34. Mind Mapping & Learner Generated Visuals


Mind Mapping & Learner Generated Visuals

This post is largely about different types of mind maps and their value to both their creator and reader.  The relation of this to the materials module lies in learner generated visuals, which I see as a form of material.  As well as the relevance to learner generated visuals, I’m posting this here (as well as in my T&R blog) because it contains images of my ‘materials map’, a collection of notes made during the course, primarily (but not solely) during the input sessions.  The reader who has read other parts of this blog may observe parallels and patterns between my notes and my posts.

Mind mapping has played a large part in the diploma journey for me this past year, and I’d like to just outline some of what I understand mind maps to be, and their value for learners.

Revision Mapping

At their simplest, mind maps are a means of organising information, and I first started using them solely for this purpose, during my pre-course reading for the course.

Language Acquisition  (Lightbown & Spada, How Languages are Learned)

Language Acquisition
(Lightbown & Spada, How Languages are Learned)

Initially I used them to summarise and organise what I was reading into a more visual form to enable me to refer back and quickly locate information.  What I found was that the process of organising the information also served as a form of revision, both in re-presenting the information, and in that the tie spent colouring/shading allowed me to further process and consider the information in a relaxed state.  Let’s call this form of mind mapping ‘revision mapping’.


Reflective Mapping

Taking this a step further, as opposed to just summarising and organising what other people were writing, I then started using mind maps as a means of answering questions and brainstorming.

What influences the way we teach? Pre-course notes, Jade Blue

What influences the way we teach?
Pre-course notes, Jade Blue

This is a particularly interesting process for me, in that the nature of writing in this medium seems to allow more of a stream of consciousness than formatted text, which I believe places a (subconscious?) pressure the writer to craft the text into something more clearly (and traditionally) structured.

Mind mapping, on the other hand seems to express an internal dialogue, and the writing within it is very much a process, one thought leading to another.  As this form of mind mapping begins with a question or a point for consideration / exploration, and is very much concerned with one’s own reflections, let’s call it ‘reflective mapping’.

This approach is something that I found particularly suited me in reflecting on my observed lessons.  The format allowed me the freedom to explore my thoughts in response to the lesson at the same time as illustrate the connections and relationships between various aspects of what I was discussing.

Observed Lesson 3: Reflections. Jade Blue 2016

But the freedom from traditional structural restraints that this medium allows, raises important questions about the relationship between writer (or creator) and reader.  How lucid are reflective mind maps for the reader?  Is the written text less opaque?

The gravity of the answers to these questions entirely depends upon who the mind maps are created for.  Are they created for the reader in order to communicate and/or explain a concept?  Or are they solely for the purpose of the creator, as a process in themselves, and/or to serve as a visual and written record of an experience?

I would say that the reflective mind maps I’ve created during the course – especially those that follow observed lessons – are for both myself and the reader.  They are simultaneously a means of reflecting on a process and experience for my own development, and a means of communicating those reflections to the observer. My identification of the reader – the observer – is an important point.  While primarily my reflections are to support and record my own development (be they in the form of mind maps or solely written text), there is always some awareness – no matter how small – that they will be read by one of my tutors.  Thus, my reflective mind maps for my observed lessons assume that the reader, having observed that lesson, has more understanding of the points I discuss than an outsider might.

Reflection is about consideration; it’s about thinking deeply; it’s about revealing the nature of something.  My reflective blog in its entirety is both a record of my journey and a part of the journey itself.  This means that primarily it’s written for me.  There are posts that I will later share on my main blog, but these may then require revisions as their audience will change.


Thought Mapping

Returning to mind mapping, the third type I want to identify are created for the creator – not as a finished product (although the aesthetic can often be quite pleasing), but as a practice in themselves. A journey of discovery.

