How to Construct a Concept Map
[also translated into Belorussian and German]

What does it mean when you say, I understand?.... Does it mean the same thing to you as it does to another student or your teacher?..... How can you demonstrate your understanding? Constructing a concept map provides a way to expose, reflect on, deepen, and share your understanding.

What is a concept map?: A concept map presents the relationships among a set of connected concepts and ideas. It is a tangible way to display how your mind  "sees" a particular topic. By constructing a concept map, you reflect on what you know and what you don't know. In a Concept Map, the concepts, usually represented by single words enclosed in a rectangle (box), are connected to other concept boxes by arrows. A word or brief phrase, written by the arrow, defines the relationship between the connected concepts. Major concept boxes will have lines to and from several other concept boxes generating a network. There are many sites on the Internet that provide additional background on Concept Maps of which the following are a few. [The Concept Mapping Home Page, Concept Maps: A Valuable Learning Tool , Concept Mapping Software, Some background and theory, Resource Guide] See PowerPoint presentation on Concept Mapping that includes several examples of concept maps.

PBL and Concept Maps-An Analogy: In problem-based learning, each student group is like a party of explorers entering new territory. As a group they decide what neighboring areas they should reconnoiter, the individual members scout these areas and return to describe things they discovered that are relevant to the party’s interests. It is important in this process that the scouts know what they are looking for (have well-defined learning issues). In this effort, each member learns different things that get integrated and used to make decisions. Not all of the information will be transmitted to the others. When the expedition is over and the party needs to summarize their explorations, they draw a map that captures the important features of the territory. This would correspond to a PBL group constructing a concept map. The instructor or tutor serves as a native guide in this analogy.

Constructing a Concept Map

Brainstorming Phase:  From your memory, (which you can jog by going through your notes and related course material) identify facts, terms, and ideas that you think are in anyway associated with the topic. Make a list of these items and print them neatly on small Post-It® notes, one per note, in very brief form, i. e. a single word or short phrase. This is a brain-storming process, so write down everything that anybody in your group thinks is important and avoid discussing how important the item is. Don't worry about redundancy, relative importance, or relationships at this point. Your objective here is to generate the largest possible list you can. Before your group completes this step, you may have more than 50 items.

Organizing Phase: Spread out your concepts (Post-It® notes) on a flat surface so that all can be read easily and, together, create groups and sub-groups of related items. Try to group items to emphasize hierarchies. Identify terms that represent those higher categories and add them. Feel free to rearrange items and introduce new items that you omitted initially. Note that some concepts will fall into multiple groupings. This will become important later.

Layout Phase: On a large sheet of paper, try to come up with an arrangement (layout) that best represents your collective understanding of the interrelationships and connections among groupings. Feel free to rearrange things at any time during this phase. Use a consistent hierarchy in which the most important concepts are in the center or at the top. Within sub-grouping, place closely related items near to each other. Think in terms of connecting the items in a simple sentence that shows the relationship between them. Do not expect your layout to be like that of other groups. It may be advisable to meet outside of class to work on this assignment and plan for its completion.

Linking Phase: Use lines with arrows to connect and show the relationship between connected items. Write a word or short phrase by each arrow to specify the relationship. Many arrows can originate or terminate on particularly important concepts.

Finalizing the Concept Map: After your group has agreed on an arrangement of items that coveys your understanding, you need to convert the concept map into a permanent form that others can view and discuss. Be creative in a constructive way through the use of colors, fonts, shapes, border thickness, etc. to communicate your group's understanding. Give your concept map a title. If you want to construct your final concept map on a computer, try using PowerPoint.  In reviewing your concept map, consider the following attributes:

Examine an example of a concept map derived from a proposition in Chemistry Senior Seminar. Note the interconnections and cycles imbedded in the map.

Some online articles about Concept Mapping.

The Reliability of Concept Mapping
Collaboration through Concept Maps
Theory of Concept Mapping

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Last updated: 11 january 2011 by Hal White [halwhite at udel.edu]
Copyright 2011, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Delaware