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Susan Lester’s 10th Honors World Literature/Composition students recently began a novel study of All Quiet on the Western Front.    Since students knew little about World War I, we gave students the opportunity to choose a World War I topic of interest to them ( a menu was provided but students could come up with their own topics, too) to research.  Susan and I decided to help students dwell in the connecting stage of inquiry by having students mindmap their research and then share those findings in a Fishbowl discussion group.  Using mindmaps that Howard Rheingold’s students created and published as our models, we gave students the choice for the tools and mediums they wanted to use to mindmap the key ideas and findings of their research on their topic.  Most preferred creating their mindmaps with concrete materials like paper and ink, but others like using Word or

After our Fishbowl meeting and having time to share our mindmaps last Tuesday, students shared their reflections on the effectiveness of mindmaps as a medium for sharing key ideas and information.

  • Students were generally quite positive about the process and indicated it was helpful in better discerning important information and big ideas as well as organizing that information; this feedback was encouraging since these were challenges students identified in our research  project last semester.
  • Other students shared they felt they were able to initiate and sustain a richer level of participation and engagement as members of their Fishbowls because the mindmap helped them easily remember key ideas they wanted to share and was a quick way to prompt talking points as opposed to looking a written reflection.
  • Several students also indicated they felt creating the mindmap helped them better synthesize and remember the information they were finding in their research.
  • Some students indicated they would enjoy having the option to create a mindmap rather than always writing a narrative reflection for Fishbowl discussions about their novel/book studies.
  • One student shared that the mindmapping helped her feel as though her Fishbowl now had multiple experts on different topics and that the group was able to cover a broader amount of information with more depth; additionally, she thought the mindmap sharing created a different element of fun for the Fishbowl discussion.  She described mindmapping as helping students to create a “3D” perspective about a topic instead of just “brushing the surface with a boring 2D” perspective.

A few students indicated they encountered difficulty in the mindmapping process and in looking at some student mindmaps, we could see others might need some help in the organization of their mindmaps.   For our next mindmapping endeavor, I think I will scaffold their skills by doing a group think and do a group exercise in which we create a mindmap together to help those who are struggling and to grow the skills of those who feel comfortable with that  strategy.  I am also hopeful I can encourage other teachers to try this strategy in other courses and continue to grow my best practices for teaching students mindmapping.

If you are using mindmapping as a tool for building and sharing background knowledge, what strategies or approaches are you taking help students learn this skill and medium?  I encourage teachers, professors, and librarians to share your ideas here in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Initiating Inquiry: Mindmapping and Fishbowl Discussions for Connecting and Building Background Knowledge

  1. I taught young adults for 42 years — and during that time I discovered & employed with great success : CONCEPT MAPS and the VEE-Heuristic.

    It appears you are tapping into the very sources I used – though perhaps by an alternate route.

    I recommend 3 tools to you: 2 books, and a mapping capability: CMAPTOOLS

    Book 1: Learning, Creating and Using Knowledge

    Book 2: Learning How to Learn



    I love reading about what your doing, thinking, and learning — and admire you no end for your innovation, courage, and what has to be inspiration beyond compare for the young adults under your charge.

    Thank you, for sharing via the web. I look forward to every one of your blogs
    as I am sure hundreds, perhaps thousands of others do too.

    Daniel E. Reynolds
    Professor, Emeritus & Happily Retired in Sunny Palm Springs, CA
    Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT)


    1. Dear Dr. Reynolds:

      I am beyond humbled by your gracious words of support and encouragement as well as your generosity in sharing such great resources for mindmapping. I am so glad you enjoyed the post, and I will definitely check out the resources you have shared to grow our skills with mindmapping.

      Again, I am appreciative of your taking the time to share such meaningful and helpful reflections and ideas.

      Very best,


  2. I have a college librarian friend who is “passionate” about mind mapping. She has a couple Prezis and a Wordle that might interest you. If you google “Margaret Montet” mind mapping, they’ll come up for you (Wordle came up on p. 2 for me). Also, there’s a YouTube clip of her demonstrating mind mapping. Thanks for all your information-sharing, Buffy!


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