Concept Maps

Using Concept Maps to Organize Data

Concept Maps and Branching Diagrams both organize data about relationships. Concept Maps usually organize topics, main ideas or concepts around the central topic

It is important to begin by mentioning the Mindmaps of Tony Buzan.  I mentioned this in the amazing story of Edward Hughes who used Mindmaps and went from a mediocre student to being a top student at Cambridge. If you haven’t read that page, I would recommend it.   Edward Hughes

Buzan seems to claim that he created Mindmaps and, in one way he seems to be correct. Similar visuals were used to show relationships for thousands of years but Buzan definitely popularized the idea. Large numbers of books, especially about brain-based learning mention his work and often use  “Mind Maps” as chapter summaries. What seems to be new is that Buzan’s mindmaps don’t claim to organize information logically. They organize thought, creatively. In Use Both Sides of Your Brain, Buzan says:

In creative efforts of this nature, the mind should be left as ‘free’ as possible. Any ‘thinking about where things should go on whether they should be included will simply slow down the process. The idea is to recall everything your mind thinks of around the  central idea. As your mind will generate ideas faster than you can write, there should be almost no pause …Do not worry about order or organization as this will in many cases take care of itself. If it does not, a final ordering can be completed at the end of the exercise. (96)

Nearly every other book that claims to use “Mindmaps, seems to skip the creative “write anything that comes to mind” approach and use logical, well-structured maps. I am also certain that Edward Hughes and other students using mapping as a study  method also created and studied very rational well-structured maps.

What is a Concept Map?

A Concept Map is a diagram showing the relationships between ideas or concepts, structured in a rational way around a central topic.

I have used a Concept Map here to explain the purposes, structure and uses of Concept Maps, as well as a few suggestions on creating Concept Maps.

A multi-colored concept map about concept maps

 The Structure of the Concept Map

Note that the topic of a concept map is not usually at the top of the page, it is usually in the center.

Around the central topic, I listed four main ideas. It doesn’t need to be four. In a lecture with three main ideas, it would be three. While you can certainly use as many ideas as you like, it is practical to use somewhere between 2 and 6 main ideas. If you have more than that, it is best to clump some of them together.

The four main ideas here are each connected to several secondary ideas. You might not have any secondary ideas for some of your main ideas. You may have a larger number of secondary ideas in other areas. While I didn’t have space to push the concept map out further, the secondary ideas can certainly be subdivided into third level ideas or details. Use as many levels as you need to cover the subject.

The Purposes of the Concept Map

The basic purpose of a concept map is to show relationships between concepts or ideas.  In most cases, this relationship will reflect the structure (or outline) of the lecture, textbook, etc. A concept map should include all of the main ideas and the important details. For students, this means that a detailed concept map should include everything you really need to know to be prepared for a test.

The Uses of Concept Maps

Concept maps can be used to organize the material from a lecture and from a textbook or other reading. They can also be used to structure ideas before writing a paper or giving a speech. You may think of other ways to use concept maps to organize other kinds of information.

How to create a Concept Map YOUR WAY

Unlike Buzan who has a long list of rules for creating “Mindmaps”, I believe that there should be a few rules as possible. I do believe

1.There should be a central topic.
2. The main ideas should be grouped around the central topic.
3. Connections should be drawn from one level to the next.
4. Relationships should be structural and logical.

I like drawing shapes around my concepts, but they aren’t necessary. If you use shapes, they can all be the same (all ovals for example) or they can be different. I often use different shapes for each level. You could also do what I did here and have a separate shape for each section of the chart. Or you might use an unusual shape for what you consider especially important.

You can do the entire concept map in a single color – usually black – or you can use color in any way you like. I used color here to show the separate sections of the chart. You might change colors for the different levels. I used color for the outlines of the shapes. You could fill the shapes with color or use color for the words. It is your chart.

Buzan and many others like to use images or pictures because this makes the chart easier to remember. I rarely use them because it requires time and I’m not good at drawing images. You can do whatever works for you.

You really want to focus on ways to make your chart easy to understand and easy to remember. I find that using different forms make them easier to remember. This one is a wide concept map, designed to fit well on the computer. I have done others that are taller, or very round, etc. Some, with three main ideas may look like a triangle. If I’m working on one concept map that is only black and white, I might do the next one in red and blue, and another in a wide variety of colors. All these thing make it easier to visualize the specific concept map I need.

Make is YOURS. This is your concept map, not mine .Make it any way that you find interesting and useful. Create a concept map that will help you organize your information, main ideas, and details, a concept map that will help you learn and remember the information, and will help you make better grades.

If you are interested in further comparison of Mindmaps and what I call Concept Maps:  Compare Mapping Styles

To read the amazing story of Edward Hughes:  The story of Edward Hughes

To learn about Branching Diagrams

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