Looking for some inspiration? Willing to try something new in your lessons? Many teachers and tutors have told us that they recommend Learning Maps (also known as Thinking Maps), so we thought that you may want to learn more. The purpose of this article is to explain what they are, why they are effective, explain the different types of maps available to you, and why you may want to use them.

What are Learning Maps?

Learning Maps are a visual tools used to show the different cognitive skills students normally employ when they approach a topic. These skills include:

  • Defining in context
  • Describing qualities
  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Categorising
  • Part-whole
  • Sequencing
  • Cause-Effect
  • Perceiving analogies

Laerning Maps and effective learning strategies Following extensive research and practical work, educator, Robert J. Manzano, identified nine different learning strategies that strongly affect a student’s achievement in What Works in Classroom Instruction. One of the best ways to put many of these strategies into effect both in the classroom and during private tutoring sessions, is through the use of Learning Maps. These strategies include:

  • Summarising and note-taking
  • Cooperative learning
  • Reinforcing effort and providing recognition
  • Homework and practise
  • Non-linguistic representations
  • Setting goals and providing feedback
  • Generating and testing hypotheses
  • Identifying similarities and differences
  • Activating prior knowledge

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The Eight Types of Learning Maps: Learning Maps are not used to simply organise information; they are a whole new language that visually represents the way we think. There are generally accepted to be eight types of Learning Maps. These are: the bubble, double bubble, circle and tree, brace, flow, multi-flow and bridge maps.

1.    Circle Map: Used for: Defining in Context This map comprises two circles: a small, central circle within a larger one. The tutor or teacher asks the student to write a key idea or topic into the central circle and to list everything they know about that idea or topic in the bigger circle. For example, the central circle may simply state the word ‘verb’; outside this circle, students may wish to list a series of verbs they know or discover during the tutoring session.

2.    Bubble Map: Used for: Describing Qualities This map comprises a central circle containing one key idea with various branches emanating from it that lead to a series of rectangles or circles, containing words that describe the key idea. For instance, the central circle may contain the words ‘qualities of a good tutor’. The shapes which branch out from this circle may contain the words ‘interesting’, ‘fun’, ‘caring’, ‘challenging’, etc.

3.    Double Bubble Map: Used for: Comparing and Contrasting This map looks exactly like its name would suggest: it comprises two main circles which are joined in the centre by more circles indicating similarities between them. On the outer sides of each main circle, a series of branches and additional circles emanate, showing aspects they do no have in common. Tutors might like to use this type of map to help students compare and contrast two famous novels or two athletes they admire.

4. Tree Map: Used for: Classifying and Categorising This map is similar in appearance to a family tree; it contains one main subject divided into main ideas and then into details. It is a way to organise information – for instance, a tutor trying to teach his student about unhealthy foods may divide this subject into the following main headings: processed foods, salty foods, sugary foods. Beneath these headings, they could ask the student to include examples of each.

5. Brace Map: Used for: Relating the Part to the Whole This type of map is similar to a tree map, except that the focus is not just on classifying the parts of the map (i.e. where main and subsidiary ideas go), if not on showing the different parts that make up the whole. It is particularly useful in mathematics. For instance, it might be used to show that 3+2=5 (5 being the whole) or to divide a state into cities, suburbs, etc.

6. Flow Map: Used for: Sequencing Flow Maps are used to describe a sequence of events. It might be used to represent the different events that make up a story, to solve a mathematical problem or to show the life cycle of a butterfly…

7. Multi-Flow Map: Used for: Showing Cause and Effect In a multi-flow map, a central node (square or circle shape with a key situation/event inside) is connected to a number of boxes on the left (which reveal what caused the situation/event) and a number of boxes on the right (which show the effects of the situation/event). It might be used to reveal the causes and effect of a tsunami, for instance, or the causes and effects of adopting an anti-bullying stance at school.

8. Bridge Map: Used for: Seeing Analogies and Metaphors This map is used to reveal the relating factor in an analogy. It can be used in a variety of subjects, including mathematics and EFL (English as a Foreign Language). For instance, we can use it to teach synonyms: ‘kind’ is the synonym of ‘nice’ as ‘furious’ is the synonym of ‘enraged’.

How to use Learning Maps

  • They make a great pre-writing activity – just by looking at a student’s map, a teacher or tutor can assess whether or not a student has understood key concepts and aims. Additionally, most students find it very easy to complete a learning map.
  • They can be used by learners of all ages in a broad range of subjects.
  • They encourage students to focus. Tutors and teachers therefore find them useful when working with students who have difficulty concentrating.
  • They encourage students to use higher order/critical thinking skills. Students do not just use these maps to represent information or improve memory retention; they also use them to comprehend and assess how they are thinking. This process encourages reflective, independent learning.
  • They promote clarity of communication; like mind maps, they can be used to synthesise large quantities of information, by encouraging students to identify key concepts and arguments.
  • They are student-centred and they promote cooperation, especially when jointly created by students in a group tutoring session or classroom.

I hope that you have found this blog post useful. Should you wish to comment or share what works best for you, then please feel free to use the comments box below. We have been blogging advice for tutors for a while now – our ‘Tips for Tutors’ series. Just in case you missed any, you can find them at:

How to ensure that the first lesson goes really well

Structuring your lessons

8 ways to become a better tutor

12 teaching strategies for more effective tutoring

Developing critical thinking in your students

What works best according to kids

How to market yourself

Ten things you should take into every lesson

Your tax as a self employed tutor

How to set up your website

Deciding how much to charge

The best way to tutor University students

Helping a reluctant student

The importance of teaching values




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