The Diverse Uses of Concept Mapping

You may be wondering….

What is a concept map and what is it used for?

It is a “two dimensional hierarchical diagram node-link diagram that visually describes the structure and connections between concepts.” (McMurry, 2011)

I came across the strategy of concept mapping in my textbook Student Engagement Techniques. This got me thinking about how I use concept maps and I realized I have used them in limited ways while teaching. This blog post will explore some of the diverse applications for their use.

I currently use concept maps regularly in one particular way; having students demonstrate how a patient’s admission diagnosis relates to their medical history, and then how the patient’s medications, diagnostic test results and abnormal or pertinent normal lab work all interrelate as well. It really helps the students see how one thing impacts another. Many students love it. I find the linear thinkers hate it and fight it at first. Eventually some come to embrace it and others still dislike it in the end. As the students are learning how to develop their patient research skills we begin with a more systematic linear black and white approach. I give them a patient research tool to fill out. By starting here they all learn what are the integral pieces to know about their patients. After that is established, then I like to let them be creative and find their individualized approaches. I ask that everyone try out concept mapping at least twice and then they decide how best to demonstrate that they are making these links and connections. Many stick with concept mapping as they find it demonstrates their thinking better.

The first 9 minutes of this video are a great overview of how to use concept mapping in various applications. After the first 9 minutes, you can watch on for more info on how it can be used for evaluation, curriculum development and research and for a small research study the presenter did on using concept mapping in class.

After watching this video I want to increase the use of concept mapping as another diverse way to help students make connections, demonstrate their learning and engage diverse learners (those who are holistic thinkers, visual, creative, and those who are more right-brained).

These are some ways that I plan to utilize concept mapping in my teaching:

  • Groups: In groups either creating a concept map from scratch or having one partly filled out and they fill in the blanks to tie in a new concept.
  • Assess learning: Students at the end of class can sketch out what they learned that day. Kind of like a 5 minute paper but it is a 5 minute concept map. This will be a great assessment tool for me, to understand how students are tying in concepts, making links, where gaps may lie, etc.
  • Reflection: I also like the use of it with reflection so they can tie in what they have just learned to what they knew before.
  • Connect other courses: I will use it to help students tie together concepts they have learned in other courses in the nursing program and ultimately how this will help them when working with patients. All the courses our nursing students take feed into their nursing practice course. This will help them see how they all fit together so that they can more readily pull that knowledge through.
  • End of course: I also think it would be fun as an exercise at the end of a learning module or end of a course to tie all the loose ends together. This will help them view how they can take the learning they developed in this course and apply it in the future. Forward thinking.

If I were to integrate concept mapping into my class I would do it several times throughout the term so that they develop the skill of it. It does take some practice. I think it is a skill set that could help them make links in other classes too. This skill could also transfer to help them study for their other classes. They can use it to help them write papers as well. Once I learned about concept mapping from a fellow teacher I find I use it a lot in my teaching and my life in general. It could have come in handy in my University years for sure as this is very congruent with how my mind works and puts information together. It helps me organize my thinking in a more logical way.


Barkley, E.F. (2010) Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

McMurry, J. (2011). Concept mapping for learning, reflection and evaluation. University of Waterloo. Available at

About turnera2014

I am a Nursing (RN) Instructor taking the Professional Instructor Diploma Program at Vancouver Community College in hopes to challenge my current teaching modalities and inspire me to be the best teacher I can be.
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