How to Build a Concept Map

What does it mean when you say “I understand”? Does it mean the same thing for you as it does for other students or your teacher? How can you demonstrate your understanding? Building a concept map allows you to discover, reflect on, deepen, and share your understanding.

Note: The Original article is on, and not originally generated by MoneyAisle’s team.

What is a concept map: A map represents the relationships between a set of complex concepts and ideas. It is a visual way of showing how your mind “sees” a particular topic. In building a concept map, you assess what you know and what you don’t know. In a concept map, concepts are usually represented by individual words enclosed in rectangles (nodes), connected by arrows to other concept nodes. A short word or phrase written on the arrow defines the relationship between connected concepts. The main concept box will be linear and will generate a grid of several other concept boxes. There are many websites on the Internet that provide additional background on concept maps, some of which are: [Concept Map main page, Concept Maps: An Educational Tool, Concept Mapping Software, useful Concept Mapping website, FAQ.] See PowerPoint presentation of Concept Maps, consisting of several examples of concept maps.

PBL and Concept Map Analogy: In problem-based learning, each student group, as a group of researchers, ventures into new territories. As a group, they decide on the neighboring areas they need to explore, assign individual researchers to investigate these areas, and then come back to describe what they have discovered that is relevant to the group’s interests. It is important in this process that the researchers know what they are looking for (have clearly defined research questions). In the course of their efforts, each member learns different things, which are integrated and used to make decisions. Not all information will be shared with others. When the expedition is finished and the group needs to summarize their findings, they create a map that captures the important features of the territory. This is analogous to PBL groups constructing conceptual maps. The instructor or facilitator acts as a native guide in this analogy.

Building a Concept Map

Brainstorming phase: From your memory, (which you can jog by going through your notes and associated materials) identify facts, terms, and ideas that you think are connected to this topic in some way. List these items and write them neatly on small Post-It® Notes, one item per note, in very brief form, i.e., one word or a short phrase. This is a brainstorming process, so record everything that someone in your group considers important and avoid discussion of the importance at this stage. Don’t worry about redundancy, relative importance, or relationships at this point. Your goal here is to create as long a list as possible. Before your group finishes this step, you may have more than 50 items.

Organizing phase: Spread out your concepts (Post-It® Notes) on a flat surface so that everything can be easily read and group the related items together to create larger groups and subgroups. Try grouping the items to highlight hierarchies. Define terms that represent those higher-level categories and add them. You can modify the items and introduce new ones as they emerge in this process. Note that some concepts may fall into multiple groups. This will be significant later on.

Drafting phase: On a large sheet of paper, try to come up with an arrangement (draft) that best represents your collective understanding of the relationships and connections between the groups. You can rearrange the items at any time during this phase. Use a hierarchical arrangement, where the most important concepts are in the center or at the top. Within subgroups, place closely related items next to each other. Think of the arrangement from the perspective of connecting items in a simple proposition that shows their relationship. Don’t expect your draft to be like any other group’s. It may be beneficial to work on this task outside of class for satisfaction and to plan for its completion.

Patterning phase: Use lines with arrows to connect and show the relationships between the linked items. Write a word or short phrase on each arrow to indicate the relationship. Multiple arrows may start or finish at an important concept.

Completing the Concept Map: After your group agrees on the arrangement of items that conveys your understanding, you need to transform the concept map into a stable form for others to view and discuss. Be creative in a constructive sense by using color, fonts, shapes, border thickness, etc., to elicit the understanding of your group. Give the concept map a title. If you wish to build your final concept map on a computer, try using PowerPoint. When reviewing your concept map, consider the following attributes:

Accuracy and precision. Are the concepts and relationships correct? Are any important concepts missing? Are there any misleading connections?
Organization. Was the concept map laid out in a way that higher-order relationships are more visually apparent and easy to infer? Is there a hierarchy in its arrangement?
Aesthetics. Was the effort made to show attention to details such as spelling and punctuation? Is it neat and organized or is it messy and cluttered?
Creativity. Are there unique elements that help to connect or stimulate interest without being distracting?

Examine an example of a concept map created from a proposal in a senior chemistry seminar. Pay attention to the interrelationships and cycles embedded in the map.

Some online articles about Concept Maps.