Mindmaps, also called graphic organizers, allow students to manipulate information in a visual, graphical way. Whether students are planning an essay or working to understand a complex topic, mindmaps allow them to work with information in a more flexible and visual manner. Many web-based mindmap tools also provide the ability to collaborate on a single map from any networked computer.

Word processors are good for taking notes in outline or chart form, but what about students who don’t think in boxes, or subjects where relationships are more tangled and interconnected? For those people who like a more visual presentation of their information, mind-mapping software can be very helpful. For students who don’t intuitively understand information in tables, these mindmaps, or concept maps, of information can lead to breakthroughs in note-taking, studying, and writing.

There are many online platforms that allow students to create and collaborate on mindmaps. While there are slight differences in each, the basic concept is that students can create an mindmap of text, identify topics and subtopics, make links between details, and (in some cases) add images. Most mindmap platforms allow work to be printed, if desired, and saved as an image for embedding. Teachers should check each platform thoroughly before using it with their students, as many platforms are commercial in nature and may involve a fee. Many sites also have social networking capabilities, with tagging, contacts, online communities, and messaging. All platforms require authors to create an account with an active email to login. Teachers may choose to create a group login for collaboration, and some platforms have class subscriptions for educators with secure sites.

Here are a few different platforms that we like to use:

  • Webspiration comes from the makers of Inspiration, the granddaddy of mindmapping software.  Users can view their mindmaps in graphical or outline form, incorporate text, links, images and stock clip art (including history clip art), and edit shapes, colors, lines, and font. When sharing with others, partners can chat as they work together on a mindmap and leave comments if the collaboration is asynchronous. All changes are tracked. An online help center provides assistance if needed. Documents can be saved as Websiration documents, converted to Word, or transferred to Google docs.
  • bubbl.us is a beginners mindmapping site that allows users to insert text, change the size and colors of topics, make links between different entries, and navigate around the mindmap or “sheet”. Users can share sheets with their contacts for collaboration, and their work can be printed or saved as an image (.jpg or .png).
  • MindMeister is a very powerful mindmapping platform. While users can enter text and organize ideas into subtopics, MindMeister also allows for images and URLs to be embedded in the mindmaps. The platform allows users to import other mindmaps with an .mm extension, embed mindmaps on another site, and export or print the mindmap. When the mindmaps are shared, collaboraters can include icons or enter their information in different colors to track the sharing of ideas. The platform comes with a four minute video tutorial, online help, and a default mindmap for first time users. The platform can be integrated with social networking sites for sharing and publishing.
  • exploratree provides pre-made, web based “Thinking Guides” with each free account. Students can use the categorized templates to organize ideas. All templates can be customized, or an original template can be created. Projects can be shared and edited by other users as well.

For more information about teaching with mindmaps, visit our page on the Teaching History with Technology website.