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Author: John Mwangi Githigaro

students studying at library
I mainly teach undergraduate writing and research methods classes and wanted to share my experiences with mind mapping, also referred to as concept mapping. I’ve found that using it can significantly improve student papers. It’s an excellent innovation that requires student writers to visualize how they would like to approach a writing assignment before they start writing. It encourages them to identify their central idea and graphically illustrate how the main and supporting points advance the paper’s thesis or central idea. This approach comes in handy in laying out a structure for the paper before students start writing. When they plan their “route” first, they end up with papers that coherently make their way to a conclusion. Here’s how I introduce mind mapping: On the first day of class, I explain why mind mapping is not only a useful skill in terms of writing papers, but it also is a skill applicable in other classes, in future studies, and in their professional careers. This introduction is important because for most students, mind mapping is a new strategy. If they are familiar with it, they’ve used it to organize concepts presented in lecture or the text but not to plan papers. It’s a strategy that needs an introduction and the opportunity to practice. After my introduction, I kick off the approach with an exercise that helps students see the value of the strategy and helps them understand how to do it. I assign sample topic titles and ask the students to work in small groups of three or four to use those topics to construct a mind map. Then I ask the students to share their mind map designs with the class so that we can discuss them together. This process gives the groups feedback and encourages further consideration of how mind maps can be developed. I encourage students to share oral reflections offered in class and written ones recorded in journals students use to track their learning experiences in the course. Following the group presentations and our discussions, the next step is for students to develop a mind map for the first paper they are assigned to write. I have students submit these and don’t let them begin writing until I’ve approved their mind map. I want them to start with a map that shows a clear structure for the paper. Of course, the mind map is only part of what’s needed to prepare these papers. Students must also find and include references to scholarly work that support the arguments they are advancing in the paper. To encourage students to take this mind-mapping component of their paper preparation seriously, I include it in the assessment criteria I use to grade their papers. The organizational structure of their papers as laid out in their mind maps will comprise at least 10 to 15 percent of the overall grade in a writing class. This motivates students to work on their mind maps. I am very pleased with how this innovation is helping my students become better writers. John Mwangi Githigaro, St. Paul’s University and Limuru, Kenya, East Africa