Concept Maps

A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

A concept map is a special form of a web diagram for exploring knowledge and gathering and sharing information. Concept mapping is the strategy employed in developing a concept map. Which is a visual depiction of concepts, ideas, theories, or questions. Concept maps can show existent or new relations. They are aids to processing information, storing or retrieving information, and solving problems.

A concept map consists of links among nodes or cells that contain a concept, item, theory or question. The links are labeled and denote direction with an arrow symbol. Labeled links explain the relationship between the nodes. The arrow describes the direction of the relationship and reads like a sentence.

Why Use Concept Maps?

  1. To gain insight into the ways students view a scientific topic
  2. To investigate how well students understand the disciplinary-acceptable connections
  3. To capture the development of students’ ideas over time
  4. To examine valid understandings and misconceptions students hold
  5. To assess the structural complexity of the relationships students depict

What to Use Concept Maps For

  • Learning terms, facts, and concepts belonging to a specific subject
  • Organizing information into meaningful categories
  • Synthesizing and integrating information, ideas, and concepts
  • Thinking about the “big picture” and seeing connections among concepts
  • Thinking creatively about a subject
  • Improving long-term memory skills for accessible knowledge
  • Developing higher-level thinking skills, strategies, and habits
  • Using graphics effectively
  • Providing a wealth of information at a glance
  • Developing an understanding of a body of knowledge.
  • Making new relations between already known knowledge.
  • Exploring new questions and solutions
  • As an aid in solving problems.

What to Ask When Using Concept Maps

  • What is the central word, concept, research question or problem around which to build the map?
  • What are the concepts, items, descriptive words or questions that can be associated with the concept, topic, research question or problem?

When Working With Concept Maps

  • Use a top down approach, working from general to specific
  • Use a free association approach by brainstorming nodes and then developing links and relationships. Use different colors and shapes for nodes & links to identify different types of information. Use different colored nodes to identify pre-existing and new information. Use a cloud node to identify a question.
  • Gather information to a question in the question node.

Practical Aplications for Students

  • Note-taking during lecture
  • Group brainstorming
  • Planning studies and career
  • Providing graphics for presentations and term papers
  • Outlining projects, term papers, and presentations.
  • Refining creative and critical thinking about problems, questions, explorative ideas

Step-by-Step Instructions

For Learning Factual and Conceptual Knowledge

  • Introduce a concept that is familiar to all students, or ask students to start from conceptual knowledge they are familiar with
  • Have students write down 10 additional concepts that they associate with this main concept
  • Ask them to rank the 10 concepts from “most general and inclusive” to “least general and inclusive” or from “most important” to “least important.” This step will require several minutes.
  • Tell students to write the “most general” or “most important” concept near the top of a large piece of paper (poster board or butcher paper are excellent, but regular notebook paper will suffice). Have them enclose this “superordinate concept” in a box or oval. Use pencils instead of pens! (Post-its® are excellent for this step.)
  • Explain that you want them to connect concepts from their list, one pair at a time with directional links and, most importantly, to label the linking lines. Continue this process until all concepts appear on the map.
  • Give students plenty of time (actual amount varies with the level of the class and the difficulty of the question). Encourage them to include a lot of branching and many levels of hierarchy. Put special emphasis on cross-linking concepts in one area of the map with those in other areas. Note that they may add as many additional concepts as they wish to make their maps unique and personally meaningful. Remind them that the boxes or ovals should contain only one or two words or a very short and clear description of the concept. Tell them that they may re-draw their maps as often as they wish.
  • Encourage creativity.
  • Select several students to share their maps with the class. You could provide a transparency for each group to display their maps. Focus attention on appropriate connections between concepts.
  • Remind students that concept maps may be a very helpful way to study. They can be used to condense many pages of textbook verbiage into a succinct summary. Concept maps make useful visual aids for presenting relationships between theoretical concepts and help users come up with a new research questions, or solutions to a problem.
  • In the next class, introduce a central concept from your course and ask your students to construct a concept map on this topic. Collect the maps and review them, but don’t grade them. You may want to suggest ways the maps could be improved.
  • Return the maps to the students and suggest that they rethink some of their ideas. Ask them to use different colored pencils for each iteration so students may depict and emphasize how their ideas change over time. The same map may be used for several class periods, and students may be encouraged to add to, delete, reorganize or even begin anew whenever they need to do so.

For Developing Inductive Reasoning, Metacognitive, And Critical Thinking Skills

  • Ask students to list all theories and concepts they have learned so far
  • List theories in rectangular boxes and the concepts in oval boxes. Each box should contain a very brief description of the theory.
  • Ask students to link concepts to the appropriate theories and encourage them to find new relations; ask them to use arrows to show the direction of the relationship represented by the link.
  • On the link itself, students should write the reason they think the relationship exists.
  • Ask students to draw links to a star-shaped box and list possible applications of the theory in the real world.
  • Ask students to consider the big picture and the concept map as a whole, considering all relations and information provided by the concept map.
  • Ask students to draw a circle in one of the corners of the sheet and list in it a Research Question as a starting point for research they would like to conduct.

Grading Concept Maps

  • Concept maps are good tools for classroom instruction and formative assessment.
  • There are occasions when an instructor would like to use concept maps as a summative assessment (especially when there is factual knowledge with true/false or correct/incorrect relationships—where there is no doubt in the categorization of a concept and relation between concepts)
  • When concept maps are used for grading purposes there are several questions to ask:
    1. Are the most important concepts depicted?
    2. Are the links among concepts scientifically acceptable?
    3. Is there a substantial amount of branching, hierarchy, and cross-linking?
    4. Do any of the propositions suggest that the student subscribes to significant misconceptions?
    5. If a concept map is used as a short portfolio presenting several iterations of the map, the question to ask is: How have the concept maps changed over the course of days or weeks?

Use Of Concept Maps


  • Concept maps help students see the “big-picture” and visualize relationships.
  • Concept maps are good for processing and storing large amounts of information.
  • Through links, concept maps present information in a dynamic manner
  • Concept maps help students develop metacognitive skills.


  • The use of concept maps makes comparative ranking of students’ work difficult. Sometimes all concept maps look similar.
  • Evaluation is more time consuming for the instructor (compared to a multiple choice question).
  • In the process of scoring concept maps, a grading rubric should be used for consistency.
  • Students who have developed strong skills for factual memorization might resist and be intimidated by concept maps that require their seeing relationships between concepts, ideas, theories, questions, etc.
  • Students who are used to thinking at higher levels (as graduate students usually are) may find concept maps boring and time-consuming.


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