Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Version Date: February 27, 2014
Idea mapping--also called mind mapping--is a note-taking or
outlining (or creative thinking)
method for gettiing ideas down on paper. It has some advantages over
outlining in the following ways:
- Idea mapping is nonlinear,
Ideas can grow and be mapped organically. Many ideas do not proceed in
a straight line. Not only are ideas recursive (they flow back and forth
while in the process of development, but they appear in branches rather
than in rows.
- An idea can be connected to
several other ideas, not just the ideas before and after it in
- It is visual and spatial,
giving you a quickly processed, comprehensive overview of the thought
universe you are working with. More important or higher level ideas can
be given larger shapes to show their relative importance, so yu can see
at a glance where the primary concepts are and how they are supported
by secondary ideas.
- It's easier to add new
information and show its relatedness to what you previously have
down,especially if you are working on paper. Simply draw another
connector and write.
Types of Idea Map
While there are many variants, the most common types are the
cloud-circle-flowchart style and the treebranch style.
Here is an example of how a simple cloud-style idea map might be
created. First, the main idea (sometimes called a Level 1 idea)
is written down in the center of the notetaking paper, and then a cloud
around it. (Drawing the shapes first usually results in shapes too
small to fit in the content, resulting in an ugly map. If you write the
words first and then draw the cloud around them, the words will always
supporting idea (or two) is written down. Then, to show the connection
ideas, draw arrowed lines, with the arrow pointing from the superior
idea to the subordinate idea. In the example here, color is also
used to allow a quick understanding of which and how many different
levels of ideas are present.
From this beginning, you can continue adding Level 2 ideas, or you can
add Level 3 ideas, examples, nonexamples, supporting arguments,
counterarguments, or whatever fits the material you are mapping. In
our example here, we have added a couple of examples, a nonexample, and
a Level 3 idea.
(A nonexample is something that is not an example of the subject under
discussion. If, for example, you are mapping "Fruits and Vegetables,"
under fruits, you might have a cloud that says, "A tomato is not a
fruit." Nonexamples help clarify and avoid confusion.)
Note the use of color to allow a quick distinguishing
among all the elements.
The flexibility of idea maps can be shown by the ease of adding
information wherever there is room on the page and simply drawing an
arrow to the cloud idea it applies to. And if the added information
applies to more than one idea, multiple connecting lines can be drawn.
Additionally, you can write notes anywhere, you can bracket sections of
the map that have a special relationship or need special commentary,
and you can connect any clouds to any others when that is desirable.
This is where the map shows its its strength and flexibility, too. By
escaping linear connectivity, you are enabled to display more complex
An alternate style of idea mapping is the tree or branching map. This
style provides the same benefits as the connected-shape style, with the
additional advantage of creating easily visualized sub-levels. If you
will have several levels (main, sub, sub-sub, sub-sub-sub), then the
tree style might work for that application.
Benefits of Idea Mapping
- The ability to add an idea and connect it anywhere, even to
multiple other ideas, allows the representation of a complex
integration of ideas.
- The flexibility to add new nodes anywhere offers the ability to
grow a set of thoughts organically, adding in what may seem a random
fashion, while preserving a hierarchical, clear relationship among all
- Symbols and graphics (pictures, diagrams) can be added and
connected by links.
- When you study your notes in the form of an idea map, your mind
remembers the picture. An image is easier to remember than an outline
or a set of notes. You'll recall the general shape of your map and be
more likely to fill in the text on the lines.
You can use any of several, free, online and downloadable idea mapping
(also called mind mapping) software applications, you can use a word
processing program that has insertalble shapes. However, to get
started, you might learn and practice with a hand drawn map. Just as
notetaking increases learning through the physical act of taking down
the notes, so drawing out your idea map will help you learn. You can
keep some colored pens or markers handy, draw in various sizes and
colors, and reinforce certain clouds or balloons by running your pen or
pencil over the shape again each time you think about it.
- For some reason, we tend to think wider rather than taller, so
it's a good idea to turn the paper to landscape orientation.
- Write the idea first, then draw the circle, cloud, square,
rectangle, oval, hexagon, or other shape around it.
- Put your main idea in the center of the page.
- Depending on the size of your paper (try 11" by 17" sometime!)
keep your idea descriptions to a couple of words or short phrases.
(With larger paper, you can use more words to describe each idea.)
For a really good set of examples of idea maps, use Google's
Advanced Image Search on "mind map."
For free mind mapping software, do a Google search on "free mind
You can create a great comparison test (to determine your maximum
effectiveness) and at the same time deeply reinforce your learning by
using both a traditional outline format and
an idea map for the same material (reading, lecture, video, etc.). Try
one format first and then convert it to the other. Then for then for
the next project, create the other format first and then convert that.
- Which format is more flexible?
- Which format helps you organize your ideas better?
- Which seems easier to create as you listen or read?
- Which provides more benefits during review and studying fo tests?
Learning Strategy 1: Mnemonics
Learning Strategy 2: Paraphrasing
Learning Strategy 3: Summarizing
Learning Strategy 4: Self Monitoring
Learning Strategy 5: Self Explanation
Learning Strategy 6: Mental Rehearsal
Learning Strategy 7: Self Assessment
Learning Strategy 8: The SQ3R Reading Method
Learning Strategy 9: Note Taking
Learning Strategy 10: The Leitner Flash Card
Learning Strategy 11: Maintaining Interest
Learning Strategy 12: Conversation
Learning Strategy 13: Group Interaction
Learning Strategy 14: Idea Mapping
Learning Strategy 15: Drawing Pictures
Learning Strategy 16: Study Cycles
Learning Strategy 17: Sleep and Rest
Learning Strategy 18: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 19: Learning Strategy Checklist
Learning Strategy 20: Asking Questions
Learning Strategy 21: Idea Linking
Learning Strategy 22: How to Use a Book
Learning Strategy 23: Active Listening
Learning Strategy 24: Close Reading
Learning Strategy 25: Fluency / Automaticity
Learning Strategy 26: Power Thinking
Learning Strategy 27: Planning for Learning
Learning Strategy 28: Outlining
Learning Strategy 29: Analogies
2014 by Robert Harris | CCC
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About the author:
Harris is a writer
and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the
and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com