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What are concept maps?

Concept maps are visual representations of information. They can take the form of charts, graphic organizers, tables, flowcharts, Venn Diagrams, timelines, or T-charts. Concept maps are especially useful for students who learn better visually, although they can benefit any type of learner. They are a powerful study strategy because they help you see the big picture: by starting with higher-level concepts, concept maps help you chunk information based on meaningful connections. In other words, knowing the big picture makes details more significant and easier to remember.

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Concept maps work very well for classes or content that have visual elements or in times when it is important to see and understand relationships between different things. They can also be used to analyze information and compare and contrast.

Making and using concept maps

Making one is simple. There is no right or wrong way to make a concept map. The one key step is to focus on the ways ideas are linked to each other. For a few ideas on how to get started, take out a sheet of paper and try following the steps below:

  • Identify a concept.
  • From memory, try creating a graphic organizer related to this concept. Starting from memory is an excellent way to assess what you already understand and what you need to review.
  • Go through lecture notes, readings and any other resources you have to fill in any gaps.
  • Focus on how concepts are related to each other.

Your completed concept map is a great study tool. Try the following steps when studying:

  • Elaborate (out loud or in writing) each part of the map.
  • List related examples, where applicable, for sections of the map.
  • Re-create your concept map without looking at the original, talking through each section as you do.

Examples of concept maps

Example 1: This example illustrates the similarities and differences between two ideas, such as Series and Parallel Circuits. Notice the similarities are in the intersection of the 2 circles.

Example 2: This example illustrates the relationship between ideas that are part of a process, such as a Food Chain.

Example 3: This example illustrates the relationship between a main idea, such as climate change, and supporting details.

Example 4: Outlining is a less visual form of concept mapping, but it might be the one you’re most familiar with. Outlining by starting with high-level course concepts and then drilling down to fill in details is a great way to determine what you know (and what you don’t know) when you’re studying. Creating an outline to start your studying will allow you to assess your knowledge base and figure out what gaps you need to fill in. You can type your outline or create a handwritten, color-coded one as seen in Example 5.

Additional study strategies

A concept map is one tool that you can use to study effectively, but there are many other effective study strategies. Check out these resources and experiment with a few other strategies to pair with concept mapping.

Make an appointment with an academic coach to practice using concept maps, make a study plan, or discuss any academic issue.

Attend a workshop on study strategies to learn about more options, get some practice, and talk with a coach.

How can technology help?

You can create virtual concept maps using applications like Mindomo, TheBrain, and Miro. You may be interested in features that allow you to:

  • Connect links, embed documents and media, and integrate notes into your concept maps
  • Search across maps for keywords
  • See your concept maps from multiple perspectives
  • Convert maps into checklists and outlines
  • Incorporate photos of your hand-written mapping

Testimonials

Learn more about how a Writing Center coach uses TheBrain to create concept maps in our blog post, TheBrain and Zotero: Tech for Research Efficiency.

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Works consulted

Holschuh, J. and Nist, S. (2000). Active learning: Strategies for college success. Massachusetts: Allyn & Bacon.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 License.
You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute the source: The Learning Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

If you enjoy using our handouts, we appreciate contributions of acknowledgement.

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Mind mapping is growing into a teaching method that you teachers heavily rely on. That’s because you have found the advantages of providing students with mind maps of their learning material: they understand the information better, and they learn it and recall it easily.

All over the world, from teaching Biology, Geography, Language Arts to Computer Science and Environmental Science, you are using Mindomo to work with your students in and outside the classroom. Moreover, your students have to create mind maps of their own to reinforce their learning and thinking skills.
Both you and your students’ efforts deserve our full support, so we created a new solution to ease your work with Mindomo and mind mapping. So, let us introduce to you Mindomo Courses and how it will help you further with mind mapping:

  • Easy access to Mindomo: students will easily access Mindomo and their mind map assignments.
  • Easy-to-create courses: setup a course within minutes where you encourage students to mind map on the subjects you are covering.
  • Auto-sharing of mind maps between you and your students: once students start completing their assignments, the mind maps they will be working on will be automatically shared with you.
  • Easy to assist students and to assess their performance: use the course’s clear overview to see how each student interacted within the course, whether he/she faced any problems with the assignment(s) and offer your guidance whenever it is needed.
  • Easy to provide students with learning materials: gather all the learning resources on the topic you are covering and invite students to access them as they complete their assignments.


You can give it a try as we speak. Just log into Mindomo and go to “Courses” in the top left corner of your dashboard. We will be glad to hear your impressions once you’ve tested it.

And since we just released this dedicated solution, we would like to offer 10 teacher subscriptions for free, for a 1-year period. One of these subscriptions can be yours, all you need to do is write a comment below and tell us how you plan to make the most of the subscription.

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Keep it smart, simple and creative!

The Mindomo Team