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Tool of the Month - Mind Mapping (September, 2013)

What is a Mind Map?

A Mind Map tool is a type of visual representation of information that is based on hierarchy and connections. In terms of logic of narration, mind maps are simply hierarchical lists. However, the spatial organization of a mind map adds to its educational value, engage additional resources of the brain and ensure better understanding, memorization, and engagement.

In a mind map, the author starts with a central concept (object, word, idea or image), and connects it with several auxiliary concepts. Then, each auxiliary concept gets its own nested concepts, and so forth. Below you will find examples of mind maps, both hand-drawn and computer generated:

Psychological and didactic principles of a mind map creation

A mind map is an effective teaching tool thanks to its spatial design. The value of space is best understood when compared to a mind map’s logical equivalent – hierarchical lists. A hierarchical list introduces its contents in a linear hierarchical manner. List items run from top down, in an orderly fashion of a linear text. The order of hierarchy items is important, since the reader is forced into reading a hierarchical list in a predictable linear way. Producing and reading a hierarchical list is mostly left-brain activity, much like reading any other text.

A mind map utilizes the same idea of hierarchy, but adds space to it. Instead of plainly listing the elements from top down, a mind map arranges the ideas around a central concept, placing the ideas in space and in hierarchy at the same time. The mind-mapped ideas are perceived not only as connected, but also as placed in space.

Since spatial thinking is a right-brain activity, a mind map engages both the left brain (reading, logic and conceptualizing), and the right brain (spatial thinking, drawing, creativity). This results in a deeper student engagement on a cerebral level: when working with mind maps, both student’s creativity and logic are engaged, less distractions can penetrate the thinking process and a bigger intellectual challenge is set forth.

A mind map can also be a powerful motivator. Building a personal mind map, presenting it to class or collaborating on a mind map is a new and challenging task for students that requires creativity and collaboration – both proven motivators. A mind map is a fundamentally creative task, since there is an infinite number of ways to mind-map a finite set of ideas.

Finally, mind-mapping involves both linear and non-linear narration, abstract and associative thinking, textual and visual triggers – proven powerful memory devices. In a mind map, a student creates his own story that runs on associations and hierarchical connections, while at the same time developing several independent stories, each suited for best representation of a given concept. Students use imagery and text to create easily memorable symbols that can later be recalled through spatial, logical and associative thinking.

Mind-mapping in a foreign language classroom: vocabulary and grammar tasks

Teachers typically use mind maps in vocabulary tasks to enhance memorization and recall. Mind maps are effective in deconstructing complex texts with factual information. Mind maps can also be used in explaining grammar, talking about other cultures and traditions, places and historical events.

For new vocabulary, mind-mapping is effective when applied to a scope of connected and interdependent vocabulary units. There are several approaches to mind-mapping new vocabulary that you can use.
• Semantic approach: the words in a mind-map are grouped through meaning and context. E. g. Travel —> On location —> Hotel —> Reception —> Desk, Check-in, fill out a form.
• Chronological approach: the words are grouped by time, and a mind-map resembles a clock that represents the time of the words. E. g. Morning —> Home —> Get up, Get dressed, Have breakfast.
• Morphological approach: the words are grouped through common morphological elements. E. g. Travel —> Words with ‘Over’ —> Overlay, overnight, overweight.
• Evaluative approach: the structure of a mind map is generated through evaluation of qualities or concepts. E. g. Character —> Good traits —> Honesty, sincerity, good faith, sensibility. Remember that evaluation in itself is a disputable, personal and often teachable area.

See the examples of mind maps for vocabulary use (French as a foreign language):

Mind mapping with digital tools

A plethora of mind mapping tools has been developed in recent years, all operating in a similar manner with little to no difference between tools. Below are our favorites:
Mind 42 — for simple instantly publishable mind maps
Coggle — for collaboration, slick and clean design and drag-and-drop interaction
MindMeister — for a complete web-to-mobile experience and expert features

All of these tools work well with interactive white boards, provide you with an intuitive and easy-to-use toolbox, support multimedia and hypertext. However, we recommend using digital mind-mapping tools for the teacher, to design a mind-map to be displayed in class, to build a mind-map collectively with the class or to collaborate on the mind-map in small groups.

Additional resources on digital mind mapping

Mind Map case studies and research:
A case study by David Tual, Durham University
Mind-Mapping in the EFL Classroom, a course paper from Fontys Teacher Training College
• Casco. M. (2009) The Use of “Mind Maps” in the Teaching of Foreign Languages
• SIM M. A., POP A.-M. Mind Mapping and Brainstorming as methods of teaching business concepts in English as a Foreign Language. Academica Science Journal 1(1) — 2012
Teaching vocabulary through Mind-Mapping
• Al Naqbi S. The use of Mind Mapping to Develop Writing Skills in UAE Schools

Practical guidelines:
A Mind Map overview and walkthrough from Teaching Village
The Power of Mind Mapping in Language Learning by John Fotheringham
Online Visualization Tools for Language Learning: Revolutionary! By Anna Domiczek

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