memory mapping



`When my teacher uses memory maps it helps me to see how it all fits together. We learned the story of Macbeth using a memory map. We thought it was really exciting. I thought, "If I were Macbeth, would I be so bad?" I hope not! Maybe the king would have just died anyway, and Macbeth needn't have killed him. The witches are exciting because they just stir things up and disappear. It made me go all tingly to think about it. Some people say Macbeth is boring, but I think that is just because they don't understand the story. Memory maps help because you can see the whole thing on the board and draw pictures to help you remember it.'  Ellen, age 10 


We are all natural mappers. The brain responds to stimuli by creating complex electro-chemical activity. In each new situation, the pattern of complex connections will be different. For example, when Harry plays in the water tray with a big blue funnel, he will recall that the water splashes, that his sleeves may get wet, and that if he lets go of the funnel, Marco may take it. The next time that he plays in the water tray, he may well make a connection about the seaside, because someone naughty put some sand in the water! He may also decide to try to tie the big blue funnel to his apron strings, because at the weekend he watched Mommy attach the dog’s leash to her belt as she rushed to answer the phone. Harry may also, at the same time, be wondering if he should try to fit the sand under the shells, because the teacher may blame him for putting the sand in the water. Yet he knows that the sand will not stay under the shells, because he’s tried that before, the last time that he put sand in the water tray! Maybe, he thinks, it would be better to play with the play-dough, after all. But then again, how would the play-dough feel if he put it in the water tray?


In Harry’s mind a complex map is forming as he plays. Connections are being made between concepts from a wide variety of experiences. He is not aware of the origin of most of his thoughts, but he is connecting continually. We all map, all the time. No two maps are the same, not even the maps of the same person in the same situation, as the connections that we make are complex and incredibly detailed. Using mapping techniques with children in the classroom utilizes the fact that we naturally make connections. Putting a map onto paper draws the learner’s attention to the connections that otherwise may remain subconscious. It also gives the teacher the opportunity to engage with the thinker, to add more connections, to draw attention to new ideas, and to assess the understanding of the child.


At the end of this page is the simple memory map drawn by a class of young children who were learning about doctors.  The teacher worked with the class to memory map their knowledge before the topic started, and again at the end. This activity enabled her to assess how much the children had learned, and how successful her teaching had been. A few months later, she memory mapped again, to assess how much had been retained. This gave her the information she needed to plan her next topic. By grouping children to map, she could assess individual progress and depth of understanding.


Teachers of older children often ask individuals to memory map their understanding of a topic, then add to the map at the end of each session. This gives children a clear idea of their own progress, and an excellent revision tool! Many ALPS teachers display memory maps on the classroom walls, using them for reference during lessons and to make connections between one lesson and the next.



Five principles of memory mapping:


Write the key concept in the middle.

bulletBranch off with ideas as children suggest them.
bulletWrite only key words and use lots of symbols.

Begin to group and organize as ideas start to flow.

bulletUse arrows and colors to connect ideas.

Copyright © 2013 Nicola J. Call