Concept maps, also called mind maps, are a great way to show students how to organize information and their thinking about a topic. Maps can be adapted to almost any lesson and any design. They give students a hands-on task that actively engages them during lessons, and educators can use maps as an instant form of assessment.

Mapping in Social Studies

Concept maps are especially helpful in information-dense subjects, such has social studies. When students need to make sense of facts, dates, and names, a map can help to organize facts and draw connections. A concept map can be utilized to organize thinking about historical figures, events, and documents. For example, a map about a historical figure might center around a person's name with subcategories for background, work, key quotes, and key events. An event map might be surrounded by subcategories to list people involved, causes and effects. A map to teach historical documents might include subcategories for the author, causes, effects, key points and interpretations.

Types of Maps

A map can be drawn in a variety of ways. Creativity in shapes and colors may be more appropriate for younger grades, while simple grid can work for high school students. A traditional web map, sometimes called a characteristic map, includes circles in a web around a single topic. This map allows for the organization of characteristics or facts about a single person or event. For more complex mapping, a problem-solution map works in a linear fashion. A historical problem, such as slavery in the American South, can be explored with a column listing causes, effects, people involved and proposed solutions. The last portion of this map lists the final outcome. Another common map is a process map, which is linear with space for subcategories. In a study of the writing of the Declaration of Independence, horizontal boxes contain problems that led to the drafting of the document. Each problem can be expanded on in a subcategory.

Teaching Mapping

Teaching and modeling mapping is an important step in integrating the use of maps in the classroom. The easiest way to start concept mapping in the classroom is to create a completed map for students. For example, in a unit on the development of the Declaration of Independence, create a web map for Thomas Jefferson. Include his background in politics, his role in the writing process, and his later accomplishments as president. After reviewing the map, distribute maps for Benjamin Franklin. Ask students to mirror facts included about Jefferson on their maps. Increase or decrease the complexity of the map based on the age of the students. Eventually, students will begin to think about key concepts for political figures as they read or listen to lectures.

Using Maps to Assess

Concept maps give the teacher an additional way to instantly assess student work. As the teacher moves through the classroom, it is easy to spot facts stated in one or two words on a concept map. This allows for instant correction or validation of student work. It also allows the teacher to determine whether the class, as a whole, is grasping key concepts. In addition, having students work in groups on a concept map allows for discussion and easy identification of groups who do or do not understand concepts.