I started teaching the concept of mind mapping to my oldest two children recently. They are at the point where they are reading quite a volume of books and I want to make sure they are comprehending what they are reading. I want them to start to produce book reports or oral presentations. However, when they try, they sometimes run into that age old problem of staring at a blank piece of paper and are not quite sure how to begin and how they will fill the page. The problem is that they are trying to start without any structure. It is easy to get paralyzed just wondering how to get to the end of a page or two without a plan. I’d like to help them start off on the right foot and think about their subject instead of thinking about what seems like the daunting nature of the task at hand.
I had already shown them the concept of an outline and talked to them about the structure of a five paragraph report. This very traditional structure has an introductory paragraph, three main points about your subject, and a conclusion. But when you’re coming up with the material to fill the report, you’re still drawing a blank especially when you try to think about the order that you want to cover your points at the same time that you are trying to generate them.
Since the time I grew up, there are some new skills that make the process a lot easier. I explained to them that I use mind maps at the start of the process of organizing my thoughts. Mind mapping has less structured than an outline but it is not quite as free-form as brainstorming. I find that brainstorming does not give enough direction and I don’t think that is very conducive to the way that people think. I find it much easier to produce a mind map and once the mind map is done, prioritize the nodes within the mind map to produce an outline. Once I have an outline I’m ready to start my article. I think that one of the easiest ways to create the article from this point is to pretend that I’m talking to someone who doesn’t know about the subject that I’m presenting. I approach it in a conversational style. Or if my imaginary audience is familiar with the subject then I am probably going to be telling them about new details or new information about that subject. Once I have an idea of how to approach this in a conversational style, I can use the mind map as a guide to generating a report.
At this point it is probably a good idea to define what mind mapping actually is. A mind map is started with a central topic and it is put in a circle in the middle of a piece of paper. Alternatively, software can be used to build the mind map. Lines are extended from the main circle to create a new node for every idea that branches from that main idea. The branches can go off in any direction, it doesn’t really matter at this point. The ideas that go in nodes also go within circles. A new node can be generated one for any idea that is associated with the topic. This is the part of my mapping that is closest to brainstorming. There are also sub-nodes that can be added to each node in the mind map. This will break that node down into more detail. This should be done in somewhat of a free format, rapid manner.
Once all the topics are listed on a mind map, the nodes can be reviewed and filtered out if they don’t really belong there. The nodes can also be prioritized. They can be numbered in order of importance or in the order that they will be covered in the report or presentation. On paper, this can be done by simply writing numbers on each of the main nodes. Now that the nodes are in order, this process can also be applied to the sub-nodes. Once it is done, the mind map can easily transferred to an outline.
When I create a mind map, what I normally do next is record myself talking about the subjects in the order that I’ve chosen on my MP3 player. I imagine that I am speaking to someone about this subject. It might take a couple of takes to get a clean recording without pauses. Each recording gets a little easier. Once I have a recording that I am happy with, I use computer software that translates speech to text to transcribe the article into a word processor. I listen to the recordings with my headphones and repeat it into a microphone with the software running. Once I have my document, I can edit it the way I would edit any other document that I would write. If I want to take it a step further, I can now read the edited document out loud with a microphone and record it in audio format on my computer so I can have it in multiple formats.
When it comes to teaching this to my children, my hope is that using this technique will not only increase my children’s ability to write but also make the whole process a little more fun and not so much of a chore. I hope that it adds to their creativity and allows them to explore their ideas without trying to edit themselves before they get a chance to fully consider their thoughts.
I hope that you can use this information and incorporate it into your own child’s education and see if it is something that you think might work for you.