Nick Sousanis (2015:70) said ‘we draw not to transcribe ideas from our heads but to generate them in search of greater understanding’.  This, for me, has perhaps been the most poignant element of the diploma course.  Beginning with my investigations into the impact of metaphors on elements of teaching, and moving on to the use of graphic frameworks in the classroom, my journey has largely been concerned with how metaphors (text based or visual) can trigger, influence and reveal concepts and ideas in learning.

For the materials module I decided to keep a ‘map’, as opposed to a notebook, and as the module went on my notes became more and more visual.  The space that the paper allowed enabled me to illustrate connections and links between different areas and aspects of what I was thinking.  The note making process in itself is interesting – different people choose to record different words for different reasons.  But more interesting, for me, is the visual element.


Parts of this (I call it my ‘materials map’) began with a doodle, an unfocused, diffuse thinking, pen to paper activity.  But the doodles in themselves then triggered further thoughts, or questions, in relation to the topic.

As a mind map this may be interesting for a reader, but is arguably far less transparent than written text.  It presents options about where to begin, and thoughts often articulated so briefly that they may be open to interpretation.  But for me this is far more representative of the inner workings of my mind than the more readable reflective mind maps above – and certainly more representative that the revision mind maps.  Let’s call this type ‘thought mapping’.  Despite the potential lack of lucidity in thinking maps, I include this one here in more detail, for a number of reasons.

  • Parts of it may be of interest to the reader – and more comprehensible to those that know me.
  • Some of the detail demonstrates more clearly the point I make about doodles and drawing serving to reveal and trigger further thought.
  • It’s a part of my process, and thus a part of my blog

These close-up sections of the map are presented in nine pieces, in sequence from left to right on three lines.


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Detail 2.  Jade Blue 2016

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Detail 3.  Jade Blue 2016.

The following section is of particular interest to me as it begins to demonstrate how the doodling process leads to further thought and evaluation of a point.


Notice the white circles on the grey background at the top left of the section.  This doodle, once in progress, reminded me of frog spawn, leading me to draw the frog seen in the first section, above.

This in turn triggered the question, ‘how does this relate to materials design?’ which reminded me of the quality of materials jumping off the page.  I then started looking into the symbolism of frogs, which led me to discover Philip Galanter’s discussion of Generative Art Theory in which he describes the frog as ever-changing and adapting.  It struck me how much this resonated with our role as language teachers and the role of materials – that we must always adapt what we do, and what we use, to suit the context.

So what began with a ‘mindless’ doodle, resulted in at most a revelation, and at least a reminder, of the role of materials in ELT.

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Detail 4.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 5.  Jade Blue 2016

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Detail 6.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 7.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 8.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 9.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 10.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 11.  Jade Blue 2016.

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Detail 12.  Jade Blue 2016.

Each of the three types of mind mapping that I’ve identified above: revision, reflective and thought mapping – has a value to the creator and/or the reader, in varying ways.  Each serves a different, but equally valuable purpose.  The third type, thought mapping, is that which most interests me.

The use of visuals in ELT is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and at the beginning of the course was an area I identified as wanting to explore further (as can be seen in detail 8, above).  I couldn’t have predicted the direction my thoughts and explorations would take, and it’s both exciting and rewarding to observe how my own learning processes have informed my specialised interests in teaching methodologies and techniques.

The most exciting thing that’s emerged for me during this process has been my interest in the use of learner generated visuals as a means of exploration and discovery, and thought mapping plays a large part in this.  Learner Generated Visuals and ways in which we can support learners in conceptualising language is an area I’m keen to explore further.

Encouraging learners to create their own, personalised, visual representations can be a powerful way to explore and evaluate language, enhancing interest and motivation as well as aiding retention, processing and comprehension.  I’m in the process of putting together a workshop session on this topic, which will explore a variety of practical activities for helping learners to conceptualise language through visual representations, from graphic frameworks to visual metaphors, using a range of media.  I also want the session to address learner inhibitions, demonstrating that artistic skill is not a prerequisite for exploring the non-verbal background of language.

Sousanis, N. (2015)  Unflattening.  London: Harvard University Press.  p70.

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