Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and showing relationships between key concepts, sources, places, events, or other forms of information. Common types of concept maps include Venn diagrams, hierarchical and organizational charts, fishbone diagrams, mind maps, and flowcharts.
Research indicates that mapping activities promote recall and retention; emphasize relationships between ideas, concepts, and sources; support higher-level thinking; and make thinking visible for the purpose of formative feedback and assessment.
Below are several conventional ways to frame concept mapping activities, listed from the least to most scaffolded:
- Provide a focus question or prompt.
- Provide a parking lot—a list of concepts, terms, or sources that must be placed in relation to one another on a map.
- Provide a skeleton structure or incomplete map for the student to finish. This approach is often combined with a parking lot.
Consider using mapping activities in the following contexts:
- Advance organizer and final exam review: Students create a concept map before starting the semester or module and then review and alter it at points during the course or at the end of the module.
- Active reading activity: Students create a concept map to help them engage in materials more deeply. For more difficult materials or novice students, consider providing them with a skeleton template.
- Small or whole group collaborative activity: Students create a concept map as a team or share their concept maps with their peers for feedback.
- Project planning: Students create a concept map of what they intend to write or argue in a paper or project. Instructors may be able to review and provide feedback on concept maps more quickly than on a written proposal.
- Reflection activity: Use concept mapping prompts for reflection exercises about underlying beliefs or assumptions
- Formative or summative assessment: Concept maps can be to assess understanding of course concepts and materials.
Practice examples and tools
Select the links below to review practice examples and other resources published by the following educational institutions.
- Kent State: Active learning—Concept maps
- Northern Illinois University: Concept mapping
- University of Iowa: Concept map rubrics
- University of Iowa: Using concept maps as teaching tools
- University of Michigan (nursing): Concept mapping to synthesize knowledge and apply learning to real-world case studies
- University of North Texas (health sciences): Tools for formative assessment: Concept mapping
- University of Washington (chemistry): Turn-in assignments: Concept maps
- University of Waterloo: Concept mapping tools
- Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition. (2018). Learn about concept maps.
- Nesbitt, J.C., & Adesope, O.O. (2006). Learning with concept and knowledge maps: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 76(3). doi: 10.3102/00346543076003413
- Novak, Joseph D. & Alberto J. Cañas. (2006). The theory underlying concept maps and how to construct and use them. Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01.