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Mind Mapping in the English Language Arts Classroom


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Mind Mapping in the English Language Arts Classroom

Katie Stewart

06 December 2010

Sirpa Grierson, English 378

Table of Contents

Mind Mapping in the English Language Arts Classroom…………………………………page 2

Rationale……………………………………………………….…....….……………………………....……page 9

Annotated Bibliography.……………………………....….……………....…………………………page 12


  1. Elements of a Mind Map [Mind Map]....…………..…………………………….page 14

  2. How To Make Your Mind Map [Class Handout/How-To]………………page 15

  3. Sample Mind Maps [Mind Map]

    1. Solving Global Warming……....…………………………………....……..page 16

    2. Behaviour Change Program……....……………………………………...page 17

  4. Lesson Ideas [Brainstorm Listing]……………………………………………….page 18

  5. Analyzing Character with Mind Maps [Lesson Plan]…...…………..…….page 19

  6. Mind Maps as an Educational Strategy [Department Memo]…...…….page 22

  7. The Brain [Crumpled Newspaper/Diagram]…...…not included electronically

  8. I am a Mind Map [Poem].……....….………………………..……....……………….page 23

Mind Mapping in the English Language Arts Classroom

When students prepare to write papers, English teachers ask them to brainstorm their thoughts in webs and bubbles and Venn diagrams; before students begin writing, teachers ask them to outline their main arguments in “I, II, and II” and “A, B, C” bulleted lists. Teachers distribute graphic organizers for students to sort and sift information during lectures or class room activities, and teachers use images and symbols to teach new concepts or connect concepts to students’ lives. English education practices thrive on the incorporation of visual-based teaching and learning strategies to help students organize thought and access new ideas.

Mind maps are organizational and thinking tools that draw on this value of the visual, but also align with research on the nonlinear, multifaceted nature of the brain. When I was first introduced to mind maps—in a university lecture on reading pedagogy—I became excited about the possibilities of this tool for organizing thought for taking notes or analyzing a situation. Because that first introduction was my only exposure with mind maps, I started wondering about its characteristics, its origin, and its practical application in the English Language Arts classroom. With these topics as my guide I curiously began reading and researching mind maps, wondering what made these organizational tools different, and how those unique elements qualified its use as an educational strategy for students in high school English classes.

So, What is a Mind Map?

Understanding the format and creation of a mind map allows us to see its functions and value more clearly. A mind map is an innovative organizational and thinking tool. In some ways, it is like a traditional outline: it presents written ideas on paper in an organizational system. However, a mind map moves beyond a traditional outline’s rigidness, hierarchy, and blandness. Where an outline uses Roman numerals’ ranking, a mind map uses a free-flowing system of images, text, and line. Where an outline mandates that some ideas come linearly before others, a mind map radiates from a “central idea, represented by a central image” (“Mind Map”). And where a traditional outline features straight lines and an undeviating type face, a mind map uses images, color, and variety to explore ideas and stimulate the mind. Each of these differences from a traditional outline—each aspect of the mind map’s format and creation—reflects the way the mind works and stimulates the brain.

A mind map begins with a central image, in the middle of a blank page. That central image represents the main idea of the mind map, which can be any topic, but must be represented by an image. As one college educator who uses mind mapping in his course notes, “the central point in the Mind Map must always be an image because the brain is drawn to an image more than to a word” (Budd 36). With that image-based central focus, the mind map moves outward to connecting and supporting ideas drawn as “branches,” or curved lines extended from the center; and the branches are organic—“curved and tapered lines [that] connect to the central image (“Maximise”). Each branch has one word or one image to convey a supporting thought, connection, or association to the central image—and each branch is the length of the word on it. This format creates a flexible, organic feeling. The process and format is clear and comprehensible, but also highly flexible and individualistic. Educator John Budd praises this format’s balance of order and flexibility: “the hierarchies and associations flow out from a central image in a free-flowing, yet organized and coherent, manner” (Budd).

^ Why Hadn’t I Heard About This?

