How to Create Mind Maps For Effective Learning

Today we are going to be talking mind maps. Maybe you have heard of mind maps but don’t know how to use or create them. Maybe you're unsure of the effectiveness of a mind map or how it can support your learning. Maybe you're the person who doesn’t want to ask but is thinking what an earth is a mind map. Maybe you tried to look up mind maps and thought they look so chaotic or maybe you have been creating mind maps for a while but don’t know if you're creating them right.

OK, so let me say firstly, you’re not the only one. I used mind maps at school and thought I was pretty good at using these for my learning. However, it wasn't until recently that I rediscovered them and have found more effective ways of creating mind maps. Honestly though there is no right or wrong way but there are more effective ways of producing mind maps to support learning.

However, maybe you’re not like me and are screaming whilst reading this blog post “What on earth is a mind map?!” So, let's answer the question. Probably the easiest way to think of a mind map is like a brain cell. You have a central part to the brain cell and then lines (dendrites) coming off the central cell. This is how mind mapping also works. You have a central idea with ideas shooting off the main idea. These can be in the form of words, pictures, symbols, numbers etc. A mind map is basically a visual diagram that organises information. The ideas then have more branches with more ideas coming from them. You can connect branches or have smaller twigs forming from larger branches.

OK, but why on earth do I want to use one?! Aren’t they just a waste of time?

In 2018, 10 teachers and 231 students participated in a study to see if student questioning would improve when mind maps were used. The findings showed "that a majority of students progressed in learning the core curriculum and elaborated upon it." The findings also suggested that "visualising knowledge construction in a shared mind map supports students to learn a core curriculum and to refine their knowledge structures." In 2002, a study proved that mind mapping improved long-term memory in medical students by 10% and a 2009 study showed that when children used mind maps instead of lists, 32% could recall words better. Furthermore mind maps are highly versatile. They may be used for memorising, organising ideas or large amounts of information, brainstorming, presenting, case studies, problem solving, project management, summarising (e.g. books and movies), setting and meeting goals etc. They can help with memory and support both the right and left brain hemispheres through pictures, colours and text. Some people have argued they believe they organise faster through mind mapping.

Mind maps can therefore be used by pretty much anyone but are particularly popular in education by students. They can be used to plan and writing essays, take notes, study for exams, for creative inspiration and even group work. These days teachers are often asking students to mind map and I know as a tutor a common way for me to quickly assess a student’s understanding is through mind mapping.

So, let’s get to the nitty gritty. How do I create a mind map? In short there is no right or wrong way but this is how I now create them and a method you may find useful too.

Before starting

You should decide what size paper you are going to use. The bigger the page is the more information you can fit on. Large sheets may be good for group work and working as part of a team. However, it can become overcrowded and hard to follow or photograph. I suggest if working by yourself starting A4 and if it starts getting crowded you can add twigs with "more details" and create a second or third mind map.

From personal experience, I don't use more than 4 colours on a mind map. You don’t have to do this but I have found this works best for me. I colour by level (ie. centre is red, next branches are blue, twigs are green, hand-drawn pictures brown). Alternatively, you could have every section a different colour (e.g middle red, theme 1 blue, theme 2 green, theme 3 orange etc.).

I also recommend working in a direction. For example, you could go clockwise around your mind map. This works particularly well when essay planning (e.g. introduction is top right, bottom middle is body of essay split into ideas and top left is conclusion).

You may also find it helpful to decide on how long you are going to spend mind mapping. If your using mind mapping for study or revision this is particularly useful.

If creating a mind map for a book or resource you may want to get the key points on your mind map. I’d look at contents, overviews, conclusions, key points, words in bold, titles, boxed text etc. to get key points before in-depth reading.

If your creating a mind map for a lecture or lesson you may want to have the basics in place before starting (e.g. central theme and some dendrites).

Creating a Mind Map

So if you’re creating a basic mind map you need your central idea/theme/question. I like to put this in a cloud symbol and use capital letters. Ideally when adding any text you don’t want more than three words per text entry. This limits information on the page and you always add pictures to help add emphasis. However, this is totally customisable and should work for you.

Next you want branch any main themes from the central thought bubble in ovals and capital letters.

Branch points about each theme from these branches.

Draw pictures symbols etc. To help you remember points.

If you like interconnect points

Finally, file, photograph or scan so you know where your mind map is and it is easily accessible. If you need to learn from the mind map you may wish to display it on a wall where you see it regularly.

You may be wondering whether to use paper based or digital mind mapping. In my opinion this is totally personal preference. I currently create my paper based mind maps and if for personal education scan them into OneNote. I have not yet found (not to say it doesn’t exist) a mind mapping software that uses colours, pictures and branches the way I want at a reasonable price. This, however, may not be the same for you.

Why not give mind mapping a try? You can decide if it is something you want to utilise and how you want to create your mind maps yourself. It may even be an organic process that evolves and gets better and better. After all isn’t education about learning and growing?

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