A handy PBL student talkie

I have a thing about Mind Maps in PBL. At times, I’ve seen them used as a sort of patchwork quilt, where students set out ‘what they need to know’. While some kids will come up with imaginative and probing questions, quickly reflecting on what they already know and predicting where this topic is going … the majority tend to set out a set of keywords and phrases they have picked-up from the initial teacher mini-lecture and hints. As teachers like kids to succeed and get started, the core terms they issue freely quickly become the foundation of the mind map.

Young Creators: Good Practices across Europe

These mind maps are flat and don’t offer any heights to climb or depths to explore. Kids generally write down the low-level stuff, which is often quickly forgotten (remembering, memorising) – as it’s easy(ier). There’s a high level of work that some students get the opportunity to do. There are also the neo-ideals presented by the post-modernists in love with the 21st Century trope – all very exciting, but for many classrooms, not really going to happen unless culture and funding changes. But it makes a great story and teachers love to hear about it.

I do like Doug Belshaw’s ideas and respect that he’s been making useful stuff for ages – most of which isn’t space-cadet stuff, but quite practical and easy to put in front of someone and they can work with it.


Here’s a good example from 2009. I like to use by making students ask ‘need to know’ questions based on the rotation of the circle, beginning with knowledge (remembering). The technology around the edge might of moved on, but it’s really handy to ask students what ‘tool’ or ‘presentation’ they are going to give me to show me that they get the idea or can solve the problem.

Another tool I like to use is to shift the focus of their mind map. The ‘easy’ mind map is the focus area. Logically this comes first, as the teacher is generally in charge of bringing the topic into focus. However, the focus should just provide a foundation, delivering terms the teacher thinks (but doesn’t know) are going to be unfamiliar and also critical to the enquiry. They can also drop in some red-herrings too, just to make sure kids start with their ‘crap detectors’ turned on.


I like this simple chart for several reasons, the main one being is I can push kids into these other areas and get them to formulate better need to knows around them. The problem with flat mind maps is that there is no ‘so what’ at the centre, so the task becomes procedural, even didactic.  I am also a fan of one-page talkies. Things I can show and kids can point to, highlight and choose. Both of these work and will transform the flat mind map into a much deeper enquiry with distinct phases.