Mindmapping Our Presearch Notes: Seeing Patterns and Gaps


For the last month or so, I’ve been working with a section of Honors 9th Language Arts (hopefully, another more comprehensive post coming on this endeavor later in the spring).   After completing a class study of To Kill a Mockingbird, the students selected a motif of choice and began presearching a topic of choice related to the motif.   After completing a presearch search term map and arriving at a narrowed topic (which I’ve blogged about earlier this semester), we moved forward with another and more focused round of presearch while using EasyBib to capture information sources and take notes.   After approximately two and a half weeks, most students had a body of notes on their focused topic.  However, after many 1:1 student conferences and a formative assessment of collecting and reading their notes, the teacher and I realized many students were struggling with:

1.  Recording relevant information from their information sources.

2.  Taking notes in “bite-sized” portions.

3.  Being discerning about information that would help them go beyond merely reporting and instead, help them dig into the higher level thinking and questions that we wanted to anchor their inquiry.

After addressing some of these challenges with a mini-lesson and small group or individual conferences, we felt the students needed a more concrete way of discovering the patterns of information as well as the gaps in their notes. We asked students to print out their e-notes from EasyBib and gave them supplies (Sharpies, markers, large/oversized  sticky notes) to help them map out the information they had collected up to that point in their notes.  We discussed some strategies for identifying major topics and subtopics as well a sample mindmap of notes. Students were assigned a working area with a partner so that they had a “research buddy” to help them think through their process as needed and worked on their maps about a day and a half.

We wanted the class to have an opportunity to look at their peers’ maps and provide feedback; we knew our students would need a little scaffolding to provide meaningful peer feedback, so we took a few minutes to review their peer review activity guidelines with them.  We spread out the maps and placed pads of lined sticky notes at each table of notes mindmaps.  We asked students to write their feedback on these sticky notes and to include their name, their feedback, and the feedback category number (see the handout embedded below).  We discussed ideas for meaningful feedback (including a list of idea/conversation starters) that were numbered so that they could include the “feedback category” ID number on the sticky note as an extra layer of clarification.

As students walked around giving feedback, we also instructed them to keep a running record of the maps they were reviewing and quick notes about what they were seeing (see page 2 of the document embedded above).







We initially thought the students could complete the activity in 12-15 minutes, but in spite of our best efforts to be proactive, we had about a quarter of the class that had difficulty staying on task, participating, or making a legitimate effort to provide meaningful feedback.  Because our studio space had been reserved for another activity the following day, we had to adjust our plans to complete the activity in the teacher’s classroom, a space that really was not conducive to the activity or an ideal learning environment for this kind of activity.  However, we had no choice, so we had to adjust as best we could.   I hung some of the maps on whatever wall space I could find; for the rest of the maps, I had students place desks together in pairs and utilized that surface space for the remaining maps.  We thought they could complete feedback within another ten minutes, but some of the very same behavior issues that plagued us the day before were again problematic even after we enlisted the assistance of an assistant principal to conference with some of the students outside of class as part of our efforts to address the previous day’s issues.  However, we stayed the course and tried to redirect students as needed so that we could get as much helpful peer review for everyone as possible.



Once we brought the peer review to a close, students paired up once again with their research buddy and used the Making Thinking Visible learning structure of Compass Points to help students reflect on the mindmapping process and peer review activity.  Each pair received a graphic organizer to complete their ideas they were to share and discuss.


After having 5-7 minutes to discuss and record their observations and ideas, we asked each pair to do a quick share of their notes with the large group.   Students noted effective map organization strategies as well as what constituted “good” or quality information from the notes in the maps.  However, many students noticed that quite a few maps lacked depth of information; others noted that better organization was needed in structuring topics and subtopics. In spite of some of the challenges we encountered, we felt most students truly benefitted from the mapping activity itself as well as the peer review.

