Mind Map for Connection

Practical book of systems thinking in a learning school (Dutch). Translation of the mind map chapters.

(C) 2021 Natuurlijk Leren

Authors: Marjolein van de Klooster, Arsène Francot, Jan Jutten and Truus Römgens

Translation of pages 60 – 73

Translated by: Anne Houttuin and Robert Pastoor
Pictures translated by Mirjam Pastoor

Mind Map


  • support effective learning and memory;
  • distinguish between principal and side issues;
  • generate creative processes/ideas;
  • promote associative thinking;
  • oversee the whole.

What is a mind map?

A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. Working with mind maps corresponds to the functioning of the brain. That’s why we briefly discuss how the brain works. Mind maps can be compared to word spiders and word clusters. The difference is that in mind maps words, colours, lines and images (drawings, photos, icons) are displayed in a special way.

A mind map is like a map outside your head explaining what is going on in your mind.

Mind maps and the functioning of the brain

The main reason mind maps are effective is that they are closely connected to the way our brain works. The neurons in our brain communicate with each other through electrochemical processes. Electrical signals are transmitted to the neurons in our brain through our senses and are converted into chemicals called neurotransmitters. Cells that are sensitive to certain neurotransmitters connect with each other causing patterns to form in our brain; a kind of mind map. These connection routes become stronger and faster through repetition. Brain research shows, among other things, that our brain does not work with ‘lists’ but looks for connections that are linked to the enormous amount of information that the brain has to process. That is, in fact, exactly what a mind map does.

Neurons working together in the brains

The brain consists of two halves, each with its own functions, constantly communicating with each other. For a long time now, we have mainly relied on the left hemisphere in education: we use lined paper and still work a lot with text (despite the rise in visual culture). When creating mind maps, you activate the interaction between the two hemispheres of the brain. The brain makes a lot of use of images and colours. If someone is talking about ‘your house’ then you visualize ‘your house’; the bricks, the windows, the roof and the garden, in pictures.

Do you want to read more about mindmapping and the brain, try Vuurwerk (Dutch).

Brain halfs left and right

By drawing mind maps you learn to visualize, talk about and remember a lot of information clearly. Mind maps provide overviews that allow you to zoom in and out. It is a first step towards seeing and understanding coherence. Relationships between concepts become clearer, giving you a deeper understanding of reality. You learn to associate and discover coherence naturally. Mind maps make thought processes visible to yourself and to others.

It is important that you teach children how to create a mind map.  Mind maps will only work well if they comply with the rules. Many teachers find creating mind maps time consuming, especially in the beginning when the pupils are learning to draw mind maps. But in the end, it saves time; you don’t have to repeat the subject matter as often and you remember the information longer. After all, you learn to remember for life and not for the test!

In a mind map you can see the associations that the artist has with the subject and it visualizes that person’s thought processes. Everyone draws a mind map differently. A mind map is, therefore, not right or wrong, but you can often recognize the creator of it in the mind map.

Creating a mind map doesn’t yet give you an insight into the relationships between different things; what influences what? We might, for example, ask ourselves why we perceive fewer and fewer butterflies in nature? Which factors could influence this? If you want to know how some things (variables) effect each other, you can show this best with relationship circles and causal loops.

How to make a Mind map?

Mindmap made by child about refugees.

There are various ways to get started drawing mind maps. There are a number of rules which will help increase the real added value of mind maps. In particular, the link between words, colours, shapes and other illustrations.

It can be useful to go through the following steps:

Step 1

Use a blank sheet of paper that you place horizontally, so that there is enough space to draw, paste and write. Furthermore, you need markers of various thicknesses and/or crayons.

step 2

Draw or paste an image of the subject of the mind map in the middle of the paper. The drawing should be striking and stand out through its colour and shape: an image says more than a thousand words. This helps keep the focus on the subject. There are various subjects:

  • the start of a new theme in the classroom;
  • a topic you want to discuss;
  • a theme from a newspaper article;
  • a subject from the youth journal;
  • a subject from a text of a method (reading and listening with understanding, geography, history, nature, and the like);
  • about yourself;
  • a lecture;
  • a book review; etcetera

If the brain is the lock, the mind map is the key.

Tony Buzan

step 3

Each branch has its own colour. The lines run from thick to thin, based on the central theme. Make sure that the main lines are about the same length and are drawn somewhat ‘curvy’. Colours stimulate the brain, help categorize and make a mind map more vivid.

