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By Nicole Lauzon, OCT

This summary looks at an interesting technique that helps students, particularly elementary-level students, to draw out and organize their knowledge about a given subject or a main idea. Mind mapping, also known as cognitive mapping or concept mapping, was developed in the 1970s by British psychologist Tony Buzan (Buzan, 2011). Essentially, a mind map is a visual tool, or diagram, used to organize information.

Students with learning disabilities (LDs) often have difficulty organizing their ideas. A mind map may be a useful tool for helping students with LDs to visually capture their thoughts. Mind maps also allow students to present multiple ideas in a small space and to develop a vision of their subject that is both detailed and comprehensive.

Image of mind maps

Figure 1. What is a Mind Map? Retrieved from http://www.tonybuzan.com/about/mind-mapping/

Benefits of Mind Maps

A mind map allows the student to:

  • Work using both sides of the brain – the left side, which is associated with logic, and the right side, which is associated with imagination – in every grade;
  • Understand a situation more quickly;
  • Make connections between ideas;
  • Capture information quickly by adding colour and illustrations;
  • Memorize and recall information during learning tasks and, more specifically, during tests or even exams;
  • Facilitate teamwork (co-operative learning) by using a map that everyone can understand;
  • Develop a project in an interesting way (project-based learning).

Primary-division educators who want to use this strategy with their students are encouraged to start with a theme or event that is familiar to their students, e.g., “What did you do this morning? Tell us about it.” This should be an event that relates to the students’ lives and calls on their short-term memory.

It is interesting to note that mind maps are constantly evolving. Their structures can be reorganized or enriched as new ideas are introduced by a student or group of students.


  • Blank or lined paper
  • Pens and/or markers
  • A collection of images or key words.
  • Your imagination


According to Buzan (2011), there are seven tips for creating effective mind maps:

  1. Start in the centre of a blank page turned sideways.
  • Why? Because starting in the centre gives your brain freedom to spread out in all directions and to express itself more freely and naturally.
  1. Use an image or picture for your central idea.
  • Why? Because an image is worth a thousand words and helps you use your imagination. A central image is more interesting, keeps you focussed, helps you concentrate, and gives your brain more of a buzz!
  1. Use colours throughout.
  • Why? Because colours are as exciting to your brain as are images. Colour adds extra vibrancy and life to your Mind Map, adds tremendous energy to your Creative Thinking, and is fun!
  1. Connect your main branches to the central image and connect your second- and third-level branches to the first and second levels, etc.
  • Why? Because your brain works by association. It likes to link two (or three, or four) things together. If you connect the branches, you will understand and remember a lot more easily.
  1. Make your branches curved rather than straight-lined.
  • Why? Because having nothing but straight lines is boring to your brain.
  1. Use one key word per line.
  • Why? Because single key words give your Mind Map more power and flexibility.
  1. Use IMAGES throughout.
  • Why? Because each image, like the central image, is also worth a thousand words. So if you have only 10 images in your Mind Map, it’s already the equal of 10,000 words of notes!

If an educator were to use the example provided above (“What did you do this morning? Tell us about it.”), the mind map could be broken down as follows:

  • I eat breakfast:
    • Take the box of powdered chocolate;
    • Take the bottle of milk out of the refrigerator;
    • Squeeze an orange, etc.
  • I get ready for school:
    • Put on my shoes and coat;
    • Make my lunch;
    • Get my knapsack, etc.

Mind mapping also helps students to organize their memories in sequential order; this is especially true if students have difficulty with their working memory.

Cross-Curricular Applications

Educators may wish to use this strategy in a variety of curricular areas once the students are used to the process (i.e., once the activity has been repeated several times in the classroom).

Here are some examples of mind maps that educators can use to support their students’ learning, taken from The Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies, Grades 1 to 6; History and Geography, Grades 7 and 8, 2013. .

  • Grade 1
    • “Demonstrate an understanding of simple chronology by identifying and organizing chronologically some significant events related to their personal experience” (p. 68);
    • “Identify some of the significant people, places, and things in their life, including their life in the community” (p. 68);
    • “Identify some of the natural and built features of their community” (p. 71);
    • “Identify some distinct areas in the local community” (p. 71).
  • Grade 2
    • “Identify some different groups in their community […] and describe some of the ways in which they contribute to diversity in Canada” (p. 78);
    • “Create a timeline of important events and family members”;
    • “Compare selected communities from around the world, including their own community, in terms of the lifestyles of people in those communities and some ways in which the people meet their needs” (p. 79);
    • “Identify basic human needs […] and describe some ways in which people in communities around the world meet these needs” (p.81);
    • “Describe selected communities around the world, with reference to their major physical features, wildlife, and some aspects of their culture” (p. 81);
  • Grade 3
    • “Describe some of the major challenges facing communities in Canada during this period [1800s]” (p. 88);
    • “Describe the impact of some different kinds of settlements […] on the natural environment and on any existing settlements”  (p. 89);
    • “Identify the major landform regions in Ontario […] and describe the major characteristics that make each distinct. Identify and describe the main types of employment that are available in two or more municipal regions in Ontario” (p. 92);
    • “Describe major types of land use […] and how they address human needs and wants” (p. 92).

To illustrate the above, in the Grade 1 social studies program, students must draw up a timeline of significant events in their lives and may use a mind map to begin the process of brainstorming significant life events. Some examples of life events could be: when I started walking, when I got my first tricycle, then my first bicycle, when I started daycare, Kindergarten, Grade 1 (Ministry of Education, 2013, p. 68).  Students can identify these memories by using key words or images they either draw or find online or in magazines. When students have finished creating their mind maps, they can list all of the images and words on the page and use this information to draw up a chronological list that can be presented to the class when they are done.


A mind map is a useful tool that can be used by individual students or in a group. Educators may use a mind map to clarify or present a lesson and to ensure that their students are retaining the important aspects of a learning task. A mind map can also be used as a starting point to help students, particularly students with LDs, to organize their ideas or identify the key ideas from a lesson.

Related Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the article, "Strategies to Assist Students with LDs", by Diane Wagner.

Click here to access the article, "Graphic Organizers", by Nicole Lauzon.

Additional Resources

Click here to access the article, "10 Mind Mapping Strategies For Teachers".

Click here to access mindmapping.com, a website for educators.

Click here to access "Using Mind Mapping Tools to Promote Independent Learning and Study Skills" (a BBC site).


Buzan, T. (2011). Tony Buzan: Inventor of Mind Mapping. Retrieved from: http://www.tonybuzan.com/

Ministry of Education (2013). The Ontario Curriculum, Social Studies, Grades 1 to 6; History and Geography, Grades 7 and 8, 2013. (Revised)  Retrieved from: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/elementary/sshg18curr2013.pdf