When we returned from spring break, we returned maps to the students along with the sticky note feedback others gave from the peer review activity.  We then asked students to think about what they had in their notes and maps that was helpful and what was missing.  Students then had the class period to complete two thinking/reflection exercises:

1.  The question lenses activity that I borrowed last semester from my friend Heather Hersey (and blogged about; also see Sarah Ludwig’s awesome adaptation of this thinking exercise–I would have totally done her version if we had more time in our schedule for this project).  We framed this thinking exercise as a way of addressing gaps or “struggle areas” of their mindmaps and as a means of thinking about next steps for our new round of additional research for the week.


2.  They then had time to complete  mindmapping reflection questions via a Google Survey embedded in the project LibGuide.

We collected the hard copies of the question lens activity; I downloaded the responses from the Google Sheet as an Excel spreadsheet and then ran a mail merge so that the teacher and I both had easy to read hard copies of the student responses.    Common feedback ran along the lines of these statements:

  • The mindmapping process helped me better organize my ideas.
  • The mindmapping process helped me realize I didn’t have enough information about my topic.
  • The mindmapping process gave me new perspectives I had never considered.
  • The peer feedback helped me rethink one of my subections and a new direction for research.
  • Organizing my topics and subtopics was harder than I realized.
  • The mindmap challenged me to make sense of my notes (more intentional thought as opposed to just randomly taking notes).
  • I realized some of the information I had taken notes on really did not fit with my narrowed topic focus.
  • Mindmapping helped me visualize how my pieces of information fit and relate to each other.
  • Writing in short phrases or brief key ideas was challenging for me; I wanted to copy my notes as they were in complete sentences.
  • Mindmapping was challenging because categorizing my ideas and information into subtopics was difficult.
  • The mindmapping process helped me to see I need to slightly change my topic focus from A to B.
  • I realized the notes I have are lacking in meaningful detail.
  • The mindmapping process has allowed me to see/find a deeper personal connection to my overall topic.
  • The mindmapping process has helped me to see I need to go deeper with my information and further develop the topic.
  • The mindmapping processes helped me better see the strengths and weaknesses of my research and better refine my subtopics.
  • The peer feedback helped me to see I need to regroup my ideas on my map.
  • The question lenses activity helped me to look at my project from a different point of view and to rethink what information I should now focus on gathering.

I’m happy the mindmapping activity and peer review provided students the opportunity to wrestle with their notes and the information they had gathered during our first round of presearch.  My hope was that the process would nudge their thinking because it was clear within the first few days of working with the students that they were used to reporting information as opposed to researching, a distinction my colleagues who blog at Letting Go have made in previous posts.  I know that for some students, the uncertainty and our pushing them to think more deeply beyond shallow, surface level work has been uncomfortable, but we have tried to give them as much support as we can to help them develop new strategies and resilience in this inquiry focused project.  I think it is especially important with freshmen to provide and scaffold these kinds of learning experiences, particularly if they have had few or no opportunities to develop these kinds of information literacy skills and processes.

Their teacher and I are proud nearly every student has either had the confidence and persistence to move forward this past week wherever they have been on the spectrum of the quality and depth of their work.  Several have regrouped and have been digging in to act on the next steps they identified from their insights and reflections on their work.   It takes grit on the part of students, teachers, and librarians to grapple with these kinds of challenges, but it is so gratifying to see the individual growth and forward momentum for each student.  They are now starting to sketch out their multigenre products, and we’ll be moving forward with creating those artifacts and the supporting notes narratives/compositions.

