Are you trying to teach your middle and high school students how to take more effective notes? Do you want them to learn to generate and connect ideas about both prior and new learning? Read on to find out more about using mind-mapping for middle and high school students.

A teaching strategy I often use at the start of a unit is to establish what my students know about a topic. One way I do this is by mind mapping. This saves me time because I know what I don’t need to re-teach.

One of the best ways to do this is by getting students to create a mind map about the topic. Usually, I ask students to create their own in a specific amount of time.

Often, I give students five minutes to do a brain-dump-style mind map. Then, as a class, we create a larger, more-organized version on the board.

Students either contribute their own ideas and I write them on the board, or I hand out whiteboard pens and they write.

When I do the writing, I like to model the learning strategy of self-explanation and talk about where/why I place ideas in specific spots while I write. This is a great way to introduce students to the metacognitive process that is involved in taking notes.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a note-taking style that begins with a single word, topic, or idea in the middle of a page or board. Usually, the word is surrounded by a circle or box.

Mind mapping techniques - chalk on a chalkboard, pen and paper, digitally on an ipad, using sticky notes and chalk on a chalkboard.

The note-taker then draws branches and writes related major ideas, often in their own circles or boxes.

Smaller, more detailed ideas are then placed on branches further out again. This process continues until the topic is exhausted.

Like doodle or sketch notes, mind maps allow the note taker to use both their logical and creative brains. They have to recall, record, process, organize, and synthesize information.

While creating the mind map, the note taker needs to recall information, decide what information to record, determine where it should go by organizing and synthesizing their thoughts, and evaluate out how all of the information is related.

They then represent that process visually using arrows, boxes, words, lines, and colors.

Why should students mind map?

Mind mapping, particularly during revision, is a note-taking strategy that encourages students to actively participate in their learning. Further, mind mapping lends itself to several effective learning strategies such as:

  • Practice tests in which the student creates a mind map and then covers the essential knowledge and ‘tests’ themselves by covering important words/topics and recalling information
  • Spaced repetition: students either practice (as above) at increasingly greater intervals, or re-create the mind map at increasingly greater intervals
  • Self-explanation: students explain either while or after creating a mind map what information they are putting where and why chose to do so
  • Elaborative interrogation: students explain why they relate different ideas to each other in a mind map
  • Interleaved practice: students create a mind map prior to learning to establish what they know, then while learning they add to the mind map to understand connections between ‘old’ and ‘new’ knowledge

Who benefits from using mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a skill that benefits all ages of students (as well as business people, creatives, managers, and teacher’s too!).

Students can mind map individually, in a small group, or as part of a whole-group instruction.

Creating mind maps during whole-class and small-group discussions can help teachers identify what prior knowledge students already have about a topic. This means teachers know where they are starting from and can build on that knowledge instead of just repeating it.

Teachers can also use mind mapping to promote rigour when they are set as an activity to be done at the end of a learning task, especially if students are asked to explain the structure of their mind map.

Skip back a few paragraphs and look at the verbs students have to do: recall, decide, determine, evaluate, and represent. Together, these are complex tasks that require thinking, not just regurgitating facts.

Mind mapping also helps students. Students can use this style of note-taking to brainstorm ideas, show prior knowledge, connect new knowledge with old, and synthesise information/learning.

Further, it can be used in conjunction with other learning strategies such as spaced repetition to improve learning.

Finally, students can collaborate with their peers to create mind maps and teach each other, another highly effective learning strategy.

Where can students mind map?

Examples of how mind maps can be used or created in a classroom - individually with pen and paper, in a small group with sticky notes and pen, and as a whole class with sticky notes on a whiteboard.

Students can mind map in a variety of places, which makes it a versatile note-taking strategy for teachers to use as new materials can make an old strategy seem novel. Some places my students have created mind maps include:

  • in their notebooks
  • on poster paper
  • digitally on ipads/computers
  • in research project booklets
  • on whiteboards or chalkboards (mini for individual, large for whole-class)
  • with sticky notes or laminated velcro writing cards on a whiteboard, chalkboard, or wall

What sort of tasks are suited to mind mapping?

Students can use mind mapping can be to both revise and actively learn. Effective revision/learning strategies that can be used with mind mapping include those listed above (spaced repetition, elaborative interrogation etc).

Mind mapping is a great way to brainstorm new ideas and organise those ideas into logical chunks.

In the planning stages of research or written tasks, creating a mind map compels students to visually represent what they already know and what they need to find out. This can helps students reduce time-wasting because they identify what they need to research further.

Mind mapping is also great for collaborative tasks where students are required to work together.

When should students mind map?

Students can mind map:

  • at the start or end of a sequence of learning
  • before a written task
  • as revision
  • to synthesize learning from a research task

As with all learning strategies, mind mapping works best when students are motivated.

How should students mind map?

Using a pen and paper (or pen and whiteboard in a whole-class setting) is often the cheapest, easiest, and fastest way to mind map. Especially if selected students (or the teacher) is designated to be the writer while other students create suggestions.

The writer can use different colors to represent different categories of ideas. Or, use the same color if doing a brain dump (one of the best things to do before drafting ).

However, there are several digital methods students can use. The three best-known digital mind mapping sites/apps are mindmeister, coggle, and freemind.

However, the biggest limitation with digital mind mapping is reliable access to working technology. I don’t know about you, but whenever I plan a lesson that relies on technology we have a power outage, the program experiences technical difficulties, or the internet drops out!

Where can you find out more about mind-mapping?

Good places to find out more about mind mapping include:

  • This CrashCourse Study Skills video about note-taking. This covers not just mind mapping but also the Cornell method of notes and the outline method.
  • Mindmeister is an online tool that also has loads of information about how to mind map and its benefits. Coggle and MindMup are other online mind mapping tools.
  • Productivityland has an outline of the 20 best mind mapping software programs.
  • This video shows a great example of revision using a mind map. The student demonstrates creating the map using color as a way to highlight key terms and ideas. She also shows demonstrates how she uses the mind map to study as if it is a practice test.
  • This study shows that teachers should give students choices about what types of activities to do, including whether to work individually or collaboratively.
  • This study reviews the effectiveness of learning and revision strategies (as mentioned in the ‘why should students mind map’ paragraph).

Do you have a good story, resource, or tip about using mind mapping with middle or high school students? Head over to our facebook page and let us know.


Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., and Willingham, D. T. 2013. “Improving students” learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1): 4-58.

Jones, Brett D., Ruff, C. and Dee Synder, J. 2012. “The Effects of Mind Mapping Activities on Students’ Motivation.” International Journal for the Scholarship of
Teaching and Learning
6(1): 1-21.

Picture of a trio of students adding sticky notes to a mind map, a picture of a young woman with sticky nots on a whiteboard and text stating "A tired teacher's quick and easy guide to mind mapping."