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.