Given the mind map’s flexible format and organizational potential, it is surprising how little I had heard about this tool and strategy. But some research into Tony Buzan—the first mind mapper—showed me that mind mapping isn’t as much of a secret as I initially thought. Mind maps’ popularity is widespread enough that “at any given second of any given day, at least five Mind Maps are being created somewhere in the world” (Buzan, “Interview” 1). When Tony Buzan first trademarked the “Mind Map” in May of 1990, even one of his effective mind maps could not have predicted the path that this organizational tool would take. (“Code Details”). Currently, ThinkBuzan—the corporation that markets Buzan’s mind mapping tool—approximates that 250 million people now use mind mapping strategies worldwide (ThinkBuzan). Included in that 250 million are familiar organization, education, and business names: Microsoft, IBM, Walt Disney, Encyclopedia Britannica, Barclays International, British Telecom, Goldman Sachs, and HSBC Bank all employ mind maps as efficiency and consulting tools (ThinkBuzan). But mind maps are still a relatively untapped resource for education. Considering mind maps’ blossoming reputation, it is time to consider its potential for the mind and it’s applicability to secondary education.

^ Why Mind Maps Work: Pedagogical Advantages

In a YouTube video describing his mind maps, Tony Buzan comments, “a mind map is a thinking tool that reflects externally what goes on inside your head.” Both mind maps and the mind itself are “radiant”: the mind map starts centrally and explodes out to other connections, and the brain thinks centrally, too. For example, when a person thinks of the word, “chair,” he mentally processes the word as one image of a chair initially, then extends his thinking to its associations—specific chairs, chairs’ locations, recent uses of a chair, the chair he is currently sitting on, etc (“Maximise”). A mind map follows that same natural process.

Because the mind map mirrors the way the brain works, it activates thinking in ways that allow for deeper analysis, richer associations, and better learning (Budd 39-41). In a study of how the brain relates to student learning, Eric Jensen notes the divergence between how the brain learns best and how educators traditionally teach:

For years, educators assumed that if students paid attention, took notes, and did their homework, eventually they would learn. Although there’s some truth to that assumption, at least for most learners, we now know that learning is governed by a more complex set of variables (33).

One of those variables is image, a mind-stimulating element that mind maps seamlessly incorporate. Eric Jensen suggests that both “visualization” and image-based strategies are key to students’ memory (141). Additionally, he cites “mind maps or other graphic organizers” as tools that will both improve students’ “understanding of material, but also keep learning fresh” (Jensen 141). Other research on the brain’s adeptness at learning through images supports Jensen’s observations. In an article about sketching’s capacity to increase the brain’s learning ability, Chris Altman notes that associating an image with a word is “highly effective”; in a study of instruction with image, results showed “achievement gains were 34 percentile points higher” when image-based “instructional techniques” were used (Altman 67).

Because of mind map’s images, color, and format, they also tap into our mind’s capacity for memory. A University of London study examined mind maps’ efficiency in improving medical students’ factual recall of information. 50 students were divided into 2 groups: one group used a “self-selected study technique” and the other group used mind mapping. The study found that factual knowledge increased by 10% and could have increased up to 15% (Farrand 426). In the study, the 50 students were to read a 600-word sample text from Scientific American, then answer 15 questions developed from the text (Farrand 426). When students were taught the best ways to “produce and memorize” mind maps, the students recalled significantly more correct items than the self-selected study group (Farrand 429).

With mind map’s ability to activate student brains through their multidimensional format, color, and images, they propel students into “active learning as they wrestle with ideas, associations, and categories” (Budd 42).


Of course the mind map has limitations: it isn’t a catch-all teaching solution or all-purpose graphic organizer. Educator John Budd notes, “it is not intended as a substitute for other problems in which other methods, such as graphs or equations, best capture the problem” (Budd 40). Similarly, the mind map cannot be a thoughtless, guaranteed-successful assignment in the English Language Arts classroom. It is not a suitable replacement for diagramming a sentence or charting a novel’s plot. It does, however, provide key advantages that make the use of the Mind Map an effective tool when used reflectively and purposefully.

^ How to Mind Map in Class: Specific Ideas
When Tony Buzan described the mind map as a “Swiss army knife for the brain,” he was referring to its capacity for a variety of functions, including contemplation, classifying ideas, creating structure and ideas, remembering, visualizing a concept, organizing information, and making decisions (“Maximise,” “MindMap”). Many of these functions lend themselves to classroom activities.

John Budd, a college economics professor, describes how he uses mind maps in a student learning activity twice each semester. For each of these activities, he briefly outlines what a mind map looks like and shows some examples. Then, he provides a topic for students to create a mind map from. Professor Budd uses this mind map in-class exercise with topics like supply chain, the bargaining environment, and determinants of housing prices (39, 36). Groups collaboratively create mind maps, and the instructor assists, provides guidance, and redirects focus as necessary.

