Mind Mapping Literature

Mind Map for the opening of Speak

Note-taking can be a challenge for 9th grade students. They need help with organization, as well as figuring out how to take effective notes i.e. not mindlessly copying down information without really understanding what it is about. For the first two books we read as a class this year, Breaking Through and The Alchemist, students used Cornell Notes to keep track of such aspects as a book’s themes, symbols, characters, conflicts, etc. However, for our latest book, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, I was looking for a new approach, something that might be more appealing to my students.

Enter mind mapping.

Mind Mapping is a visual, associative approach to note-taking. It involves beginning in the middle of an unlined page turned horizontally and drawing a central image. From that main image spring different branches and sub-branches. Mind mapping uses drawing, imagery, color, key words, and associative connections. In our first week of mind mapping, I discovered that many of my students were more engaged in this approach. In a survey after our first week of using this method, 79% of my students preferred mind mapping over Cornell Notes. Hopefully as we continue, it will enable students to make more connections in the book and develop a deeper understanding of literature.

I have found that mind mapping provides a quicker way to visually absorb information and make connections at a glance. For example, looking at the mind map above which covers the first few pages of Speak, I can see at a glance words that describe the mindset of the protagonist, Melinda: anxiety, dread, clan-less, wounded zebra, etc. I can connect these ideas to major themes of the book: social status and hierarchies in high school, feelings of voicelessness and silencing, and so on. I can connect the themes to Halse Anderson’s 1st person point of view and informal writing style, as well as Melinda’s sarcastic and cynical tone. We were also able to make connections outside of the book to our other novels we have read. Halse Anderson mentions the idea of transformation in an opening letter to the reader, which we connected to the idea of personal evolution in The Alchemist or to the opening symbol of the butterfly in Breaking Through. We can make these connections through other systems of notes, but I feel that mind mapping is particularly helpful in visually drawing out these connections.

Tony Buzan is credited for popularizing mind maps, and you can read much more about mind maps on his website. It boasts, “Unlock your Creativity, boost your Memory and Change your Life!” Here is a Ted Talk by Buzan on mind mapping:

I first read about mind mapping in Joshua Foer’s excellent book on memory, Moonwalking with Einstein. On a side note, there have been many articles that have come out this past week on scientific studies that show how the techniques of memory athletes can be used by “ordinary” people: NPR, Smithsonian, The Guardian, CNN, etc.

During this school year, I have made more of an effort to teach students about meta-cognition, thinking about thinking. Students will probably forget specific details about a book or dates from history, but hopefully they can take ideas about meta-cognition to different classes throughout their academic careers. I have included lessons on the following: memory palaces (we used them to try to memorize the different parts of speech), flashcards, and mind maps. I have had students create flashcards on Quizlet, but my personal go-to for flashcards is Anki, which I am now using to try to learn Spanish. (My goal is to create a deck with 20,000 cards with Spanish vocabulary, grammar, conjugations, sentences, etc. Right now I am on card 567.)

Originally, I was interested in mind maps as a way to help my students become more engaged in note-taking. However, as I created my own mind maps as I re-read Speak, I am looking into ways that my own note-taking can be improved in different areas though mind maps. If you are in a rut for taking notes, I would suggest turning your paper horizontal, drawing a main image and some branches, and creating a mind map. See where it leads you.