Concept mapping is a learning strategy that many students find useful in understanding complex ideas and clarifying ambiguous relationships. Creating a graphic representation of a topic often can help you visualize key concepts and organize your knowledge more clearly than will other methods of study. You may find that the physical process of drawing a map of a topic engages a different part of your brain than does ordinary reading or taking notes. Taking time to think critically about what is most important about a particular topic will help you remember it better at a later date. It can also point out weaknesses in your understanding as well as areas in which you need more study. Practicing this technique can help you comprehend difficult material and prepare for exams.

Maps integrate and summarize knowledge. They suggest linkages that we may not have seen before, and they suggest routes for further exploration. As we learn more, we revise our maps, correcting errors, adding new information, removing unnecessary features, and refining the presentation. A concept map is a two-dimensional representation of the relationship between key ideas. It shows us how we think and suggests affinities and associations that might not otherwise be obvious. At first glance, a concept map looks like a flow chart in which key terms are placed in boxes connected by directional arrows. Based on educational psychology theories of how we organize information, concept maps are hierarchical, with broader, more general items at the top and more specific topics arranged in a cascade below them. They are metacognitive tools that empower the learner to take charge of his/her own learning in a highly organized and meaningful manner.

To create a concept map, start with what you already know. Build from what is familiar. What are the key components or ideas in the topic you’re trying to understand? Place each concept in its own individual circle, box, or other geometrical shape. You might want to use different shapes to indicate relative levels or types of ideas. Connect concept boxes with directional arrows to show relationships. Label each arrow with descriptive terms so that your diagram can be read as a statement or proposition by following interconnections from the top down. In figure 1, for example, you can read the proposition that “concept maps are used to develop learning strategies that lead to knowledge acquisition that contributes to class performance and determines your grade” as one set of associations. Following another pathway, you can see that “values and beliefs affect learning strategies which help discover key concepts that clarify concept maps”.

As you can see in this example, branches to one side or the other of the key concepts show related ideas. Where appropriate, cross links or bridges can connect branches of your map. Linking arrows can be bidirectional to indicate mutual interactions, but be careful not to make everything connected to everything else. Focus on the most important concepts and the most significant relationships. View this as an exercise in discrimination. Don’t try to make your map perfect. Sometimes working briskly will help you cut away the superfluous while fostering creativity and synthesis. The point is not to create a work of art but to organize, discover, and understand central meanings. The map helps you learn how to learn.


Figure – 1 How concept map use can affect grade


A concept map can show just a small part or a subset of a broader field of knowledge. The top or key concept in one map may be subsumed into a lower position in a map with a different focus. A small branch in a general map could be expanded into a much more specific map of its own.  Figure 2, for instance, shows some key concepts about ecosystems, a topic that may students find intimidating. Notice that just a few lower elements of this map — the roles played by decomposers, consumers, and producers, for example — could be expanded and made into a map of their own to clarify the ways that energy and materials move through ecosystems.

Remember that concept maps are works in progress. There are no right or wrong maps. Each one represents one possible way of understanding a particular set of ideas by an individual at the time the map was made. Expect to do several interactions, right from the outset. There are probably as many ways of representing a collection of concepts as there are concepts in the collection, but some – typically those discovered by a process of trial and error – are more elegant and easier to understand than others.




Figure 2 – Aconcept map of ecosystem components and relationships.


The benefits of mapping are mainly to the individual making the map. The process of simplifying concepts and arranging them on a page forces you to think about what is most important. It helps you clarify your thoughts and understandings and makes learning more meaningful. A concept map can be a heuristic device: i.e., a process in which you make discoveries and uncover meanings through trial and error. Although you benefit most directly from making your own map, it can be instructive to compare your map to that of a fellow student to see how her or his take on a topic compares to yours.

Word Wall During a lesson, key vocabulary is reviewed by directing students to a Word Wall where relevant content vocabulary words are listed alphabetically usually on a large poster, sheet of butcher paper, or pocket chart (Cunningham 1995). Originally designed as a method for teaching and reinforcing sight words for emergent readers, Word Walls are also effective for displaying content words related to a particular unit or theme. The words are revisited frequently throughout the lesson or unit and students are encouraged to use them in their writing and discussions.

Cunningham (1995) recommends that teachers judiciously select words for Word Wall and that the number be limited to those of greatest importance. We would add that teachers should resist the temptation to have multiple Word Walls in one classroom because the walls quickly become cluttered with words that are difficult to sort through, especially for ELLs. One Word Wall, carefully maintain and changed as needed, is what we recommend. Some teachers, with students’ input, regularly remove words from a Word Wall to keep the number of words at a reasonable number. Every Friday, or every other Friday, for example, the students jointly decide which words they no longer need on the wall.

