Help students make connections. 

A chemistry teacher at our high school allowed me into her classroom to model how to use concept mapping with students. Today was the first day of the second semester, so we chose to work on some concepts that students weren’t getting as shown by their final exams. After showing them an example of a concept map, students were asked to make a concept map out of the chosen words in poster paper, give feedback on other students’ maps, and then provide evidence that they knew the connections between them. 

Here’s why concept maps are so awesome:

1. They help students practice making connections. Connections are how the brain remembers things. Too often we give notes and expect students to magically make connections when they’ve never actually had practice in doing so. Concept maps give students time to work on the “making connections” skill, especially when students must label he lines between words with why they are connecting those words. 

2. They allow for students to make meaning in their own way. There’s never one right answer to a concept map-only better connections than others. Getting students to recognize and discuss the difference between shallow and deep connections after making and looking at other students’ maps is a powerful thing. A word of caution – if you always hand out black line masters of concept maps for students to fill in, they’re not making meaning; they’re just filling in another worksheet. 

3. They give students a visual of their own understanding. Making the map itself can be a visual hook for remembering and connecting during later learning. 

4. They are an excellent assessment tool-both formative and summative. Walk around while students are making their maps, and it’s a great way to get a read on what students really understand. You can see if they are making surface or deep connections, or if they’re stuck making connections at all. I used to make students make concept maps for final exams to see if they really saw how everything we had studied was related. They are also useful pre-assessments, where you can ask students to connect critical vocabulary before instruction to see what they already know. 

Concept maps are a fantastic tool to put in students’ meaning-making toolbox. We need to use strategies like this to help students practice the skills they really need to be life-long learners. 

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