Mind Maps for Better Learning

Have you ever:

  • heard of a mind map? 
  • seen one? 
  • made one? 
  • made one with your kid? 

Even if your answers are all yes, the following text and examples might still be interesting for you. Keep reading and enter the amazing world of mind maps.

In this article:

What Are Mind Maps?

Simply said, mind mapping is putting your thinking into visual pictures, symbols, numbers, or words. Or all of these. It is an easy way to brainstorm thoughts organically without worrying much about order and structure. You just let your mind lead the way and create a diagram of your thoughts and their relationships. So, we could say that the primary use of mind mapping is to create an association of ideas.

When Can We Start Using Mind Maps?

You might notice that we often use words such as ideas, connections, associations, abstract thinking, and strategic planning to describe these diagrams.

- In preschool children, these skills are still not developed. However, this doesn't mean that they can't make a simple mind map for a topic like "animals". They can brainstorm and draw a few animals, but this is not their primary way of learning.

- As they start school, children slowly begin to understand how classifications work. This means that they might use this technique to memorise some information. If they are learning about different types of water, they can write or draw what they associate with standing or stagnant water (puddles, ponds, reservoirs...) and flowing water (rivers and streams).

- When children enter the formal operational stage, around the age of eleven, thinking becomes more sophisticated and abstract. Then, they can start creating mind maps to organise many pieces of information and create associations between them. 

Why Should Children (And Adults) Use Mind Maps When Learning?

  • Mind mapping helps learners to find relations between new learnings and existing knowledge. This means that they help form connections between what children already know and what they've just learned. 

Suppose you have read the previous article on cognitive strategies (how we use our minds to learn something). In that case, you probably remember that one key element for learning to be successful is active involvement. (And if you haven't read it, now is the right time to do it.) Mind mapping creates this meaningful engagement because learners actively engage in the process of brainstorming, generating ideas, and connecting concepts together while reviewing and developing these diagrams. 

  • Mind maps can help learners remember the information they have to learn. It is generally easier to remember a diagram than to remember a description (1). 
  • In one study (2), researchers found that studying with mind maps helped boost retention by 10-15%.
  • There are no limits on the ideas and links that we can make, and there is no necessity to retain an ideal structure or format. 
  • Mind mapping thus promotes creative thinking and encourages "brainstorming". This is also why they're used in project management and strategic planning.

However, not everyone can see the same connections and understand the map someone else has made. It's pretty understandable - every single brain is different and guides us in different directions. 

Another disadvantage is that mind mapping is limited in dealing with more complex relationships. But, for the project we did, this technique was just perfect.

How to Create a Mind Map?

For Earth Day this year, my kids and I decided to make a trilingual memory game. To do that, we had to generate ideas and some vocabulary. A mind map seemed to be the best activity for this task.

Step 1

Create a central idea. This is the starting point of your Mind Map and represents the topic you are going to explore. Ours was Planet Earth.

Mind maps, step 1

Step 2
Mind maps, step 2

Add branches with keywords and colour-code them. The main branches which flow from the central image are the key themes. The boys came up with:

  • water
  • soil/ground
  • animals
  • plants
  • people
  • weather

Step 3

Add child branches to explore the topic in greater depth. Use words or visuals to generate your ideas. Einstein E and Power P prefer visuals. They are also a universal language that can overcome any language barrier. Since we planned to use these ideas for making cards in different languages, visuals were a perfect solution.

For the first attempt at mind mapping, the process and final product were quite a success. The boys got an idea of what a mind map is and, more importantly, they had fun making one.

Next time, we'll try to include more connections between ideas.

Suggested reading on the topic:

(1) Davies, M. (2011). Concept mapping, mind mapping and argument mapping: what are the differences and do they matter? Higher Education 62(3):279-301

(2) Farrand, P., Hussain, F., & Hennessy, E. (2002). The efficacy of the 'mind map' study technique. Medical education36(5), 426–431. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2923.2002.01205.x