“This is boring!” said Billie-Jean to her friend seated next to her. I wasn’t supposed to hear it, but I did. And my heart sank a little.

Medieval history was one of my favorite topics to teach in my Year 9 Social Sciences class. All those castles, knights, and trebuchets. And to hear a sweet girl like Billie-Jean say that the start of this unit was boring was a kick to the guts.

It was my third or fourth time teaching the medieval unit, and usually, my students LOVED it. I couldn’t work out what was going on.

“We learn this all in grade 7,” sighed Billie-Jean to her friend. Huh, I hadn’t realized that most of my students had already learned something about the middle ages.

This was an aha moment for me. I needed to know what my students knew before I began a unit of work.

Enter mind mapping (click here to find out more about what mind mapping is). From that lesson on, I generally did a class mind map to establish prior knowledge about a topic.

But, you may be wondering, what does this have to do with why I should teach mind mapping in my class?

Not only is mind mapping useful for establishing prior knowledge, but it also has these 5 research-backed advantages. Mind mapping:

  • encourages students to become more active learners
  • creates a non-threatening learning environment
  • boosts learning retention up to 40%
  • helps learners organize their ideas/knowledge and writing
  • increases students’ learning and self-efficacy

Keep reading if you want to find out more about these research-backed advantages to teaching mind mapping to your middle and high school students.

1. Mind mapping encourages active learning

This study, which investigated the effect of mind mapping on ESL learners’ written essays before and after using mind mapping, found that the students who used mind maps became more active learners.

The researcher suggested that this was because mind mapping students were more willing to ask questions to clarify writing topics and more confident in generating their own ideas for writing assignments

Other research suggests that active learning leads to better academic outcomes. See here for more information about the benefits of active learning.

By teaching mind mapping, you can help your students engage more actively in their own learning and thereby increase their results.

2. Mind mapping creates a non-threatening environment for learning

It’s easy to forget how many aspects of life in a classroom can be threatening to tweens and teens. But just think about their day-to-day from their perspective.

Little Sally Mae might be sitting quietly in the first row of your English class. And you think she’s listening to you.

But really, she’s silently ruminating on a million thoughts in a teen-lizard-brain stream-of-consciousness fog:

  • Math sucked this morning – I can’t believe I got an answer wrong in front of the whole class
  • My mum is so mean – why won’t she let me go to that party at the weekend
  • I’m going to be late for work this afternoon because my dad never picks me up from school on time
  • Sarah is such a cow – I can’t believe she posted that pic from work of me on insta where I’m covered in Kentucky Fried Grease
  • I wish my TikToks were as good as Adam’s

Are you exhausted just imagining being a tween or teen in your imagination? And your students are doing it every day IRL.

Imagine all of this running through Sally Mae’s brain, and then you say something about exams, assignments, or assessment. You can guarantee that her lizard brain is going to take over.

Using mind maps can help your students’ human brain re-assert itself (bye bye lizard brain) because there is no threat. All the student is asking their brain to do is come up with a bunch of ideas and see how they’re related.

3. Expressing learning in visual (and not just verbal) ways boosts learning by up to 40%

The first study mentioned in this post also provided evidence to show that students who were able to “express their learning with visual skills had a 40% higher retention rate that than of just verbal learners.”

The author suggests that this may be because “relating images to concepts is a creative task which requires thinking instead of memorizing.”

Creating a mind map not only helps your students clarify their thoughts on a topic, but also requires them to think about how to visually represent the relationships between those thoughts.

Simply by using boxes, arrows, colors, lines, words, and sometimes even quick doodles, students who use mind maps gain a greater understanding of the content of their learning. They also remember it better, as shown by research across many fields, including in this meta-analysis.

4. Mind mapping increases students’ achievement and self-efficacy

This research shows that using mind mapping is an excellent way to boost students’ confidence in their own writing. And this research shows that using mind mapping and a flipped classroom “significantly improved students’ learning achievement and self-efficacy.”

And, as previously mentioned in this blogpost, students’ increased self-efficacy increased their learning achievement.

So, by teaching mind mapping and using such a simple study skill, you can not only increase your students’ self-belief but also their academic achievement.

5. Mind mapping helps learners organize their ideas and writing

Finally, and perhaps the most important to English and Social Sciences teachers, students who use mind maps organize their ideas and writing more effectively.

When much of your grade is based on your ability to not only give accurate information but also express that information clearly and concisely, organized and concise writing is an advantage.

Both this study and the one mentioned at the start of this blog post have found that using mind maps improves ESL students’ writing. Both studies found that students who used mind maps had better quality writing that had stronger arguments and was organized more effectively, even under timed exam conditions.

By teaching and using mind mapping, you can help your students become better writers, even in exams when you can’t help them.

Want to learn more about mind mapping or other study skills?

Check out this blog post about mind mapping or this blog post about 3 free mind mapping tools.

Freeology has loads of free graphic organizers to plan writing, including fish-bone style mind maps/essay planners,

References:

Batdi, V. 2015. “A meta-analysis study of mind mapping techniques and traditional learning methods.” The Anthropologist 20 (1-2): 62-68. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09720073.2015.11891724

Farrand, P. Hussain, F. and Hennessy, E. 2002. “The efficacy of the mind map study technique.” Medical Education 36 (5): 426-431. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2923.2002.01205.x

Naqbi, S. 2011. “The use of mind mapping to develop writing skills in UAE schools.” Education, Business and Society: Contemporary Middle Eastern Issues 4: 120-133. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/2466/ec099e8f3ebe20bbd8b76a523eb282dd2bf0.pdf

Vijayavalsalan, B. 2016. “Mind mapping as a strategy for enhancing essay writing.” The New Educational Review 45 (3): 137-150. https://czasopisma.marszalek.com.pl/images/pliki/tner/201603/tner20160311.pdf

Zheng, X. Johnson, T. and Shunhong, Z. 2020. “A pilot study examining the impact of collaborative mind mapping strategy in a flipped classroom: learning achievement, self-efficacy, motivation, and students’ acceptance.” Educational Technology Research and Development 68: 3527-3545. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11423-020-09868-0

light bulb mind map with text "5 research-backed reasons to teach mind mapping"