How to Use Concept Mapping to Nurture Deeper Learning 


Introducing concept mapping into the classroom is a proven way to enhance learning and deepen understanding, and is a technique that is easily applied to different stages of teaching. Here we will look at the positive impact it has and how to include concept mapping in classroom learning. 

Concept mapping is a visual way to show how different concepts relate to each other in an organised way. You simply arrange your concepts and then connect them with labelled arrows that describe the relationship. For example:

Concept map

Several meta-analytic research studies show concept mapping has a greater average effect than most other teaching or learning strategies. These comparisons are measured in standard statistical units known as effect sizes. Concept mapping has an effect size of 0.66. To put this in context, this is more than: 

  • 3× the impact of growth mindset programs(1)
  • 2× the effect of typical homework(2) 
concept mapping effect on learning

Deep Learning

Yet, concept mapping is not just about getting better marks. It can help your students deepen their understanding, by allowing them to realise new connections, concepts and conclusions. 

Deep learning occurs when students focus on the meaning of new concepts(3), including how the new ideas fit with: 

  • Each other 
  • Prior knowledge 

This is shown in the SOLO (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome) taxonomy(4), which explains how deeper understanding develops as students comprehend the connections between the different parts of what they are learning. 

Visual & Verbal Combinations

You can enhance students’ understanding of these connections by combining: 

  • Meaningful visuals, e.g. the concept map
  • Verbal explanations, e.g. talking through the map in more detail

With his idea of dual coding, Allan Paivio promoted the power of using visual cues to help students encode new knowledge in a more meaningful way(5). Similar benefits are noted by Paul Ginns, who found the modality effect(6) (i.e. meaningful visuals + verbal explanations) to have a significant impact on learning – finding an average effect size of over = 0.7.  This makes concept mapping the ideal visual learning technique to couple with verbal teachings.

Concept mapping helps your students to visualise how all the bits of information fit together. And, when coupled with verbal explanations, it has a large effect on students’ learning. This holds true across all stages of the teaching process

An Example Lesson – Introducing Mixtures

Here is an example lesson plan to demonstrate how concept mapping can be incorporated into an introductory lesson on the science of mixtures. The lesson plan follows each phase of the I Do – We Do – You Do teaching process, to show how concept mapping can be effectively integrated at different stages of teaching. In the following examples, I have used Inspiration 10. This program is very popular amongst the schools where I live, in Australia. You can make concept maps by hand, but as your thoughts change it often involves a lot of rubbing out or starting again. So, in my opinion, using software is the best way to go.

As an example, the goals of this lesson are for your students to understand that: 

  • Matter can be classified into two groups, pure substances and mixtures 
  • Mixtures are combinations of two or more pure substances 

I Do  

In the I Do phase, you build a concept map that your students can see while verbally explaining the material.  

Here is an example of a concept map (i.e. your visual) that you could use.  

Concept map

This example of a concept map focuses on main ideas, which research(7) shows lead to more impact on learning. The diagram doesn’t show everything but is instead something you verbally explain.  

You can enhance your impact further by progressively building your map. This helps ensure the visual is complementing rather than distracting students from what you are saying at any given moment.  

For example, consider the verbal explanations you could give while showing this progressively built concept map: 

concept map gif

We Do 

Learning is further enhanced when students engage with concept maps themselves(7). During the We Do phase of the lesson, you can have your students engage with partially completed maps. In essence, you are sharing the creation of the maps where: 

  • You complete some parts (either before the lesson or live in front of the students) 
  • Your students complete the remaining parts of the map 

For example, consider this map: 

partially complete concept map

Using such a map, you can ask students: 

  • Questions about the missing variations of the concept map you show the whole class 
  • To complete missing parts of a partially completed map on their own 

If during the I Do phase, you presented several examples, you could do the same in the We Do stage.  

You Do 

During the You Do phase of the lesson students do the work independently, starting with a blank piece of paper (or a blank page using a concept mapping program). 

They create the map from scratch, including the concepts, the examples, and the labelled links.  

You can offer feedback, but only on completed maps.  

Moreover, you 

  • Have an informal opportunity to formatively assess their understanding 
  • Use this insight to offer insightful feedback to the class 

In later review sessions (e.g. homework, or at the start of the next lesson) you could ask your students to create a concept map with their own examples. However, you would need to check for and correct misconceptions that your students may show in their maps. 

Beyond the First Lesson

A large statistical review of research(7) on concept mapping revealed that its impact is largest when you use it beyond single lessons. By using it across lessons, you can help students build connections between aspects of your whole unit of work. 

To learn more about Inspiration 10 and how it can help with creating concept maps, visit https://www.inspiration-at.com/

About Shaun Killian 

Shaun is passionate about helping all students achieve even higher levels of success. In his nigh 30 years working in education in Australia, he has been a teacher, a school principal and, for a period, both at the same time. Moreover, he has worked in both primary and high schools, as well as in both the public and private systems. At the moment, he is doing daily physio to learn how to walk again after having both his legs amputated. Yet, while he can’t currently teach, he funnels his passion into writing about research to help his fellow teachers. 

*Example concept maps have been produced using Inspiration 10. 

Shaun Killian

References 

[1] Sisk VF, Burgoyne AP, Sun J, Butler JL, Macnamara BN. To what extent and under which circumstances are growth mind-sets important to academic achievement? Two meta-analyses. Psychological Science. 2018;29(4):549-571; and, Yeager, D.S., Hanselman, P., Walton, G.M. et al. A national experiment reveals where a growth mindset improves achievement. Nature 573, 364–369 (2019).

[2] Cooper, H. (2007). The battle over homework: Common ground for administrators, teachers, and parents (3rd ed.). Corwin Press.

[3] Craik, F. I., & Lockhart, R. S. (1972). Levels of processing: A framework for memory research. Journal of verbal learning and verbal behaviour11(6), 671-684.

[4] Biggs, J. B., & Collis, K. F. (2014). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy (Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome). Academic Press.

[5] Clark, J. M., & Paivio, A. (1991). Dual coding theory and education. Educational psychology review3(3), 149-210.

[6] Ginns, P. (2005). Meta-analysis of the modality effect. Learning and instruction15(4), 313-331.

[7] Nesbit, J. C. & Adesope, O. O. (2006). Learning with concept maps: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 76(3), 413-448.

To learn more about Inspiration, click here.

To learn more about concept mapping, click here.

Watch our video on concept maps here.