Pre-Search and Mindmapping to Narrow a Topic Focus


In my last post, I shared how we were moving deeper with our second round of more targeted pre-search after students had narrowed topic choices to one from their work with the first phase of pre-search.  To help our students begin to make sense of the information they had collected during their second round of pre-search, Sarah and I introduced mindmapping to our two classes.   There were a couple of factors that influenced this decision:

Getting Started and What We Did


We introduced the concept of mindmapping by defining what it was, discussing ways we could use utilize it, looking at examples, and then offering three approaches to give students a starting point.  We gave them the choice of using one of our approaches, mashing and mixing up those options to make it their own, or mapping in an original that made sense to them.  We encouraged them to go deeply back into their annotations and KWL notes as they looked at their work both horizontally and vertically through the mindmapping processes.  We provided them oversized blue sticky notes although a few students selected a larger version of the easel-sized Post-It Notes.  In addition, we provided a small tub full of different colored Sharpies, and Sarah provided a jumbo box of Crayola markers.  We also gave students many choices in sizes of smaller sticky notes they could use if they wanted to identify patterns they were saying or to incorporate into the mindmap as an organizational tool for smaller bits of information.

Note:  In hindsight, I would introduce Evernote to students as a tool for organizing or capturing their work on the Post-it notes and purchase the sticky note types recommended by Evernote so that students could later easily search their handwritten notes (also see these recommended oversized Post-It notes that would be perfect for this activity).  Evernote would be a perfect way to help students archive and organize these types of notes, and it would be a great medium for students to take advantage of our district’s new BYOD policies this year.

Students spent roughly 3.5 days working on their maps.  We were struck by how intensely they worked and how focused they were in class on drafting their mindmaps as well as the diversity in the ways they organized their ideas.  While some students worked alone, most chose to partner with a research/inquiry buddy as they composed their mindmaps.

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At the end of each day, we asked students to hang their works in progress in the windows of our rotunda area for safekeeping; these maps, though, quickly became a conversation piece in the library as well as a form of art!   The mindmap gallery is something I highly recommend if you have wall or window space to do it.  We were a bit awestruck that nearly every student came in on the second and third days and grabbed their mindmaps with no prompting before immediately settling into their work.

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Sharing Our Thinking Aloud in Small and Large Groups

The next step in our process upon completing our mindmaps was to have students pair up and interview each other about their mindmaps.  We asked students to share with each other:

  • how they approached their mindmap
  • how the mindmapping process helped them hone in on their topics
  • how the mindmapping process helped them think more deeply and/or differently about their topic
  • what was clearer to the student about their topic after completing the mindmapping process
  • patterns or themes that might have emerged through the mindmapping process
  • gaps or missing pieces of information/questions still lingering after the mindmapping process

We provided the students a handout to help them take notes about their responses, but after seeing how our 2nd period students were stymied from verbal conversation by having this handout during the interviewing piece of the activity, we waited until after they had to time to discuss before giving it to students with our 3rd period class.  Once students finishing interviewing each other and recording their responses, we asked them to look at the topic triangle/funnel on that same handout and to to share/discuss/record how they had narrowed their topic through the mindmapping process. This part of the activity took roughly 25 or so minutes.

We then moved to large group share with each pair of students coming up to the Verb easel board, hanging their mindmaps, and sharing their responses from the pair-share interviews with the entire class.  This part of the activity served a couple of purposes:

  • We wanted students to hear each other’s thinking and processes aloud so that they could hopefully gain insights from each other and to see the diversity in the way they approached the task and how the mindmapping was helping them toward a more focused topic for further research.
  • It was an opportunity for Sarah and I to constructively pose questions about the ideas they were sharing and “conference” aloud with the students as part of our efforts to confirm they were heading on the right track or to “nudge” their thinking if they were still a bit unfocused or too broad with their topics.  Students could also ask questions of those speaking or to offer suggestions.  Most students were very comfortable with this aspect of the group share, but we did find there were those who were pushed out of their comfort zone since many of their previous “research” experiences were somewhat superficial and did not require them to really focus a self-selected topic.  While it is a challenging endeavor, we know that students building resilience in developing a topic is an academic skill they will need for future academic experiences.  We will continue to follow-up with individual or small group conferences over the next week with those who still needed some help in further focusing their topic.
  • We like giving them opportunities to speak in front of their peers–these experiences are gentle “rehearsals” that help them warm-up for larger presentations.