Similarly, mind maps can be an effective strategy for student learning in the English classroom. As a note taking strategy, mind maps provide a nonlinear tool for students to note key ideas, draw connections, and make meaning. Mind maps could also be an effective brainstorming or prewriting strategy, where students use mind mapping to jot down initial thoughts about a subject in an organized, but flexible, format. As another prewriting strategy, mind maps lend themselves to narrowing or refining a paper topic or thesis. Students could begin their mind map with their proposed paper topic, represented by an image, at the center of the page. Students would then mind map that topic, drawing out extensions, connections, and associations. They could then select one of those narrower extensions or associations as the new topic for their paper. As a prewriting strategy, mind maps would also be a suitable brainstorming or outlining tool for creating a personal biography poem, where students start their mind map with an image of themselves and make visual and verbal descriptions of their personal character or attitudes.

Similar to the mind map’s potential as a biography poem prewriting strategy, it could operate in a similar way for a during-reading activity like character analysis, where students start with an image of a character from a novel rather than themselves. During reading, students could also use mind maps to explore elements of a novel or play’s setting or a work’s theme. And while these are good during reading activities, they could also translate to post-reading reflections or even assessments. Mind maps could function as a quiz, a project to turn in, or one item for a multi-genre project.

The possibilities for using mind maps in the classroom are as unlimited as your imagination. They provide a fresh, effective way to organize, respond, and create. Like any learning strategy, using mind maps requires careful planning to ensure that they are a good fit for the students and their learning in a specific context. But the potential for freedom, organic creativity, and flexibility make mind maps an exciting tool for both teachers and learners.


I purposefully selected each piece and genre in my multi-genre project:

  1. Short Essay

Although this was a required genre, I also felt that it contributed to my overall project by providing a general overview as well as several specific references, examples, and ideas. The short essay allowed me to really think about and explain my ideas and research in a logical, straightforward way. Its composition set the stage for completing my other genres. And its place in my final project sets the stage for the reader/viewer, too: it provides the reader with background information in a clear, traditional format.

  1. Elements of a Mind Map [Mind Map]

I picked this genre as an obvious choice: it made sense to me to experiment with the form I was researching itself. While creating this mind map, I followed all of the guidelines and suggestions for making mind maps, carefully following the process I would ask my students to use. I also chose to use a mind map to describe mind mapping because it would be clear and visual. It also allowed me to show connections between all of the elements of a mind map, including how color connects to image and how image connects to words, etc. The format fit the content, plus it allowed me to practice the strategy my project espouses.

  1. How To Make Your Mind Map [Class Handout/How-To]

After making my own mind map, I realized it wasn’t an easy sit-down task for a beginner unfamiliar with the process. I created a How-To page to simplify and explain the process. For this project, it clarifies and orders the “steps” to mind mapping in a genre that is straightforward and even expected when attempting a new task. Plus, from a more practical standpoint, this how to sheet will work well in a classroom setting to scaffold the experience for high schoolers. They can use this handout to guide their creation of a mind map for themselves.

  1. Sample Mind Maps [Mind Map]

    1. Solving Global Warming

    2. Behaviour Change Program

Because creating a mind map when you are unfamiliar with it can be difficult, I decided to include two excellent examples I encountered in my research. Both of these mind maps were created by others, rather than by me. Both exhibit good images, color, and connections. They also show diverse uses for mind maps. I particularly like the “Solving Global Warming” mind map, for the way it exposes, explains, and even persuades. Both mind maps are functioning in multifaceted and sometimes subtle purposes, and show the varied practicality of mind maps.

  1. Lesson Ideas [Brainstorm Listing]

This listing offers a more complete look at my brainstorming of potential classroom uses for mind mapping than my short paper’s explanation allowed. It shows big ideas in a larger handwriting, and supporting details in a smaller handwriting. One interesting aspect of this genre is that it could be created on a mind map. Listing is a method of prewriting or organizing that I often use, though, so I decided to use it because of my personal preference. While listing, however, I realized I kept wishing that I were using a mind map, because I repeatedly wanted the format and organization of a mind map. However, it was still a successful strategy, and reminded me that many genres can function for the same task and that as a teacher I must reflectively and thoughtfully select strategies.

