Mindmaps From ESL Lesson Plan

Carol at ESL Lesson Plan regularly posts on topics I find relevant to the classroom; one of the latest is the theme of mind maps.

Mind maps are basically diagrams showing how things are connected in some way – or a visual depiction of how various terms are related. You might use a mind map in class to get students to come up with vocabulary on the topic of, say, the environment. You could of course just ask them for words they know connected to the environment, but in that case, if they can come up with them at all, you are likely to get a disorganized laundry list of terms, which some students know and others need explained.

On the other hand, if you draw a diagram with “environment” in the middle, and several terms around it – “water”, “land”, “resources”, “natural phenomena” (eg hurricanes), “problems” and so on – you give students a clearer picture of what type of things to think about. And as many students have larger passive than active vocabularies, if one group lists four words in the category of “water”, others who might not have come up with all the same words are more likely to be able to infer the meaning. In the first case (“Tell me some words connected to the environment”), all they hear is that it’s related to the environment, and it will take longer and quite possibly involve more complication to explain.

Carol also makes the point that most of us learn words better when we learn them in logical groups. If you have a list of words that you think you need to pre-teach before a reading or listening, see how many of them you can conceptualize as part of a mind map (sometimes those suggested in teacher’s books are fairly random; I think it’s fine to second-guess the book and select those that are really central to an overall understanding of the text and throw in a few that students may know anyway, so it’s not just several totally new words). Give students the categories and see what they can come up with before you tell them your words – and don’t be afraid to include more if they come up with good ones. Even if they don’t come up with or already know any of the words you’re going to pre-teach, this will get them thinking on the topic of the reading or listening, which is another strategy which leads to better comprehension.