We draw a few coloured lines from the drawing in the middle. The part with lines from large to small, wide to narrow, we call a branch.

It is sometimes difficult to determine the main branches of a mind map. By creating a word field in advance you can discover these main branches. The words that belong together are given the same colour, therefore clustering the words. This automatically creates the main branches.


Step 4

Give each branch a name. Write the words slightly above the line as if all the important words in the mind map are underlined with a coloured line. Be creative and draw something or add a sticker to make it something special.

You can draw new thinner lines from the ends of these main branches. Compare it to the branches of a tree. You then apply the same method as in writing the words on the line and the drawing on the branch.

step 4:

Give each branch a name. Write the words slightly above the line as if all the important words in the mind map are underlined with a coloured line. Be creative and draw something or add a sticker to make it something special.

Step 5

You can draw new thinner lines from the ends of these main branches. Compare it to the branches of a tree. You then apply the same method as in step 4: writing the words on the line and the drawing on the branch.

step 6

Mind maps are more effective if you use one word per branch. Especially when you use it as a brainstorming tool. This increases the associative ability of your brain. When, for instance, you name two groups from the food category on the purple branch, you can no longer continue with the full associations. For example, if you write “apple” there, it wouldn’t add up anymore. You can overcome that problem with the green branch ‘food’.

Mind map Healthy food

Here are some suggestions for when you start creating mind maps:

  • you can write words thicker or thinner depending on how important you find them: the main concepts thicker, the details thinner;
  • realize that each person’s brain is unique and that the homemade mind map tells something very personal. A mind map is therefore a good starting point to engage with each other and discover that there are multiple truths;
  • working with mind maps can be useful when writing a story, a letter or a poem. “I don’t know what to write,” students often say. Try the following: let children think about questions like: who? what? where? how? when? on the main branches.

Mind maps on the computer

It’s also possible to make mind maps on the computer


  • reusing/sharing and duplicating the mind map;
  • converting into a presentation or text;
  • readability for others;
  • easy to make alterations;
  • a beautiful clear design;
  • less labour intensive.


  • less creative;
  • self-drawing/writing leads to more brain activity and is therefore better for memory storage than mind maps.
Roman empiremade with app.mindmapmaker.net

Finally: always consider the reason for creating a mind map. Then choose whether you want to design the mind map manually or on your computer. In the illustration you can see the result of a mind map that a pupil created after a lesson about the Romans (see example upper grades 5 – 6 – 7 – 8).

Do you want to make a FREE digital mind map, try app.mindmapmaker.net

Some reactions from pupils:

  • “It’s chaos in my head, nice to organize everything this way!”
  • “It helps me to remember long boring texts, especially by drawing and colouring.”
  • “I can reflect more on a text and can concentrate better.”
  • A pupil in eighth grade confided to her teacher: “I made a cheat sheet about the chapter of history we had to learn”. After the test, she said that she did not need the notes because she pictured the answers on the coloured branches in her head during the test.
  • One boy who always failed his biology tests because he couldn’t remember the long texts said, “the summaries we made using mind maps really helped me, especially the drawings of funny pictures.” “I have finally passed my test and picturing the funny drawings even made me laugh!” he said proudly.

Below Mind map is a summary of the above text.

Mind Map for kids

More about Mindmapping in Education,

goto: www.mindmapmaker.net

Infants – Grade 1 -2

A teacher prepares a new theme together with a group of toddlers in a small circle. The theme is ‘on safari in Africa’. Together they decide how to set up the learning corners and what materials are needed. By creating a mind map on the theme, the children visualize the thought process and become more involved. They very often end up bringing more materials to school

Mind Map Africa

The challenge for the teacher is to make the learning goals visible in these corners, through data, educational needs and learning lines, thus making the design of the classroom a rich challenging learning environment.

A mind map created by the whole group is on the theme table. The infants use the mind map and the story telling table to tell their parents about the theme and in so doing extend their vocabulary and possibly also that of their parents.

The mind map is usually made at the beginning of the theme and can continue to develop while new information is learnt.

The mind map is suitable for reading and listening with understanding in the infants. The main branches are then: who, where, problem, solution. The teacher sends a picture of the mind map to the parents so that the children can explain the mind map at home in their own words.

