Mind-maps: a personal view

[by Celia Bone]

Yes, of course I invite students to generate their own mind-maps instead of writing an essay – and with some success.

Recently, I proposed the title,“What do we know about childrearing in other cultures?”

In response, some students have generated beautiful images researching perhaps lesser-known cultures such as Peru or Tibet; others were fascinated by Kibbutz arrangements and multiple breastfeeding. Their pride in their work is clearly visible: the ownership of sculpting creative homework compares little to drafting an essay. Millie’s is a clear example.

Mind-maps created in dyads and triads have also been successful for homeworks. One student might start the map for homework, then passes it to the other(s) in the lesson who use(s) another colour and then might present their thinking to other groups. The collaboration of ‘inter-thinking’ is clear to see visually represented.

Despite the occasional exasperated cries from students that ‘mind-maps don’t work for me’, this is not going to be about converting all students to use them, but describing how I have found them useful.

A picture is worth a thousand words.

As psychologists, we know the power of dual-processing and how one picture can sum up a whole series of notes. They help us to focus on fundamentals, colour and distinctiveness and are known to us as visual aids that stimulate stored information. My ‘Ducks’ for the stages of breakdown in Duck’s relationship dissolution, my ‘sad’ mnemonics for research designs and my Darwin beard all get laughs and ‘stick’ with students – mainly because my drawings are rubbish.

A colleague mentioned that, whenever she comes into my room, I am using mind-maps. I do use mind maps, but not all the time: this made me think about why I have been finding them such an effective teaching tool. I have occasionally shared a classroom with ‘A’ level Film Studies and the teacher leaves the board with intricate concept/mind-maps for all to wonder at: I was glad to see it is not just me!

I use mind-maps as a tool for modelling ways of thinking. I believe it is an essential tool for students’ learning that they observe their teacher making connections. In my lessons this is often characterised by figure-drawing, mnemonics or a mathematical graph or flow-chart. I find it illustrates additional links: my favourites are real-world practices such as implications for individuals, society, policy-changes, further research and political pharmaceutical implications.

I find the use of mind-maps eases the entry into broader thinking and leads to deep and insightful evaluation (that’s the theory, anyway). This helps students not only to get inside my head, but also to formulate their own views on politics, medical options, child-rearing, criminal justice system and economic scenarios for future generations. I like them to disagree with me: you tend not to get that sort of added evaluation from a textbook.

Additionally, I use mind-maps for planning in both lessons and research. As I was completing my doctoral research proposal and review, I presented my reviewers and supervisors with an A3 colourful version. I had spent hours drawing (sort of) and linking my concepts and research evidence so that my personalised reference guide aided coherence and professionalism. I provided colour copies (at great expense!) for the reviewers, and they were so fascinated with the detail that I managed to bluff my way through those meetings! I was surprised to hear that nobody had approached their review meeting with this format before!

Incidentally, in writing my final PhD thesis I decided to have an A3 mind-map right at the front of the large tome as a visual summary. My supervisor did not approve and felt it ‘did not sit well’ with the academic styles of writing. I left it in despite his advice.

As a teacher, I find mind-maps invaluable in planning a lecture, a series of lessons, or a difficult meeting. I will spend a number of hours at home with a large sheet of A3 paper and coloured pens and craft my thoughts. If I want to keep the mind-map or am particularly proud of my pictures, I scan it so that I can keep an electronic version to project onto the large screen in class.

Encouraging creativity in teaching has been a personal crusade. De Bono deserves the credit for highlighting ‘meta-thinking’ (thinking about thinking): when students look back to re-evaluate their thinking their links, their pictures and coloured connections, mind-maps are a great tool.

So, as a trial, I urge you to create a colourful mind-map at home, scan it in at school and project it onto the screen in your classroom to help you model thinking. I have found it especially useful when planning an essay, because we know visual memory is better than verbal memory and these are superb aids for teaching.

Thank you, Tony Buzan !


Buzan, T., and Buzan, B (1993). The Mind Map book: How to use radiant thinking to maximize your brain’s untapped potential. New York: Plume

Buzan, T., (2005). The Ultimate book of Mind Maps. Thorsons: London

Gardner, H., (1983). Frames of mind. The Theory of Multiple Intelligence.

Gardner, H., (1999). Intelligence reframed: Multiple intelligences for the 21st century. Basic books.

Duck, S., (1982). A topography of relationship disengagement and dissolution. Personal relationships, 4, pp.1-30.

De Bono, E. (1995) “Serious creativity.” The Journal for Quality and Participation, 18.5: 12.

Paivio, A. and Csapo, K., 1973. Picture superiority in free recall: Imagery or dual coding? Cognitive psychology5(2), pp.176-206.

Littleton, K. and Mercer, N., (2013). Interthinking: Putting talk to work. Routledge.



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