Friday, June 30, 2006

Using mind maps for concept questions

If you are a language teacher, you probably already use mind maps to help your students learn vocabulary. These mind maps are sometimes referred to as “vocabulary networks” or “word maps”. One popular use of such mind maps is organising vocabulary groups, e.g. your central theme is “food” and your sub-themes are “meat”, “fruit”, “vegetables” etc. Another way might be to associate the various nouns, adjectives and verbs with your central theme, e.g. television, programme, film, switch on, watch, interesting, boring...
But have you considered using mind maps for teaching grammar points? Anyone with a TEFL qualification will be familiar with using concept questions to help students understand a tricky element of grammar in English. For example, when giving advice, an English speaker invariably uses the modal verbs should or ought to. There are likely no equivalent verbs in your students’ language, so you would ask concept questions to check that they have understood:

you should see a doctor
Is it an obligation to see a doctor? – no
Is it a good idea to see a doctor? – yes

By answering these two questions, the learner has a good notion of when to use should. But putting these questions into a mind map will help your learner to both visualise the concepts and retain them for future use. In my classes, I write up two questions side by side and circle them. The questions are, “Is it necessary?” and “Is it allowed?” I then start to make my mind map by writing the only two possible answers, yes or no? I then try to elicit the modal verbs, must, mustn’t, have to, don’t have to, can, can’t, according to the answer, and write them in the appropriate place on the mind map.

Perhaps my explanations here aren’t really clear. That’s exactly why mind-mapping is a better way to help your students visualise the concepts. You can try to explain until you’re blue in the face, but a simple diagram does the trick quickly and effectively. You can see an example of a mind map that I created on my site – really, a picture does paint a thousand words!

Think about what points of grammar you are having trouble teaching and start developing concept questions that you can put into a mind map. For my French students, the present perfect causes no end of confusion, because they use the same construction to talk about completed past actions – yesterday, I have been to the cinema. What concept questions do you think could help them see the difference between “I went” and “I’ve been”? It’s up to you to use your imagination!


Jeremy said...

Very good article. I love working with mind maps myself and I think you're completely right when you say that it's only about trying. Mind maps are quite challenging. Indeed there are no limits, and results are always much higher than expected. And I think it's because mind maps are constructions which require a strong effort of conciseness and synthesis. I'll check if you've published some more about mind maps.

wonyho said...

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