Grade 3 – 4

During history lessons we devote several lessons to the theme of the Middle Ages. At the end of each lesson, everyone writes down what they have learned in their own mind map. At the end of this cycle of lessons, the children take their own mind map home to learn for the test. But because they made the maps themselves they know exactly what they have drawn, written and thus… learned!

Grade 5 – 6 – 7 – 8

At the end of each lesson about Africa, groups of children are able to add what they have learned to the mind map on the wall in the classroom. By so doing, information is structured and the children can constantly add to it; a living mind map. Because the information remains visible throughout the day, most children remember the subject matter better.

During a lesson about the Romans, the children go to work step-by-step. After watching an introductory film, they first write down what they already know in a word web. The teacher then introduces sub-topics for the children to learn about: the period, the differences, the borders, the gods and what we can still see of it in this day and age.

These topics form the main branches of the mind map. In groups, the children think of questions on each topic and come up with the answers in all sorts of ways. They work that out further in the mind map (this stage of the process is not visible in the illustration). Finally, they present the answers to the questions to each other. Of course, the teacher would like to know what everyone has in fact learned. For the test, each child is given the mind map with the initial main branches. They then add the information they have remembered to the branches. As it turns out the children seem to have learned more than is indicated in the goals of the method.

In the example below, you see a format that a school has developed in order to map the educational needs of both the pupils and the teachers.

From web to mind map

A convenient way to teach children how to make a mind map is to do it step by step. We have chosen transportation as the theme for our example.

Word web

Children create a word web individually about what they  know of the theme. What means of transport do I know? They take turns in naming a means of transport so that everyone gets a chance to add a word. This promotes an equal opportunity for all to participate.


In the group, the children decide on four clusters: which means of transport from the word web belong together? For example: transport by road, rail, air and water. They then write the words in the correct cluster. By doing so they make four word webs in a larger web.


The cluster is then used to create a mind map. The clusters form the main branches of the mind map, each in its own colour. The cluster names are written on the main branches. Each main branch ends in a number of thinner branches in the same colour. On these you write the words used in the word web and the cluster. Finally, you add illustrations such as drawings, cut-out images or illustrations from the internet.

Brainstorming tools for schools

Word webs, clusters and  mind maps visualize reality, each in their own way. They can help prevent laundry list thinking and fragmentation.

We’re used to putting things into perspective, which is fine if you’re making a shopping list, but reality isn’t a summary of things. Schools often make use of laundry lists, for instance when they make a school plan.

Laundry listing has its drawbacks. There is no cohesion between the various subjects. Let’s say that the staff have debated which topics should be taught in the new school year and the head teacher follows up with a laundry list:

  • working on cooperative learning;
  • promoting the involvement of children;
  • improving communication in the team and in the classroom;
  • highlighting respect, one of the school’s core values.

There is no connection between these four points of attention by listing it in this way. While in reality, they are closely connected.

Another drawback is the longer the laundry list gets, the more we wonder: “Will we ever reach the end?” We can avoid this by visualizing it in a different way. So make fewer or no laundry lists, but visual diagrams with webs, clusters, and mind maps. If necessary, with an explanatory note.

Example: a good teacher

Many schools and boards work with competency profiles. These are often long laundry lists of what a teacher needs to know and should be capable of. Because the teachers usually don’t help to write these profiles, that can sometimes lead to cynicism. Letting teachers help to think about what is important for them can prevent this.

A good tool to use in vision development is the following: let each teacher create their own cluster at the end of this project with the theme: “ a good teacher in our school”. What do we need to make this vision come true?

Cluster names are:

  • know: what knowledge should each teacher have?
  • can: what skills do we consider essential?
  • show: what attitude should a teacher have?
  • be: which personal characteristics are important to us?

After the teachers have done this assignment individually, they discuss it in groups and create a group cluster. Then all group clusters are merged together.

You can then make a mind map of this joint cluster as described above. Hang this mind map up in the staff room for all to see and they know what to expect.

Mind maps can also be used:

  • as a guide for professionalization: individually and collectively;
  • in performance appraisals;
  • recognizing strengths and weaknesses in the team and connecting with each other.

Another example is showing the school’s mission, values and vision in a different way.

You can print the mind map of the vision on a large sheet and hang it up in various places throughout the school so everyone can see it.

You can use the mind map of the values to discuss with parents and children. Hang the poster up in the classroom instead of all sorts of rules listing what is not allowed. Or letchildren create their own mind map in which they define the values of the school/class.