Like many teachers I suspect, I find it really hard to help young people understand the notion of key words and concepts. An understanding of the hierarchy of categorisation is an essential skill if we want to distil an idea, to discern the thrust of an argument, to synthesise thoughts.


 Mind Mapping is a tool I have used for many years to support creativity and note making. Even when cutting out the need for correct spelling and full sentences, I find, too often, that we end up with simple hubs with ideas radiating from a central image.



Making free associations is a terrific method of getting the creative juices going. Moving on to make a structured representation of one’s thoughts for a piece of writing for a presentation is the next step – which can be very demanding. Sometimes a simple Venn diagram can be the way to refine ideas:

School Venn 2

The notion of branching from main idea to topic to sub-topic is crucial if information is to be processed and connections between and among various concepts are to be made.

Today I think I found one way to teach this better.

I asked a group of 11 year olds to plan a presentation, ‘All About Us’. We used Post-Its to write or draw things about ourselves we thought might interest someone we had just met. Only single words or simple images were allowed. There was lively debate about how we classified our notes when we tried to group them. Is surfing a pastime, a hobby or an organised activity as opposed to one we can do any time, like reading or drawing? Many of the youngsters had a strong interest in music so this became a separate category. We ended up with: Music, Hobbies, People we care about, Sports.

We then made a word cloud with We copied their names 6 times, the categories 4 times and the specific activities once, twice if more than one person had suggested it.


Each child then used different highlighter pens to classify Main Idea, Topic and Sub-topic, after discussion about the relative sizes of the words.Finally I let them loose on Kidspiration to begin Mind Maps with a central topic of their choosing with between 3 and 4 ‘branches’.

 We’ll see what happens next week when we move on to the ‘twigs’.

And now I’m worrying that I’m encouraging inflexible thinking by insisting on categorisation. The next challenge will be to enable the youngsters to understand that ‘Everything is Miscellaneous’ while retaining a sense of how to order their thoughts