategy is comprised of three specific steps.

Step 1. Predetermine the topic or question for the concept map. “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 (Kieschnick, Bold School, pg. 124).” Teachers can help students focus their concept map by asking essential questions.
Step 2. Pull a list of key terms or ideas from the topic being addressed. Students should work to classify those key terms or ideas in some way. For example, they might identify the broadest ideas working down to the most specific details. Because students may visualize this in different ways, it is important they have the freedom to choose a tool that best supports their thinking.
Step 3. Connect concepts by creating linking concepts and words. In this step students might need language stems to support the connections they are making. For example, “is related to”, “as a result of”, “caused or causes”, “leds to”, etc.

Incorporating Digital Tools

It is important to provide kids with a variety of options for concept mapping, both digital and unplugged. For example, Mindy would rather create a sketchnote as a tool for concept mapping while Gina really likes being able to have a stack of manipulatives with a broad canvas to organize and connect. Online tools that support concept mapping might include JamboardMindmupLucidchart , or Google Drawings. For kids who prefer an unplugged option, the Post-its App can allow students to start their work in an analogue environment and then move it and manipulate it online. Finally, for kids who prefer a drawing or sketching method for organizing their thoughts, consider using a camera to capture and share unplugged work.

Key Takeaways

  1. Concept maps are NOT graphic organizers. Instead, it is the process of organizing thoughts and key ideas.
  2. Concept mapping is a scaffolded process facilitated by the teacher. Teachers help students identify the relationship between key terms by asking probing questions and providing language stems.
  3. ​It is crucial to honor student voice and choice when concept mapping to support personal visualization of the connected concepts.