How to Create Three Types of Thinking Maps

Sarah uses thinking maps in every lesson she teaches in her classroom, and has multiple versions posted all over the walls in her room.  You may be wondering what thinking maps are – I wasn’t even completely sure until I had Sarah explain it to me.  Thinking maps are charts that help organize information in a clear, visual way in order to help students understand the material better.  For each map, students would need to create a higher-order thinking question to that the information in the thinking map would answer.  I am going to go through the steps to create three different thinking maps that Sarah uses the most in her classroom (although there are eight different types of thinking maps in total).

The first map is called a circle map, which Sarah told me is the easiest and most basic map to create and is used to define concepts in context.

1. Draw a frame of reference, a rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches.

2. Draw a small circle in the middle of the rectangle, big enough to fit one word.

3. Draw a bigger circle around the small one, leaving about 3/4 inch in between the two.

Sarah usually uses these maps to help her students define vocabulary words.  At the beginning of class, she gives her students vocabulary words and has them write in the outer circle what they think it means.  Then, after the lesson, she has them write its actual definitions in a different color in the same circle. 

The second type of map she uses is a Double Bubble Map, which is used to compare and contrast.  Here are the steps to create one:

1. Draw a frame of reference, a rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches.

2. Draw two circles in the middle of the page, about 1 inch apart.

3. Draw three circles in a vertical line midway between the first two circles. 

4. Draw lines to connect these circles on both sides to the original two circles.

5. Next to the first circle on the left, draw three circles in a vertical line and draw lines connecting these circles to the first circle.

6. Next to the second circle on the right, draw three circles in a vertical line and draw lines connecting these circles to the circle to the right.

Sarah uses these types of circles to compare and contrast physics concepts.  She gives students the sentence: Differentiate between ____________ and ________________, telling the students that the two concepts that complete the sentence are the ones that go into the first two circles in the thinking map.  The three circles connected to both in the middle are for the similarities between the two and the circles on the left and right are for each concept’s differences.  Sarah told me that her students have the most difficulty understanding that although the basic map contains three similarities and three differences for each concept, these are not the set number of circles they need to use.  They can use more or less for each.

The example Sarah gave me is that she used this kind of map to compare fission and fusion.  The higher-order thinking question in this case, she told me, was: How do fission and fusion relate to nuclear physics?  The information in the Double Bubble would then need to answer this question.

The last thinking map Sarah uses is called a Flow Map, which is used to show a sequence of events.  Sarah used this mostly to show steps in a physics problem or process.

1. Draw a frame of reference, a rectangle about 3 inches by 4 inches.

2. Draw a 1-inch by 1-inch square at the top of the frame of reference.

3. Draw an arrow from the square about an inch in length to the right.

4. At the end of the arrow, draw another box that is the same size as the first one.

5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you reach the right edge of the frame.

6. To start a new row, draw an arrow from the righthand most square to the first square on the left in the next row.

Sarah also explained that smaller steps could be put under the bigger steps, but only if necessary.  She went further to say that students could include small definitions under the boxes if the information in the box need more explanation.  I have included the pictures that Sarah drew me to explain each thinking map.Image


2 thoughts on “How to Create Three Types of Thinking Maps

  1. AmateurYogi

    Interesting concepts. These must help Sarah’s students to really visualize their vocabulary words. Your instructions were thorough. Good job. Instead of explaining, in paragraph form, that Sarah then has her kids write definitions in the boxes, but these could be added into the numbered steps – just how Sarah explains them to her students. Your paragraphs are well written, but those are part of the instructions. The photos you added at the end were also a big help. I also like how you related this to Sarah and her mission. It was very appropriate and helped me to delve deeper into what she does in the educational system.


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