Tag Archives: visual-spatial

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

In my paid job (yes, I need to make the distinction), I teach a couple of classes on how to be successful in college. As the instructor, I introduce students to effective note-taking methods, growth mindset principles and library research skills, among other topics. Although I like to write and take notes by hand, one of my favorite activities is to make mind maps. It’s just the right combination between art and writing. Creating mind maps is a generative process. Creating mind maps to learn means developing a deeper level of understanding.

A picture of a mind map for the book: The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

My completed mind map of the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl Klein.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

When you are forced to synthesize the information you are reading or hearing, your brain forms new connections to that material. It’s connecting the information you know with the new material you are learning. I wouldn’t recommend it for initial lecture-based notes, but it’s great for going back and really learning the material. It forces you to organize the information so that it makes sense. In effect, you are “studying” the material, but you get to do some art at the same time.

Step 1: Take Notes

A really good mind map starts with written notes. I teach my students to use the Cornell Method for taking notes since it provides an easy way to quiz yourself (and research shows that quizzing yourself is one of the most effective ways to learn the material).

These aren’t in Cornell format, but I don’t need to quiz myself on the material…I merely want a reference for later.

Step 2: Pick out the Key Points

As with most books, typically, you don’t need to memorize everything you read. Pick out the key points that you want to remember. It could be key dates or relationships. For my book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein, I wanted to remember some of the many tips she gave for crafting a successful children’s book. She has so much useful information, one could do a mind map on each chapter. I want something inspiring to hang over my desk. To nudge me when I get stuck.

Step 3: Complete a Rough Draft

Now that I have the information, I need figure out how to organize it on piece of paper. Plus, I want to think about how to draw some visuals to go along with it. Visuals tend to stick in our minds better than words. According to Sketchnote Handbook author Mike Rhode, you don’t have to be an artist to make your notes more visually appealing. But since I like to draw, I’ve added in some sketches. For my first draft, I had to figure out how I was going to fit everything on the page. I knew I wanted to focus on the elements of crafting a good story, so I made sure to devote a large part of paper to those concepts.

A picture of creating a mind m ap rough draft

This is super messy and sat in my book while I gathered more notes, hence the creases.

Step 4: Use a Pencil

Since I like to change my mind a lot, I use a mechanical pencil to complete my final mind map. After I’m happy with the placement of information, I’ll use a variety of ink pens to outline the material. My current favorites are these Micron pens, purchased at my local art store. I like the variety of pens — each with a smaller nib. The 001 size was perfect for the fine writing I needed to include.

Here’s a close-up of my almost completed mind map.

Step 5: Add Color

Once I outline everything in black, I like to go back and add color. In fact, this is probably my favorite part. I love a good coloring project.

a colored picture of a mind map for the book, The Magic Words by Cheryl B. Klein

I used Faber-Castell color pencils to complete the map.

Creating Mind Maps to Learn

Ultimately, this mind map took me a couple of months to complete (hey, I’m busy)! That wouldn’t be realistic for a college student. However, I could have made a map for each chapter, rather than trying to cover the entire book in one mind map. Use your judgement and decide how you want to use the mind map. For me, this map is the perfect size (11 x 14) to display over my desk.


Book Report :: A Visual-Spatial Experience

My children are my greatest teachers.

I could go on (and on and on) about how much I have grown mentally, spiritually, and physically just by being their mother. But, I have also grown as a teacher because I am able to observe them closely and watch how they learn. Because it’s different than the way I learn.

He prefers a cluttered desk - whereas I can't stand it!

He prefers a cluttered desk – whereas I can’t stand it!

My older son has given me permission to share his work on this blog and I hope that it will help other visual-spatial learners.

A little background to his relationship with writing – he hated to write as a young boy. Asking him to write anything was tantamount to watching a volcano erupt. Lots of rumbling and growling before a full-blown explosion occurred out of sheer frustration. He was frustrated that it didn’t look perfect. He was frustrated that it hurt his hand (he pushed really hard on his pencil). He was frustrated that he didn’t know how to spell anything and that would block his thoughts.

So, this was one thing I let go. I didn’t push it and I hoped that by the time he hit middle school many of these issues would be resolved. Plus, we’ve always written thank you notes and homemade birthday cards, so it wasn’t as if I never asked him to write anything. But in the last year, something clicked for him.

He discovered the value of writing fluently and his resistance has lessened. Maybe the muscles in his hand are further developed, or perhaps he isn’t struggling with spelling as much (to which I attribute his extraordinary love of reading). I’m not sure why the time is right, but it is. He has unconsciously decided to communicate more in the written form.

His first draft - which he went back through with a red marker and marked his needed corrections.

His first draft – which he went back through and marked potential corrections.

In fact, the idea of a book report was his idea – spurred on by some outside events. Since 2003, I have been part of a book club of friends. Each month, we rotate houses to host the group. This month was my turn to host – and to choose the book. I chose The Lightening Thief . My kids and I have been studying ancient history in our Story of the World (SOTW) curriculum and we’re taking a deeper look at the Greek myths in the coming weeks . Plus, a juvenile book is always a good choice for our busy, mom-filled book club.

Well, my son was ecstatic. He read the book before I did and he mentioned that he wanted to give a report at the book club. I told him he could write a book report, to which he responded, “Huh? What’s a book report?” So, I proceeded to tell him and he accepted the challenge.

Visual-Spatial book report. First step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color - yellow was for the setting and time; blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

Visual-Spatial book report. The first step is to make a story map. We broke ours down by color – yellow was for the setting and time; whereas blue, green and red represented the beginning, middle and end of the story.

The project was a bit overwhelming, so I suggested that he make a word map of what happened in the story. He’s very used to this concept since this how we talk about each chapter of SOTW. He found this to be fun and relatively easy. I prompted him when he got stuck.

When it came to writing the actual report, you could see the terror come into his eyes, so I found a way to break down the map: colors. We went online and found this easy “how to write a book report” web site and broke down the report into three main categories. He chose the colors and I circled the setting and character ideas using a yellow marker.

Then, he chose blue and decided what was significant to the beginning of the story. Next, came green for the middle part and finally, a red marker for the end of the story. Some of the ideas didn’t quite fit into one category so they got two colors.

Some simple writing reminders - capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

Some simple writing reminders – capitalize the beginning of each sentence!

After a bit of grumbling, he got down to writing and came to show me his work. He was so proud of himself (and I was too), so I praised his hard work. Then, he went over it (on his own) and followed the above editing rules. That way, I wasn’t marking up his work – he was. And, for him that makes all the difference. He went over his draft and capitalized the start of every sentence, proper noun and circled his suspected misspellings. Then, we fixed it together.


I wrote down the correct spelling for the words he didn’t know.

Over the course of three days, he made a story map, wrote a first draft, edited his work and rewrote the final version of his book report. Last month, I introduced the concept of a first draft when he wrote a thank you note to a city official (as part of his city project). I’ve also set the expectation that your first draft is for creative ideas, and then you go back and fix the grammar, spelling and sentence structure. My favorite explanation for this process can be found here.

But, the best part of this whole project? He instigated it. Would he be as proud if I had demanded it? Probably not. Of course, he’s at this point because we have incorporated tiny real-world writings into our weekly routine. He’s also a voracious reader who doesn’t equate reading with writing. And, we all know that in order to be a great writer, you have to be a prolific reader.

Book report on The Lightning Thief

Final book report on The Lightning Thief