  1. Analyzing Character with Mind Maps [Lesson Plan]

This genre provides more detail for one of my lesson ideas, character analysis. I chose a lesson plan format because it was so suitable to the content. The format allowed me to script a lesson in great detail that connected to real state core standards and purposeful objectives. Plus, the genre allowed me to contextualize the value of mind mapping in a real literary context, the novel Wuthering Heights. Since I will be teaching Wuthering Heights next semester, I was interested in seeing if I could use mind maps in a purposeful, meaningful way in this unit. A lesson plan allowed me to test and verify that within the scope of my project.

  1. Mind Maps as an Educational Strategy [Department Memo]

A memo as a genre allowed me to take teachers as my audience and provide an education-based rationale for using mind maps. Because I directed the memo to other educators, I had to anticipate their concerns and also their goals and priorities. Focusing on its role in education in a genre modeled after real life helped me extend my thoughts from the short essay and seriously consider the pedagogical advantages of mind maps in context.

  1. The Brain and Learning [Crumpled Newspaper/Diagram]

Because the research supports mind maps as stimulating the brain in effective ways, I included this genre of a diagram to show how the brain’s attention and learning work. I drew the diagram itself on a crumpled newspaper, since a loosely crumpled newspaper is approximately the same size as a brain.

  1. I am a Mind Map [Poem]

As I researched, I was impressed by the creativity that mind maps could inspire. In a world of linear tasks and assignments, they really do provide a unique outlet for our nonlinear brains. While I mentioned this in my short essay, and elements of this idea appeared in other genres, I really wanted to make this a focus. The best way I knew to express the organic, creative nature of a mind map was in the most creative genre I know: poetry. The poem is written from the perspective of a mind map itself, and the mind map is telling a reader about himself. This was my favorite genre to write and to include in my project because it captures the elements of a mind map which I consider its strongest: its organic nature and inherent creativity.

Annotated Bibliography

Altman, Chris. “Sketching to Create Meaning: The Story of a Second-Language Learner.” ^ English Journal 97.5 (2008): 64-68. Print.

This article tells the story of an English Language Learner who overcame his struggles with literacy in school by playing to his strength of sketching images and pictures. The article also supports image and drawing as successful learning strategies for the brain.

Budd, John W. “Mind Maps as Classroom Exercises.” The Journal of Economic Education 35.1 (2004): 35-46. Print.

John Budd, an economics professor, outlines the Mind Map, its classroom applications, and its pedagogical benefits in this article. He proposes Mind Maps as an educational tool for students learning about difficult economic principles by describing his experience facilitating student learning with Mind Maps.

Buzan, Tony. Interview by Louise Druce. “Q & A with Mind Mapping Guru Tony Buzan.” ^ Knowledge Board. Knowledge Board, 2009. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

In this question and answer forum between the Knowledge Board and Mind Mapping Inventor Tony Buzan, Buzan describes how mind mapping taps into natural brain resources, noting that every brain is, by nature a mind mapper. Buzan also describes recent mind mapping software, and his attitudes toward the mind’s potential for memory.

---. Using Both Sides of Your Brain. New York: E.P Dutton, 1983. Print.

This book by Tony Buzan from the early 1980s predates Buzan’s copyrighting and popularizing his mind maps, but it still provides insight to his attitudes toward and research of the brain. It also includes a chapter later in the book in which he describes mind maps and provides some early examples of his own mind maps.

“Code Details for Trade Mark 1424476.” Intellectual Property Office (1990). Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

This document shows the official trademark from the Intellectual Property Office for “Mind Maps” held by Tony Buzan, or more specifically, The Buzan Organization, Ltd. The trademark was filed 08 May 1990.

Farrand, Paul. Fearanza Hussain and Enid Hennessy. “The Efficacy of the ‘Mind Map’ Study Technique.” Medical Education 36.5 (2002): 426-431. Print.

This article details a study of the mind map’s effectiveness in medical students’ factual recall from written information. The study found a ten percent increase in students’ ability to recall information when using the mind map as a study tool.

Jensen, Eric. Teaching with the Brain in Mind. Alexandria: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005. Print.

Eric Jensen’s book details the research associated with our brains and how that research relates to mind development and education. Jensen also discusses memory and creativity, and suggests use of visual graphic organizers as a means to enhance student learning.

“Maximise the Power of Your Brain—Tony Buzan.” 08 Jan. 2007. YouTube. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

This YouTube video outlines the format of a mind map—its focus on image, color, and radial style—and includes description and commentary from Tony Buzan. Buzan discusses the value of associations and the mind map as a tool well-suited to the human brain.

