Taking notes like Tony

Posted on 22/11/2010


I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been one to use what I would have called ‘mind maps’ both in and out of the classroom. They’ve gone by many names over the years: spider diagrams, brain storms or thought showers to name but a few. Then last summer, I went on a Philosophy for Children course and was given a recommendation to read “anything” by Tony Buzan, the creator of the Mind Map ©. This had obviously stuck in my head because when I spotted this in Waterstones the other day, I felt compelled to buy it. The ‘bite size’ nature of it appealed to me too, I must admit.

As I read, it dawned on me that Mind Maps could be exactly what my class needed to help them with their note-taking skills. We’re currently working through the year 4 information texts unit and to link it to our big topic, Portraits, the subject of the texts are the life and work of Pablo Picasso. One of the objectives the children needed to do was carry out research and make notes about him. Now, I think some children find the concept of note-making a little odd and if you think about it, who can blame them? It’s basically the opposite of how I tell them to write the rest of the time: in full sentences! Modelling how to write down just keywords and phrases feels like undoing all our previous sentence work to some of them I’m sure! Another problem I’ve noticed with note-taking is the temptation for children to just copy out chunks of text from a book or copy and paste it from a website without really reading it. So forget the usual bullet points and lists I thought, let’s try out some Mind Mapping…

In brief, I explained to the children that the centre of their Mind Map would be the heading of their text and each ‘branch’ of their Mind Map would be one of their chosen subheadings. Importantly, each branch would need to be a different colour. Coming off each branch would be smaller branches which would lead to facts relating to that subheading. I’m not going to say it came easily to them at first as it was such a different way of doing things, but after a bit of perseverance most of the class really got into seeing their Mind Maps ‘grow.’ They looked very visually pleasing to them. We’ve still got a long way to go to hone our Mind Mapping skills, for example next time I need to encourage them to use images in their Mind Maps too, but as a first attempt I was really encouraged by the outcome. I noticed that no whole sentences were being copied because I think the non-linear nature of Mind Maps really discourages that. This structure also makes it easy to work on several subheadings simultaneously whereas a more linear, listed approach tends to encourage completing one section before moving onto the next. This isn’t ideal because fact finding and research doesn’t necessarily unfold like that. Lastly, the colour coding of the different sections meant that when it came to writing up their notes in full sentences, it was really obvious to them what information belonged under what subheading. I will definitely be using Mind Maps for note-taking in the future and look forward to exploring other uses in the classroom for them too.