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This large group share took about a class period’s worth of time over two days.   I hope to have a follow-up blog post to this one up tomorrow or Monday with some student feedback/interview with their reflections on these processes and activities.

In the meantime, I want to share just  a few things Sarah and I have observed in this extended inquiry unit so far in recent days and that we’re contemplating:

  • As energizing as inquiry-based work is for some students, it can be frustrating or even threatening to other students because this approach disrupts the traditional ways of academic success and learning in our test driven culture (I know, you’ve heard me say this multiple times in the past!).   Finding the balance between gently pushing students and honoring that discomfort as you try to help students work through it is not always easy, especially when their frustration may even manifest itself in negative behaviors toward you as an instructor or even toward fellow students.
  • We’ve both been thinking more intentionally about assessment and struggling with the realities of grade-driven school experiences that impact both teachers and students.   Helping students keep their eye on what they are learning, encouraging them to risks as learners, and asking them to have faith in you during this process can all be challenging tasks, but we believe they are all worth our efforts to help our students.  I’ll also write more about formative assessment related to their annotating skills and KWL charts in an upcoming post to share dilemmas of assessing this kind of “process” work in a way that is true to the spirit of our inquiry unit as well as what we have learned in looking at these pieces of work.
  • It is an absolute joy to work with another teacher in this way—I have learned so much from Sarah over these last few weeks and so admire how well she knows her students and how that factors into the way she not only responds to them and interacts with them but how those insights inform the way we shape and tweak our learning activities to meet them at their points of need as learners and individuals.  I also love that I’m learning from the students and genuinely appreciate the opportunity to have extended time with them in this unit.

As part of our efforts to give them some strategies for narrowing their topics or to look at their topics through different lenses or perspectives, we utilized a strategy from my friend and colleague Heather Hersey, a school librarian in Seattle.  I’ll discuss this strategy and how it led to one final activity in this progression of learning experiences for helping students narrow a topic in my next blog post.  Overall, we are very pleased with the incorporation of mindmapping into the inquiry process—so much in fact that students will actually be incorporating them into their multigenre projects they’ll be creating soon (yes, a blog post forthcoming on that, too).  We hope you’ll continue to follow our journey of learning through our LibGuide where our Tweets, photos, resources, videos, and previous blog posts are all housed.

What strategies are you using to help students narrow their topics and take an inquiry stance on learning?  I would love to hear from anyone who is using mindmapping or other techniques to help students focus their topics and their pre-search in an organic and authentic way!

Media 21 Student Shares Her Creative Approach to Mindmapping

Earlier this week, I blogged about about first efforts in Media 21 to use mindmapping as a strategy for thinking and inquiry as well as a springboard for discussion in our Fishbowl groups.  One of our creative mindmappers took a few minutes today to share her first two mindmaps that go  outside some of the traditional mediums and how mindmapping helps her as a learner.

Initiating Inquiry: Mindmapping and Fishbowl Discussions for Connecting and Building Background Knowledge

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Susan Lester’s 10th Honors World Literature/Composition students recently began a novel study of All Quiet on the Western Front.    Since students knew little about World War I, we gave students the opportunity to choose a World War I topic of interest to them ( a menu was provided but students could come up with their own topics, too) to research.  Susan and I decided to help students dwell in the connecting stage of inquiry by having students mindmap their research and then share those findings in a Fishbowl discussion group.  Using mindmaps that Howard Rheingold’s students created and published as our models, we gave students the choice for the tools and mediums they wanted to use to mindmap the key ideas and findings of their research on their topic.  Most preferred creating their mindmaps with concrete materials like paper and ink, but others like using Word or Bubbl.us.

After our Fishbowl meeting and having time to share our mindmaps last Tuesday, students shared their reflections on the effectiveness of mindmaps as a medium for sharing key ideas and information.