“Mind Map.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 25 Oct. 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

This article on mind maps provides generalized information describing mind maps’ appearances and uses. It also gives an overview of the history of representing information visually, and it details viable uses for mind mapping.

ThinkBuzan. Official Mind Mapping Software by Tony Buzan. ThinkBuzan, 2010. Web. 29 Nov. 2010.

This website is the official source of information on mind mapping, created by the ThinkBuzan corporation. It provides information on mind mapping software, but also gives biographical information of Tony Buzan and lists companies and organizations that currently use mind mapping.



Date: 04 February 2010

Grade Level: English 11H

Title: Analyzing Character in Wuthering Heights


  • Students will be able to recognize and list character traits of characters in chapters XXVII –XXX and the chapters leading up to that point.

  • Students will be able to describe one character’s personality and analyze the contributing factors to that personality, citing textual support.

State Core Curriculum Standard(s):

1.3.B. Explore universal character traits across cultures in literature.

1.2.C. Synthesize information from a variety of sources

Concept(s) to Be Taught:

  • Reading a novel for character traits

  • Using textual evidence to support a claim

  • Thinking symbolically about a character

  • Drawing/creating a mind map

Materials Needed:

  • Class copies of Wuthering Heights

  • Students’ work-in-progress character journals

  • Models of mind maps

  • Paper, markers, colored pencils

Strategies to Be Used:

  • Mind Mapping

  • Think Aloud Modeling

  • Class Discussion

  • Reflective Writing



Remind students to continue reading, through chapter XXII for next class period. (Write this down in the homework section of their journal). Also remind students to keep working on their character analysis journals and start thinking about which genres they will plan to use on their final multigenre project.

^ Continuation from Previous Lesson:

Students have collaboratively completed Body Biographies for the major characters in the novel (ie. Heathcliff, Catherine, Edgar Linton, Isabella Linton, and young Cathy). While reading, they have kept character analysis journals. Last class period each selected one character from the novel on which to focus their character analysis final project. Students read Chapter XXVII through Chapter XXX for today.

^ Lesson Presentation:

A) Getting Started:

Give the students a brief objective quiz on the events in chapters XXVII-XXX to check for understanding.

(1) Who dies? Who marries?

(2) Why is young Cathy reluctant to continue meeting Linton on the moors?

(3) How is Heathcliff partially responsible for these meetings?

(4) What happened when the gravedigger was digging the grave?

(5) Does young Cathy act like her namesake (her mother Catherine) in this section?

B) Directing the Learning:

Collect the quizzes and use the last question as a springboard for discussing young Cathy’s character. (Refer to the body biography on the wall.) First, ask the students to share their thoughts with a partner, answering “How is young Cathy different from her mother? AND How does she exhibit some of the same traits? Remind them to use examples from the text to support their reasoning.

Then, as a whole class, ask students:

How does her relationship with her father inform our understanding of Cathy? Her relationship with Linton? With Heathcliff?

Explain that to more fully understand Cathy’s character, today we will use a strategy called “mind mapping.” Briefly describe mind maps as something used by world-renowned businesses, economists, and organizations to make their companies more profitable and better at making decisions and organizing information, but that it can be a great strategy for literature too.

Introduce mind maps as an organizational tool that helps clarify connections between information. Mind maps are like a traditional outline, except they are organic and radial in nature, they use color and image, and help you make connections. Explain that these differences make them a great tool for analyzing a character.

Show models of several different types of mind maps. Describe one mind map and how it works to effectively organize information about its main topic. Show several more examples, then collaboratively create a list of elements required in a good mind map. After the class creates the list, distribute the handout on how to make a mind map. Show one more model, a mind map of a character, and assign students to make a similar mind map for young Cathy, drawing on textual evidence from the novel up to this point.

Pass out the paper and supplies, and give the students sustained working time. Monitor the students while they are creating the mind maps, and remind them to use their text as evidence on their mind maps. Refocus students as necessary and provide good encouraging feedback. Also remind students about the importance of using color and image in their mind maps.

C) Bringing the Lesson to a Conclusion:

Ask a few students to share their mind maps briefly with the class, describing two choices they made in creating their mind map (ie. Why did you use that color? That image?)

Assign the students to create a mind map for the character that they have chosen for their final project. Explain that this mind map may count as one genre for that final multigenre project.

Ask the students to answer the following questions on an exit slip.

Exit Slip:

How did creating a mind map help me think about Cathy in new ways?

When would I use a mind map again (other than for the final multigenre project)?

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