Based on brain research and longitudinal studies, Thinking Maps are a set of graphic organizers developed by Dr. David Hyerle. Thinking Maps use methods by which the human brain naturally processes and organizes information. Teachers can use Thinking Maps across disciplines to help students make connections to learning. The benefits of Thinking Maps have been demonstrated through research and classroom observation.


Thinking Maps are visual tools that students and teachers can use to organize ideas and thus enhance learning. Teachers can use Thinking Maps to teach many subjects, making curricular options broader. Students of all ages in a school district can learn the common language of Thinking Maps and potentially create more complex and well-reasoned work. Educators can choose Thinking Maps to increase abstract thinking skills and to improve student interest in learning.


There are many general types of graphic organizers used in classrooms, some common ones being Venn diagrams, flow charts and KWL tables. The Thinking Maps model includes eight graphic organizers of its own, each with a different purpose: • Circle Map - used for defining in context • Brace Map - used for identifying part/whole relationships • Tree Map - used for classifying and grouping • Double Bubble Map - used for comparing and contrasting • Multi-Flow Map - used for analyzing causes and effects • Bridge Map - used for seeing analogies • Bubble Map - used for describing with adjectives • Flow Map - used for sequencing and ordering


Researcher Dr. David Hyerle developed the Thinking Maps language based on current brain research, Marzano's Nine Instructional Strategies and possibly also on a previous learning model called the Upton-Samson Model. Hyerle felt that the sheer amount of education research was impractical and daunting for teachers. Condensing it down into a concrete model that would be "classroom ready" would enable educators to use some researchers' good scholarship and improve student learning

According to the Thinking Maps website, a 1960 study showed that an early predecessor of Thinking Maps, the Upton-Samson model, increased student intelligence by 10 I.Q. points on average. More recent research by Hyerle has demonstrated that the Thinking Maps model probably increases students' knowledge retention by enabling tighter connections between old and new material.


According to Dr. Hyerle, the main benefits of the Thinking Maps model are that is it "Reflective, consistent, integrative, flexible and developmental." Other benefits include an emphasis on complex thinking skills, the development of independence as students learn to use the eight organizers, appropriateness for all age levels, cross-disciplinary freedom and research demonstrating increased student comprehension.

In his book "Student Successes with Thinking Maps," Hyerle maintains that test results, classroom observations and concrete research have proven that Thinking Maps improve student performance.

Expert Insight

According to Dr. Hyerle, brain-based research supports the notion that if there is no emotional or logical connection between new information and that which has already been stored, the new information will be discarded. Thinking Maps graphic organizers give students a way of recalling stored information by using patterns, which helps them integrate new information. The Thinking Maps model is designed to promote a complete sequence of critical thinking.


There are eight Thinking Maps, each serving its own purpose in organizing student thinking.

One type of Thinking Map is a "Flow Map." When using a Flow Map, students chart a logical sequence of steps. It can take increasingly complex forms, organizing information such as the correct order for mixing and baking bread or information such as a sequence in physics.

Another type of Thinking Map is a "Tree Map." When using a Tree Map, students chart information into groups. For instance: under a main heading of "Food Groups" and secondary headings of "Dairy, Breads and Vegetables/Fruits," students would list specific foods like milk, pasta, corn and avocados.