  • Students were generally quite positive about the process and indicated it was helpful in better discerning important information and big ideas as well as organizing that information; this feedback was encouraging since these were challenges students identified in our research  project last semester.
  • Other students shared they felt they were able to initiate and sustain a richer level of participation and engagement as members of their Fishbowls because the mindmap helped them easily remember key ideas they wanted to share and was a quick way to prompt talking points as opposed to looking a written reflection.
  • Several students also indicated they felt creating the mindmap helped them better synthesize and remember the information they were finding in their research.
  • Some students indicated they would enjoy having the option to create a mindmap rather than always writing a narrative reflection for Fishbowl discussions about their novel/book studies.
  • One student shared that the mindmapping helped her feel as though her Fishbowl now had multiple experts on different topics and that the group was able to cover a broader amount of information with more depth; additionally, she thought the mindmap sharing created a different element of fun for the Fishbowl discussion.  She described mindmapping as helping students to create a “3D” perspective about a topic instead of just “brushing the surface with a boring 2D” perspective.

A few students indicated they encountered difficulty in the mindmapping process and in looking at some student mindmaps, we could see others might need some help in the organization of their mindmaps.   For our next mindmapping endeavor, I think I will scaffold their skills by doing a group think and do a group exercise in which we create a mindmap together to help those who are struggling and to grow the skills of those who feel comfortable with that  strategy.  I am also hopeful I can encourage other teachers to try this strategy in other courses and continue to grow my best practices for teaching students mindmapping.

If you are using mindmapping as a tool for building and sharing background knowledge, what strategies or approaches are you taking help students learn this skill and medium?  I encourage teachers, professors, and librarians to share your ideas here in the comments.

Map Your Ideas with Mindomo


After experiencing a creative breakthrough while running in the Georgia heat and humidity this morning, I was finally able to pull together ideas that have been swirling in my head all summer, ideas that have been at the edges of my mind, but that I somehow couldn’t seem to verbalize in a more concrete format.   As I’ve been trying hard to get these ideas committed to print and out of my head in preparation for a presentation I will be giving to my faculty next week, I wanted to provide a visual representation of these ideas.  I decided to lay the groundwork for my “presentation zen” edition of the PowerPoint by creating a mindmap using Mindomo.

Why Mindomo?  I first encountered an example of a mindmap created with this web based software at the beginning of January 2009; I unfortunately didn’t take notes on how I found this first example, but it impressed me enough that I knew I wanted to try it this summer.  At first, I had difficulty figuring out the user menu, but after fumbling around, I finally figured it out for the most part this weekend.

Some advantages of Mindomo over some other mindmapping software I sampled:

  • It is web based, so no special software is needed; you can enjoy the advntages of cloud computing.
  • Many different menu options for formatting and embedding content are included.  I especially love that you can easily embed  YouTube videos!
  • You can enable others to collaborate and add content to your mindmap.
  • Several publishing options are available, including publishing your mindmap as a web page or embed code.
  • Web links and videos work live in the web page version of your mindmap; viewers can also read your notes!
  • You can go with a free version that includes Google AdSense ads or pay to have an account with some additional features and no ads.  You  can do a six month premium account or a twelve month option; I decided to go with the six month option.

You can view my map by clicking on this link here. You can click on the numbers 1, 2, and 3 in the upper right hand corner to expand levels of topics and subtopics.  If you click on the “+” symbol next to a box, you can also expand the content.  In addition, you an adjust the view by using the slider bar in the lower right hand corner to increase or decrease the viewing area of the map.

The map is a visualization of my vision,  mission, philosophy, and goals for my library program for 2009-10.  By creating this map today, I can now begin to organize my PowerPoint, which will incorporate the principles of presentation zen I have used earlier this year.  I am hopeful that my multimedia presentation will capture the minds and hearts of my faculty either refresh or reinvent their perception of the potential and possibilities of our library.

In addition to the striking visual appeal and organization of the map, I especially like that I can add interactive content to make my map more organic and dynamic.    If you are looking for a tool to create memorable mindmaps, I highly recommend you give Mindomo a try!