When teaching English as a foreign language I’ve often found it useful to get the students to generate their own ideas. There is many an ESL activity to get the mental cogs turning and one such activity is Mind Maps.

Mind Maps help students visually generate inter-connected ideas.

When? Then! Teach.

In Japanese High Schools I’ve found lessons to be most effective when they contain a solid Production activity; a time when students can express their own thoughts and opinions. However, before they can be expected to do this, they need time to develop their ideas and transition them into English. This is where Mind Maps can be useful.

For example, maybe a teacher wants the class to write a short speech about their summer holiday. No one, in any situation, can be expected to launch into something like that without some consideration time. Many things can happen over the course of a summer holiday, but it’s not always possible to recall everything at the drop of a hat. Instead, give the students some time to sort out their memories. A teacher could additionally help out by suggesting some sub-groups like food or family. From the resulting web of words students can pick and choose the things they want to write about in the subsequent ESL activity – their speech.

"Summer Holiday", "food" and " family would already be on the worksheet.
“Summer Holiday”, “food” and ” family would already be on the worksheet.

The other advantage of this approach is that it means they don’t have to think about translating everything they want to say in one go. Without the Map students would have to write on the fly, thinking about grammar and structure as well as translating key words into English all at the same time. With the Map they translate the keywords first and can then slot them into relevant structures as they write the speech.

Info Mess

Mind Mapping by itself can also form a good foundation for a group activity. Let’s say the teacher wants students to create a presentation about a given country. What information do students already hold about the country? By having them split into groups and map out everything they know, it can make it clear to them how to move onto the next phase of the activity. In these cases it also helps to pool ideas onto the blackboard by asking each group for some feedback. Once enough information has been mined (or … mind) the students can use what they’ve discussed to create their presentation or whatever the final production activity may be.

Finger Pointing Speaking

Speaking is a vital ingredient in any ESL lesson and Mind Maps can help with that too! By laying out parts of the Map in a particular pattern on a worksheet a teacher can give the students a tool for formulating various answers to a question.  By using their finger to follow the paths made whilst forming the Map they can form new sentences piece by piece. At some point the Mind Map becomes more of a flow chart really. This approach works well in low level or Junior High classes where students have trouble forming sentences on their own.

Mind Map
Notice how it’s very clear where the sentences should begin and end. Also I’ve left space for students to include their own endings if they wish.

ESL Activity: Mind Maps

I know some people who use Mind Maps as a way to plan their holidays or organise projects. They’re a good way to get ideas down and tie them to a together; hence why they can be so effective in the ESL classroom. Give it a try the next time you want students to generate a pool of vocabulary.

How do you use Mind Maps in the ESL class? Have I missed anything?

Thanks for reading! Need more activity ideas? Check these out.

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2 thoughts on “ESL Activity: Mind Maps

  1. Mind maps are among the most creative ESL activities I’ve ever learned. They are not just fun to do but they are definitely effective too.

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