Return to MAIN (index) page Return to ASPECTS of LEARNING page Returns to VAK page Teaching Mind-mapping

Mind-mapping is a fairly simple technique which will appeal particularly to visual learners.  Some students may already have encountered Mind-mapping before in the guise of “spider diagrams” or “concept mapping”.  Before introducing a class to Mindmapping, I have found it useful if they have previously been introduced to brainstorming and are also familiar with working together co-operatively in small groups.


Mind-mapping is:

  • A visual-spatial means of representing information;

  • A good way to organise ideas;

  • An innovative way to take notes (of a lecture, talk, discussion, etc.);

  • An interesting way to plan essays, projects and assignments;

  • An effective revision technique;

  • A more structured approach to brainstorming;

  • A way of overcoming the initial apprehension of those who consider themselves “poor at spelling”;

  • A way of encouraging those who are good at drawing and sketching;

  • Easy enough for everyone to do;

  • An approach that suits activist learners (the “do-ers”);

  • An approach that suits theorist learners (the “thinkers”);

  • An approach that suits pragmatist learners (the “hands-on” students);

  • An approach that can be easily adapted to suit the needs of reflective learners;

  • A useful way to encourage activist learners to reflect on their initial suggestions.

Since before the use of written language, humankind has resorted to pictorial and diagrammatic representation as a means of recording matters of importance – whether they were of an historical, social or personal nature.  Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, dating from about 4000 BC, convey their message through a series of small pictures or icons which represented abstract ideas as well as objects.  Such written languages may have evolved from cave paintings, which archaeologists have dated as far back as 30,000 BC.  On this time-scale, written language (as we know it) is a comparatively recent phenomenon.  Furthermore, in European culture, it was not until the advent of the printing press that literacy began to gain a foothold amongst the masses.


Whereas I would not decry the importance of promoting universal literacy, nevertheless it does seem to be a shame that we have simultaneously failed to promote “visual literacy” amongst those same “masses”.  Over-dependence on the written word could act as a significant deterrent to those whose preferred mode for processing information is not primarily linguistic.  It is apparent that those media that depend on the visual image (television, art, photography, etc.) still pack a powerful punch in respect of communicating their message.  Good communicators, including teachers and trainers, are aware of this and make efforts to ensure that they present information in ways that are visually attractive in order to maintain

the interest of their audience.


Unfortunately, we do not always encourage students to make the most of visual representation as a means of maximising their learning potential.  Whereas most teachers recognise the value of a well labelled chart or diagram as an effective learning tool, all too often we fail to recognise that the way in which information is organised visually can contribute significantly to the learning process.  One very useful method of so doing is Mindmapping.

Mind-mapping can be used to enhance

  • creativity

  • planning

  • diversity of language and ideas

  • problem solving

  • recording information

  • presenting information

  • learning

  • revision

in all subject areas.



For a number of years now, I have worked with a number of primary school teachers and their classes to develop their understanding of Mindmapping and its uses.  Initially, I was naïve enough to assume that a simple demonstration would be sufficient to trigger the production of immaculately planned maps.  It is true that the demonstration went well.  Neither was there any lack of enthusiasm when the students started work on their own Mindmaps.  They keenly tackled topics from the range of options provided (pets, holidays, sport), blitzing their diagrams with a multitude of ideas and copious illustrations.


There were some delightful drawings (of cats, dogs, mice, rats, hamsters and guinea pigs – all looking remarkably similar); incredible diversity of ideas (from archery to pheasant shooting) and some inventive spellings (I especially liked “Greg Regretsky” – the famous tennis player).  There were more than a few revelations.  One group, exploring the idea of where pets were kept, suggested “under the bed” and “in the sink”!


Although there was evidence of considerable organisational skill on the part of some students (the main theme of “Pets” being split into categories that included mammals, rodents, reptiles, birds and even amphibians), on the whole there was more enthusiasm than order.  One group included an incredibly diverse range of “pets” (including whales, dolphins and manatees!) all of which branched directly from the central theme.  The resultant diagram was reminiscent of a frenzied sea anemone – one of the few creatures not to have been suggested.


It was apparent that students needed a strategy to help them organise the wealth of ideas they were generating.  What was required was a mechanism that would not hinder the spontaneous generation of ideas (an activity so obviously enjoyed by activist students) but which would nevertheless allow for a process of review and reflection.  Enter the post-it note!


Instead of writing their ideas directly onto the paper, students were encouraged to write their ideas onto sticky post-it notes which could then be arranged and re-arranged before being transferred onto the resultant map.  This particular strategy is especially useful because it appeals to the full spectrum of learning styles.


Activists respond to its immediacy

Reflectors appreciate opportunity for review.

Theorists can organise their thinking

Pragmatists like the “hands-on” approach


Visual learners can see the shape of the map as it takes shape

Auditory learners can discuss where items should be placed

Kinaesthetic learners can manipulate the data


This particular approach encourages both spontaneity and reflection.  Students like it, particularly if they are working in groups, because they can get “stuck in” straight away.  Even the review phase is “hands on” and allows for some students to re-organise more complicated sections of the map while others are making a start on illustrating more straightforward sections.  The process as a whole generates plenty of discussion, encouraging students to consider not only what should be included on the map but where it should appear.  This exploration of relationships is an essential element in the acquisition of knowledge, ensuring that real learning takes place.


Of course, students are not aware of the inherent value of using this particular learning strategy – nor do they care.  They simply know that they have enjoyed the exercise and that subsequently they find it easier to recall information that has been recorded in this fashion.  So, next time you have to take notes at a meeting, or from a book, why not try the visual approach?  Once you become familiar with the process, you may well find that it opens up a whole new vista of learning opportunity.  If you are a teacher or trainer, it may be worth spending a lesson teaching the technique to your students.  If it helps even a proportion of them to become more effective learners, it will have been time well spent.


Guidelines for effective Mindmapping


Start with a huge piece of paper and turn it sideways (into “landscape” orientation).  This provides most space for writing (which tends to go from left-to-right rather than top-to-bottom) and also corresponds best with the way that our eyes view the world.  Try to write most of your words in a generally horizontal direction.


Starting with the central idea or theme, write this in the centre of the paper in capital letters (or other distinctive lettering) and illustrate it, using colour.


Draw “branches” for each of your main sub-themes, using different colours for each branch, and write the word along the branch, adding a suitable illustration.  It may be helpful to “brainstorm” sub-themes and associated ideas before committing them to the map.


Work on each of these branches systematically or jump about all over the place – but try to organise each new idea so that it connects with previous ideas.  If ideas recur in different parts of the map, that’s OK.  If you get a mental block just draw in a blank line to remind yourself to come back to the relevant section.  You may want to re-work your original Mindmap (or use the post-it note technique) so that you get it “just right”.




I have recently come across a number of software applications that can be used to facilitate the Mindmapping process.  In my opinion, the best of these for business purposes is MindManager by Mindjet; whereas the most useful in the context of education is SparkSpace, which now comes packaged with Promethean’s ActivStudio for use on their interactive whiteboards.  This latter package allows ideas to be generated randomly then connected thematically afterwards.  Creative use of colour further enhances the overall effect of any maps generated in this way.

Sample Mindmaps on this site:

Mindmap revision page

"The Mucklewhites"