Concept Mapping as a Review Tool

It's that time of year for those of us on the semester block system - end of course content state exams loom large and student stress is at an all time high. The longer I teach in this environment, the more I see how these tests push teachers to provide packet after packet for review. The stakes are so high for everyone - and teachers are afraid they missed something. A few years ago I decided to ditch the county review packet for something else - an open ended, student led, collaborative concept mapping project and I am never going back to the old way!  

All semester, we have worked on making connections between concepts as we move through our curriculum. The week of our exam my students spend the three days leading up to the exam creating concepts maps of everything they know -  big 6x3 foot maps with colors, sketches, and lots of great conversations. The instructions they are given are pretty broad on purpose. I want students to have to THINK about what they know and how they know it. They are told they need to decide what the central/big idea is; it has to be a concept map/web (not a list); topics must flow one to the next; and lastly, content is more important than artistic ability - though creativity is absolutely encouraged. Students work in groups of 3 and assign roles to each other (researcher, creative director, and manager.)

The benefits of ditching the packet have been amazing. Students of all levels stay engaged in this process for three block periods without fail (sometimes more when they come back to work at other points during the day!)  Students use their notebooks, whiteboards, and sticky notes to really brainstorm about what they know and find the gap in their knowledge all on their own. As I walk the around the room and answer questions, I hear students talking about connections, experiencing light bulb moments, and helping each other. Not one student looks stressed, bored, or unable to contribute.  

I would encourage all teachers to give this review method a try - even if, maybe… ESPECIALLY IF - you are in a high stakes testing atmosphere.  

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Comments 3

Dan Meyers's picture
Dan Meyers | Thu, 12/10/2015 - 14:50

How do the test scores compare when you've used the concept mapping versus the review packet? Have test scores improved, are students' stress levels going down, or both?

Shannon Bowen's picture
Shannon Bowen | Fri, 12/11/2015 - 19:59

I would say both!  When I started using the concept mapping a few things happened -- students worked much harder and much longer on the process than they ever did on the worksheet/packet approach; students weren't complaining about the review process - in fact the started coming in during FLEX (our end of the day optional help time) and sometimes during lunch to keep working on the maps; since there were no "answers" or clear end point - any time they slowed down and asked me to look for things that were missing - all I would have to do was mention a few things that I didn't see and they were off and running again; and it was leading to really great discussions among students.  I think the process itself - letting kids really get on paper what they know in a BIG way and giving them the time to talk to each other about it in an open ended way - gave them confidence, which really reduced their overall stress.

My students overall scores have gone up across the board.  The lower/regular students get the boost they need to get them solidly in the passing range for the exam - and the mid/higher level students have really stepped up their game and do an outstanding job (passing with advanced scores well above before the mapping.)

Tracy Schloemer's picture
Tracy Schloemer | Fri, 01/01/2016 - 14:49


This is awesome. I used to do a lot of this...and then I stopped when I switched schools.

Anyways, I'm curious to know what sorts of common misconceptions/partial conceptions that crop up? Were there any that surprised you that were present (or weren't present)?