Concept Maps

Want an interesting assignment to help students make connections between different aspects of a course? How about assigning a concept map!

When you draw a concept map, you start with the main concept that you wish students to focus on in the centre. Then, you draw arrows to related concepts, and draw arrows from those related concepts to other relevant course concepts, until you have a web of interrelated concepts with descriptions of how they connect to each other.

Concepts maps have a number of positive effects on students.

  • They help students to make connections between related course concepts, and build mental bridges.i
  • They help students understand the bigger picture of what they are learning instead of just the individual pieces.ii
  • Concepts maps are a great way for instructors to see how well students grasp the overarching themes of a course.iii
  • They also help instructors quickly identify any major student misconceptions that would otherwise have gone unnoticed.iv Concept maps are extremely flexible in how they can be applied. They are particularly useful in classes that involve lots of conceptual thought, as well as classes with large volumes of information to be learned.v
  • Concept maps can be used for detailed connections (e.g. the interactions between molecules in the kidney) or broad concepts (e.g. the effects of global warming).vi
  • Always remember to have your student write down how each concept is connected to the others.vii
  • If you feel that its too much time and trouble to assign and collect students’ concept maps, then take the time to do one with students in the class. Using an overhead projector, or the white board, draw out a concept map and ask students to think of connections. Make it a 10 or 15 minute group activity that will invigorate the students.viii

If you wish to learn more about how to use problem-based learning in your classes, contact the Centre for Teaching and Learning at


  1. Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. (1993) Classroom Assessment Techniques. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Horton, P. B., and McConney, A. A., Gallo, M., Woods, A. L., Senn, G. J., and Hamelin, D. (1993) An Investigation of the Effectiveness of Concept Mapping as an Instructional Tool. Science Education, 77(1), 95-111.
  3. Novak, J. D. (1990) Concept Mapping, a Useful Tool in Science Education. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 27(10), 937-949.
iAngelo, 1993, 197.
iiAngelo, 1993, 197.
iiiAngelo, 1993, 201.
ivNovak, 1990, 946.
vAngelo, 1993, 198.
viNovak, 1990, 944.
viiAngelo, 1993, 200.
viiiHorton, McConney, et al, 1993, 107.

Need a few examples of concept maps?

So, to start with, here's a general outline of how a concept map should be structured:
Concept Maps

Now that you see how a concept map should be structured, let’s move on to a simple and easily understandable example across all disciplines.
Concept Map Structure

Getting into some more discipline specific examples, here’s how you could tailor your concept map to Chemistry:
Concept Map Chemistry

And, of course, this will look very different than the concept map style used for the social sciences:
Concept Map Social Sciences


  1. Novak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas, The Theory Underlying Concept Maps and How to Construct Them, Technical Report IHMC CmapTools 2006-01 Rev 01-2008, Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition, 2008", available at:
  2. Untitled Concept Map image. Retrieved July 10th 2011 from:
  3. Untitled Concept Map image. Retreived July 10, 2011 from:
  4. Concept Map. Retreived July 10, 2011, from:,5.html

iNovak, J. D. & A. J. Cañas.  Untitled Concept Map. Retrieved July 10 2011 from:
iiUntitled Concept Map image. Retrieved July 10th 2011 from:
iiiUntitled Concept Map image. Retreived July 10, 2011 from:
ivConcept Map. Retreived July 10, 2011, from:,5.html


~ Western Washington University's video on Concept Maps


-Rebecca Schaeffer, June 2011