Concept Map

Concept Maps

What are they? How can they help? How do I make them?

What are concept maps?

​A concept map is graphic diagram illustrating the interconnections, and often the hierarchy, of a particular concept or topic. The use of concept maps was popularized with science educators by Joseph Novak and Bob Gowin based on the learning theories of David Ausubel. Different from a flowchart or an outline, a concept map is usually nonlinear and web-like. The main topic is connected to secondary subtopics, which in turn are connected to tertiary subtopics within the diagram. Concept maps are especially important in teaching science because they depict the interrelationships among the elements of a concept or a system. Adapted from Llewellyn, Douglas. "Making the Most of Concept Maps. " Science Scope. (Jan 2007)

Still don't get it? I don t blame you. Think of it this way, concept maps are just what they say they are, a map of a concept. They take an important topic and create a map of what's around it. They help you get from that topic to related smaller topics and from those smaller topics back to the main point.

This student-made example shows a concept map for the very large topic of Psychology. Notice how it organizes and maps the approaches to psychology. Key vocabulary, I call these varsity terms, are highlighted in yellow. Examples are highlighted in pink and important psychologists (varsity psychologists) are highlighted in blue.

How can concept mapping help me?

If you're not careful, learning the vocab for AP Psych can be like learning a new language. You'll make lists of words and try to memorize them, but you won't see how the whole thing fits together. Memorizing lists might work long enough for you pass a quiz, or maybe even cram for a test, but it won't stick in your long term memory and it certainly won't help your FRQs. Memorized lists decay quickly. Concept Maps create connections that stick.

If you force yourself to map a concept then you force yourself to see how all of the parts connect. Sure those connections are lines in your map, but more importantly, they're retrieval cues in your memory. They are a physical neural network you can access! With concept maps, when a test asks you a question, your brain accesses a web of knowledge and not just one lonely notecard. This makes you a much more powerful thinker. More importantly, the WHS AP Psych style of concept mapping encourages you to make connections to your life as well. Those connections help you create more retrieval cues and thus help grow that neural network. But all of this is secondary to the most important benefit. Our concept maps get you in the habit of applying Psych to better understand your world. And that, after all, is why you're taking this class.

How do I make a concept map?

Read. Read with a purpose. Read to better understand the topic. Read section headings to get the secondary topics. Read bold-faced / italicized words to get the tertiary topics.


Use class. Use class to learn about the topic. Use class to understand how the secondary topics can be organized. Use class to define the varsity terms and get personal examples.


Think. Think about the topic. Think about ​how you are going to organize your map. Think about definitions and examples that are meaningful to you.


Make a map. Make a map that starts with your topic. Make a map that addresses the whole topic. Make a map that organizes and relates the subtopics. Make a map that highlights varsity terms, varsity psychologists and your personal examples.


After years of using concept maps with my students, I am convinced that it is the single biggest reason for their success. Why? Because that is the overwhelming feedback they give me after the test. Many even continue the practice long into college. Below is a step-by-step guide that breaks down the process if you are new to concept mapping.

Step-by-step guide:

1. Read and think - if you skip these you can't move onto step 2

2. Get a blank piece of computer paper, a pencil (learning is messy), and three highlighters.

3. Start with the topic - in our class I give you an essential task for each reading. Start by writing the task down, not just the number, in one of the corners. Make this your purpose. Read to address this task, go to class to address this task and make a map that addresses this task.

4. Put the topic of that task as your biggest font. You can organize from the center out, from the top down, from the left to the right . . . whatever style works for you.

5. Use your plan from all that reading and thinking to layout the subtopics. Fully develop each subtopic. Include definitions, that you put in your own words, for any term you use.

6. Highlight any varsity terms (those are the terms that are italicized in the task on our syllabus) in one color.

7. Highlight any varsity psychologists in another color (also listed in our syllabus)

8. For every term you can, give a real life example and highlight that in a third color.

9. When you are happy with it use color to help you differentiate topic from secondary topic, from tertiary topic. OR Use color to group like topics. Your call.

10. Put your name on it.


You can choose to do this before class and then use class time to flesh out definitions and get better examples - or you can wait until after class to make your map. Regardless, you should be taking notes and actively adding to your concept map during class. I bring in material from 7 different text books to make sure you've got the whole task covered! Don't waste class time and don't assume you're above taking notes . . . because you aren't. If you can get the basic structure down before class, great! If you need extra help seeing how it all fits together, no worries. You can make your map after class. This will most likely be the case starting out. If you do show up to class without a map started, just make sure you've done some other form of active reading.


In class we'll add two more steps

1. You'll put your class notes on the back.

2. You'll answer the task in a few sentences on the back.

Still feel a little unsure . . . don't worry. Take a look at our first unit. I've made concept map templates for each task to help serve as training wheels. I'll take the wheels off by Unit 2, but I wanted to give you a little guided practice first.


Here is a copy of the Concept Map rubric we will use this year.​​

Want another example? Try this. How to Concept Map