For example, while working on the theme ‘Jury system’ we put on the World Wall the following word with their definitions:

  • To be selected = to be chosen
  • E.g. A jury is a group of people who have been selected to listen to the facts in a trial
  • To be claimed = to be said
  • E.g. It is claimed that the advantage of the jury system is that it ensures fair trial.
  • Fraud = tricking somebody to get money
  • E.g. Massive amounts of money are lost every year in credit card frauds.
  • To argue the case = to discuss the case from the different points of view
  • Adversarial system = lawyers can discuss the case from different points of view, opposing each other

Cloze Sentences Cloze sentences can be used to teach and review content vocabulary. Students read a sentence that has strong contextual support for the vocabulary word that has been omitted from the sentence. Once the meaning of the word is determined and possible replacement words are brainstormed, the teacher (or a student) provides the correct word. For example, » Juries are used in __________ cases, and in some civil actions, notably actions for __________..» (criminal,  libel)

Word Sorts During a Word Sort, students categorize words or phrases, which have been previously introduced, into groups predetermined by the teacher.  Words or phrases are typed on a sheet of paper (46-point type on the computer works well). Students cut the paper into word strips and then sort the words according to meaning, similarities in structure (e.g., words ending in -tion, -sion, or -tation), derivations, or sounds.

Another example of a Word Sort might involve words and phrases related to content concepts. After students cut apart the words and phrases, they sort them into groups and identify an appropriate label for each. This categorizing activity also can be completed as a List-Group-Label activity (Vacca & Vacca, 1998) when students brainstorm words related to the topic and then determine possible categories or labels for the words. The brainstormed words are then reviewed when they are rewritten under the various labels.

After such activating background knowledge and consolidating vocabulary, students are ready for listening to the lecture and taking notes.

But before listening to the lecture, students listen to the introduction and decide on better way of note-taking. In this case, it is Concept-definition map with advantages and disadvantages of jury system.


How to design a good Concept Map Assessment


Introduce concept map to students if you are planning to use them as assessments. There are many ways to introduce concept map to them. One way is by showing them an overview of a partial concept map on a subject they are familiar with and discuss with them during class on how to fill in the rest of the hierarchy. It can also be introduced by providing the concepts, and ask the class to discuss the relationships between them.

Ensure the students know what the objectives of the assessment are.

Provide students the time period, guidelines, requirements, assessment criteria and if there are items that are not to be included. The students should also be aware of who is going to assess them – tutor, peers and/or self? And if peers or themselves are going to assess, would the weightings be the same as the tutor’s assessment?

Prepare a structured marking sheet for all assessors. Give sufficient time for students to respond.

When created correctly and thoroughly, concept mapping is a powerful way for students to reach high levels of cognitive performance. A concept map is also not just a learning tool, but an ideal evaluation tool for educators measuring the growth of and assessing student learning. As students create concept maps, they reiterate ideas using their own words and help identify incorrect ideas and concepts; educators are able to see what students do not understand, providing an accurate, objective way to evaluate areas in which students do not yet grasp concepts fully.

There are advantages and disadvantages  in concept map assessment:


— it encourages collaborative learning and team knowledge mapping;

— it allows deep learning;

— “picture tells a thousand words”; graphic representations are usually easier to understand and retain;

— it can be used in a large class setting either individually or collaboratively, by giving the students a partially filled concept map, or a few concepts to fill on the maps;

— it mirrors what exactly real business uses and provides the students a sense of the real world;

— it is an active assessment.


— students are often not familiar with concept mapping assessment and may find it intimidating;

— concept mapping is often not graded, it may sometimes be used as a quick assessment in class to check students’ conception on a topic or may be used as an overview of an assessment, this may frustrates some students;

— individual feedback can be time-consuming, clear assessment criteria and grading are required for all parties so that students and assessors are fully aware of how the performance will be judged.


1 Bear,D.,Invernizzi, M. Words their way. McGraw Hill, 2000

2 O’Malley, J. J.,& Chamot, A.U. Learning strategies in second language acquisition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990

3 Erickson, F.,& Shultz, J. Students’ experience of the curriculum. New York: Macmillan, 1998

4 Harmer, Jeremy. The Parctice of English Language Teaching. London: Longman, 2005

5 Richards, J. Methodology in Language Teaching. Cambridge University Press, 2008

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