Making Concept Maps

Concept maps are fantastic ways to organize and structure large amounts of information in a way that will not only help you to remember the information, but to put it to work. The biggest task facing a student of general biology is to understand the proper relationships between the concepts. Concept-mapping is the best technique I have come across that assists students in building these relationships.

How to Construct a Concept Map

1. If no list of concepts for a given lecture or reading is provided, the first step is to make such a list. Start by asking yourself: "What was the lecture/reading about?" Your answer will provide the starting (most general) concepts. As you think about these further, your list of concepts should grow.

2. Rank the concepts in your list from most general to most specific, being aware that several concepts may have the same level of generality. If you get stuck trying to determine the relative ranks of two related concepts, try asking yourself: "Which one could be comprehended without reference to the other?" The answer is probably the more general concept.

3. Place the most general concept at the top of the page in the center and draw a circle around it.

4. Below the most general concept, arrange the next-most-general rank of concepts in a way that will leave adequate space below them to add the next rank. Circle these concepts and add solid lines without arrowheads, linking them to the most general concept.

5. Label the linkages with short phrases, or even single words, that properly relate the linked concepts. When you place Concept 1, a linkage phrase and Concept 2 in sequence, a sensible phrase should result.

6. Work down the page, adding ranks of ever-more specific concepts. The most specific concepts should end up at the bottom of your map. When linkage lines must cross each other, use a bridge symbol.

7. Search for crosslinks between concepts throughout the map. Use dashed lines with arrowheads to indicate the crosslinks.

8. Re-draw the map so as to give it a more, logical, more coherent, less busy organization.

Things to Avoid

1. Redundancy is bad. A concept should appear only once on a given map. If it appears more than once, this usually means that important relationships have been missed.

2. Linear sequences of concepts are bad. This means that you have probably ranked the concepts in a cause-and-effect sequence or a chronological sequence, rather than a general-to-specific ranking. It can also mean that you have not added all of the significant relationships.

3. Take care that you have labeled all linkages.

4. Take care that you have included all concepts in your map if a list of concepts was provided.

5. While Concept 1, a linkage statement and Concept 2 should form a sensible phrase when placed in sequence, this sensibility should not necessarily extend beyond this. In other words, one does not want to construct a long sentence that can be read from the top to the bottom of the map. We are not diagramming sentences here; we are relating concepts.

Sample Assignment

The following assignment was given to the Honors' section of BIOL 1403 in fall 1998 as part of their first test:

Using all of, and only, the 25 concepts listed here, construct a concept map in ink. You may not use any other resources than your own brain, i.e. no textbooks, notes, classmates, etc. The subject of the map is CELL DIVISION. The list below is unranked.

Asexual
Sexual
Reductional division
Equational division
Nuclear division
Cytokinesis
S phase
Genetic variation
Diploid daughter cells
Monoploid daughter cells
Crossing Over
Prokaryotes
Eukaryotes
Independent Assortment
Binary Fission
CELL DIVISION
DNA duplication
Mitosis
Meiosis
Sister chromatids
Gametes
Replicated chromosomes
Unreplicated chromosomes
Homologous chromosomes
Genetic clones

Click here to access Dr. Dini's map (version #3) of the above concepts.

Click here to access more samples of Concept-Mapping Assignments given in previous years.

Click here to access a helpful concept-mapping website.