Concept Mapping

Concept Mapping
A Strategy For Assessing Preconceptions and Changing Conceptions
Two major principles of “constructivist pedagogy” are “structuring learning around ‘big ideas’
or primary concepts” and “assessing student learning in the context of teaching.” (Brooks and
Brooks, 1993) Concept mapping is a constructivist strategy that integrates curriculum,
instruction, and assessment.
During concept mapping, the learner constructs a diagram that illustrates interrelationships
between concepts. The learner arranges concepts hierarchically from most general at the top
of the map to most specific at the bottom. “Linking words” link concepts for meaning.
Examples of commonly used linking words are: to form, have, are, like, produces, including,
resulting in, and acts on. Cross linkages indicate additional relationships between concepts.
As an instructional technique, concept mapping actively involves students in their own
learning. The process encourages youngsters to link prior knowledge with new information,
deal with content, and solve problems. It allows them to see where knowledge gaps exist.
Concept mapping also enables students to measure personal progress, promotes selfreflection, and provides feedback on how well the student understands the material. The
teacher can easily assess concept maps by looking at the number of concepts, quality of
linkages, appropriateness of the hierarchical organization, and richness of cross linkages.
During a concept mapping session, students can work individually or in pairs to create a map
using small pieces of paper or at the computer using programs such as C-Map or Inspiration®.
A concept map is often based on a subsection of a unit. Students write each concept on a
separate square of paper. They arrange the squares starting at the top of a large sheet of
paper with the most general concept and branch in a hierarchical order towards the bottom.
Students frequently move the squares around several times before penciling linking-lines and
words. Each branch usually has examples at the bottom. Often students inspect their maps
and recognize that they can organize the concepts in a “better” way. They rearrange the
squares, add additional concepts, and draw more cross linkages. Students then examine the
maps constructed by their classmates. They are encouraged to discuss differences. As
facilitator, the teacher circulates during map construction and encourages students by asking
questions such as:
Can you see a relationship between these two concepts?
What else do you know about this concept that would be relevant to the map?
How could you rearrange this map to make it easier to read or interpret?
This is also a good opportunity to look for misconceptions. Concept maps help to dispel
misconceptions by revealing them to the learner and the teacher.
Students report that concept mapping helps them understand and remember information
better. Even though they find it frustrating at time, students rate it as an enjoyable and
worthwhile activity. Concept mapping also meets the needs of visual and kinesthetic learners.
Directions To Students For Constructing A Simple Concept Map
(Adapted from NYS Biology Mentor Network’s instructions by Beebie and Holt)
A concept map is a diagram that shows how ideas in a particular topic are related. The most
general concept—the one that includes all of the others—appears at the top of the map.
More specific concepts are located under it. As a concept map progresses downward, the
concepts become more and more specific, often ending with examples.
“Linking lines” that are labeled with words that help to explain the relationship between the
concepts they connect are drawn between concepts. Concept maps branch in order to show
the relationships that exist between specific concepts that are related to the same general
concept. Cross-links show a relationship between concepts on one branch of the hierarchy
with concepts on another branch.
To construct your concept map:
1. Write each concept word on a separate square of paper.
2. Select the most general or broadest concept from the group. Place this in a position so
that it will be at the top of the map you are about to construct. It would be helpful to
place a large sheet of paper or file folder under the first concept. As you continue to
construct your concept map, be sure to place the small squares of paper on the large
3. Sort your remaining concept squares into small piles of related concepts. You can
discuss this with your partner and/or use references.
4. For each small pile, select the most general concept. Place these general concepts next
to each other in a horizontal row under the top concept.
5. Pencil in a linking line between the top concept and each of the concepts in the second
row. Label each linking line with linking words that indicate the relationship between
the concepts the line connects.
6. For each pile arrange the remaining concepts from general to specific. Place them on
your map. As you continue to add concepts, your map will begin to look like an upsidedown branching tree.
7. Pencil in linking lines and label each. Make sure that the linking words express the
relationship between the two concepts.
8. Look for cross-links between concepts on different branches of your map. Indicate
connections between concepts with a dotted line. Label cross-links.
9. When you’ve positioned all of the concepts and added linking lines and labels, examine
your map to see if it still makes sense. Rearrange your map if some of the connections
are not clear.
10. Where appropriate, add specific examples at the end of a branch.
11. When you are satisfied with your concept map, make a permanent copy.
Brooks, J.G. and M.G. Brooks. (1993). In Search Of Understanding: The Case For
Constructivist Classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Larkin,K., C. Raab and S. Holt. (1993). Concept Mapping. Albany,NY: New York State Biology
Mentors Network.
Novak,J.D. (1991). Clarify With Concept Maps: A tool for students and teachers alike. The
Science Teacher, Oct., 45-49.
Novak,J.D. and D.B. Gowin. (1984). Learning How To Learn. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
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