John Hattie, respected education professor and thought leader, spent 25 years identifying and ranking the most and least influential factors on student academic achievement (calling the research Visible Learning). His work included 108,000 studies involving 300 million students worldwide. The identified influences range from teacher credibility, to specific instructional strategies, to socioeconomic status and more. Among the top 10% of these factors is a strategy called “concept mapping.”
If concept mapping is something you’re not yet familiar with, read on to add this strategy to your teacher toolkit. Stick with us as we dig into why concept mapping affects student achievement, what it is, and how to leverage this powerful instructional strategy in your classroom.
Why Concept Mapping?
Concept maps, and the act of creating them, are valuable learning strategies that support learners in visually representing information, identifying relationships between concepts, and orienting concepts from big picture to small details. The maps are greatly beneficial for visual learners (which, by the way, 65% of us are) but can truly benefit any type of learner. This time-tested model is proven to increase student engagement, be an effective study aide, and serve as a reliable form of authentic assessment.
Follow This Map to Start Concept Mapping!
The below steps are a quick tutorial so you can add concept mapping to your instructional toolkit (to dig more into this instructional strategy, check out this ExPloration from Sero!, the premiere concept mapping software provider).
- Craft a focus question. This question (or questions, if it needs to be a two-parter) provides context for the knowledge that the concept map should reflect.
- List and organize concepts. What ideas, objects, or understandings come to mind when posed with the focus question? Jot these down (aim somewhere between 10 to 30 to get started) and keep them short (no sentences). Try to keep concepts under three or four words.
- Start organizing! Position the most important themes and main concepts toward the top of the map and place supporting ideas toward the bottom.
- Connect ideas with linking phrases. Use lines to connect concepts, then add linking phrases to form propositions. Check out these examples or Sero!’s “Concept Mapping 101” resources to get a clearer idea of concept map formats and components.
It’s worth noting that concept mapping is a skill requiring considerable time and effort from both teachers and students. Students may become frustrated by the steep learning curve. Software platforms like Sero! take the frustration out of concept mapping by allowing students to focus more on their thinking and less on manually writing (and erasing, and rewriting again).
Put Concept Maps to Work in Your Classroom!
There are several ways to effectively incorporate concept mapping into your instruction. The first is to leverage a concept map focus question as a discussion prompt. When introducing a new topic, present the focus question and have students discuss and list ideas in pairs or small groups. Then, collaboratively construct a classwide list and start organizing!
Another option for using concept maps is coaching students to use them as a study guide. As you approach an assessment window, task students with creating a concept map related to the big topics that will be assessed. Both creating the concept map, then using it as a reference for studying are powerful study habits to help your students develop.
Lastly, a concept map itself can serve as an assessment. Unlike multiple choice questions or other formats that simply require low-level memorization, a concept map showcases a student’s critical thinking, their ability to connect ideas and see relationships, and paints a picture of their complete understanding of a topic. Your ability to analyze and grade these concept maps will depend on the format you choose. A very structured concept map (e.g., pre-set boxes and lines, word bank) is easier to grade but requires less critical thinking for your students, whereas an unstructured concept map (basically just the focus question) will take longer to grade but better reflects individual thinking. Find a middle ground so students can showcase their unique learning and you can grade efficiently.
Need Help Getting Started?
Sero! is an award-winning, cloud-based software that allows educators to quickly design, deliver, review, and grade concept-based assessments. This platform also engages students by allowing them to more efficiently develop their list of concepts, manipulate them around the map, and connect them with linking phrases. Try a free pilot with Sero! Today! Pilots are for one learning unit and include a free Sero! subscription for the duration of the pilot, plus a deep, perpetual discount for your organization.