Conceptual Mapping for the Big Picture


In this activity, students work as a group to create one large conceptual map that includes many or all of the key concepts from the course using large Post-it notes and dry easer markers.

Class: HGSE T543: Apply Cognitive Science to Teaching and Learning (section)


(1)  For students to see the big picture and connections between the concepts of the course.

(2)  To assess where students are at in their understanding of the course concepts and where more work might be needed.


Flossie created this activity to help her 10-15 students in section visualize the connections between the different course concepts and to help them see the concepts within the big picture. It is an activity designed to make the students’ thinking visible.


            Post-It notes (preferably big ones)


            Dry Erase Markers



Before Class. Write every key concept from class on a post-it note (one concept per post-it). Also, mentally imagine what a conceptual map might look like and how the students might construct the map. Think about where the students might possibly encounter roadblocks and how you could intervene to help further their thinking.

In Class

a) Post all of the post-its on one wall. Explain to the learners that these are the concepts from the class and they will have an opportunity, as a group, to create a conceptual map that includes all of the concepts.

b) Have the students think silently for a few minutes about how they are seeing the connections and how they would organize a conceptual map. Encourage them to write down their ideas.

c) After a few minutes, open it up to the group to begin mapping the concepts. Encourage the students to move the post-its around and to use the dry erase makers to draw anything they think helps increase the clarity and accuracy of the map (like arrows, lines, images, etc.). Also, have a few blank post-its that students can write on if there is a concept they think is missing.

d) Follow closely the thought-process and conversation of the group; intervene if the conversation and mapping becomes unproductive. Also, it is likely the students may anchor to the first idea(s) that get brought forth. Encourage them to push past these first ideas and to be willing to let go of ideas that could potentially become anchors.  

e) Allow the section/class to work on the map for as much time as you see fit. In Flossie’s section, the students were given about 40 minutes to work on the map. You may want to take photos of the process and the finished map for students to access later.

f) Leave 10-15 minutes at the end for a group discussion. Ask the students what they saw, what they heard, and what the learned.

Notes from the creating instructor: Every time I have used this activity, I have been surprised by what the group comes up with. The conversation amongst the students is usually collaborative as the students work together to make the map. The mapping serves as an ongoing assessment where I can see how the students are making meaning of the course content and where misconceptions might be being made.  Many students have mentioned this activity as being a key learning experience during the semester that helped them bring together many of the concepts from the course. 

Submitted by Flossie Chua, Doctoral Candidate, Harvard Graduate School of Education