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What are mind maps?
Perhaps you’ve seen this image before (or something similar to it) and wondered what it was and how it worked. This is a mind map, and it can be a fantastic way to take notes or to help you remember what you’ve learned.
Here’s how it works: Taking notes the old-fashioned way – simply writing down everything the teacher says, or by copying everything from the textbook – is much less effective at engaging your brain. All you are doing is essentially taking dictation.
How mind maps help you learn
On the other hand, the act of drawing a mind map or a concept map helps to stimulate the imagination, while simultaneously creating strong links in your thinking. The combination of these two factors work towards enhancing your long-term memory, and make it easier to recall the information in the mind map. The inventor of mind maps, Tony Buzan, sums it up this way: “Normal linear note-taking and writing will put you into a semi-hypnotic trance, while mind mapping greatly enhances left and right brain cognitive skills.”
This technique can be really effective, as numerous studies have confirmed. As one student on the Learning Fundamentals blog puts it: “Mind mapping helps you to study less because you understand the information at a deep level as a result of creating mind maps. If you just read your notes over and over, chances are you’ll only understand the content at a superficial level and you’re going to waste a lot of time.”
So, here’s how to get started with mind mapping:
1. Gather your materials
All you need are large blank sheets of paper (A3 is best, but A4 will be fine too) and some coloured pens, markers or colour pencils.
2. Think of the main theme and write that down in the centre
For an example, check out these mind maps for primary school science topics.
3. Organise any associated ideas or sub-themes around your main theme, and draw branches from them to the centre. Your map should start to look like a spider web.
4. Use short phrases, or single words
5. Add images to help you remember or to help convey your ideas more succinctly.
6. Add ideas to sub-themes as you go, create branches and links as needed.
7. Use colours to differentiate different themes or links.
For more examples, check out this gallery of mind maps curated by Buzan.
Don’t forget to think critically about how your ideas connect to the main theme, and to each other. This is the beauty of mind maps – the act of creating them is what helps you to think critically about the topic. You get to revise what you know, forge new links between old and new concepts, find out where your gaps in knowledge are – and perhaps even learn something new!
Create mind maps with your kid
Why not try making one with your child? Pick a topic – anything that comes to mind will work, but it might be easier to get started with something your child is familiar with, and is interested in. For my kid, that would be dinosaurs.
Then, brainstorm what you know about dinosaurs. Show your child how to organise these facts. Questions to ask include “how can we group these dinosaurs” or “what makes them similar”. Continue adding information that you know about them, and link related facts together. Don’t stress – there isn’t a right or a wrong way to mind map. In fact, a simple search for dinosaur mind maps will show you that there are very many different ways of organising the same set of facts. Do what works for you!