Using mind maps to reflect on learning throughout a topic

I am a big fan of using mind maps as a way of tracking learning and understanding. I always use mind maps in Science lessons and we always create a new mind map at the start of each topic. I encourage pupils to use their mind map as a ‘working document’ and to be constantly updating them throughout the topic.

In order to track what they have learnt, we do our mind mapping in stages.

Start of topic:

  • We begin our mind map by adding anything we already know about the topic.
  • We highlight or shade in with pencil crayon anything we have added.
  • In a corner of the page, we write WINK (What I Now Know) and the date.

Research-based lessons:

  • At the end of (or during) a research-based lesson, pupils have the opportunity to add anything new that they have learnt about the topic to their mind map.
  • Again, we highlight or shade in with pencil crayon anything we have added, but in a different colour.
  • In a corner of the page, we write WINK (What I Now Know) and the date.

Throughout the topic:

  • I provide opportunities at the end of lessons to update the mind map.
  • The updating is always in a different colour and I always emphasise the importance of writing the date with WINK.

End of topic:

  • A final opportunity to reflect on their learning throughout the unit or topic takes places (again in a different colour).
  • The result is a somewhat colourful mind map that should be full of key words and essential information that can be added to and used for revision purposes.

Why I like using mind maps throughout topics.

  • It isn’t resource-heavy (just highlighters or colours, a ruler and something to write with and on).
  • It is an easy way to track learning. I can see what has been learnt when.

5-4-3-2-1 Summary

Independence displayThis is a really quick way for pupils to summarise their learning. I tend to use it at the end of a lesson where I have introduced a new concept. At first pupils find it hard, but they soon get the hang of it. I have used it in a range of subjects and find it an effective reflective tool for pupils that requires no additional resources (I have a little sheet to stick in but this isn’t necessary) or much additional time – pupils can do it before they hand in work.

All pupils do is summarise a new concept or a topic in 5 words, then 4, then 3, then 2, then 1. Simple! It makes them think about the key points and what is most important. Hopefully they are then more familiar with it when we revisit it later in the topic or they come across it in another context.


Use of computers / tablets for research in lessons

SurfaceA few years ago, I attended an INSET with Chris Moyse (@ChrisMoyse) about independent learning. One of the things I took from it was the use of computers for research within lessons (I think pupils had been asked to find specific answers to questions). In the scenario given, pupils had to find answers to a range of questions in the context of a Science lesson and given the opportunity, pupils would go straight to the computer instead of accessing the other resources provided to find answers. Their skills when it came to the effective use of a search engine were slightly lacking and as a result, pupils who had opted to use the other resources provided (printed information and books) were far more successful in the task.

A great focus in my teaching is in creating an environment that benefits and encourages independent learning, and in facilitating learning, without me constantly standing at the front talking at pupils.

I am fortunate in that I have access to tablet computers for use in class, without having to relocate to a computer room. Bearing in mind what I learnt from Chris, in research-based lessons, I provide a range of resources (books, printed information, sometimes a list of websites etc.) but I also provide access to a few (2 or 3) tablet computers. Whilst sometimes I find that it is beneficial to provide each group with one or more tablets, in the type of lesson I refer to, I limit the time pupils can access the tablets for to a 5 minute period. (I provide stopwatches for timing, and if the IWB isn’t needed for other uses, I have the number of interactive stopwatches that I have tablet computers displayed on the board). This means that all pupils in the class are aware when they can access the internet if they choose to. They write their names down on the board so there is an obvious order to the computer time, and groups can decide whether or not the use of the computer is beneficial to them. I often find that pupils initially opt for the internet, but soon find that their time is more effectively spent finding out the information in other ways.


Photocopier is an activity that is useful when you want a pupil to end up with a copy of something. This could be a map, a diagram, a piece of text, or anything that suits you.

An example would be a science lesson where you want all pupils to have a diagram of a heart drawn with key words added. Pupils visit you as you have the only copy. You allow them to only see a small amount of the diagram or a key word before sending them back to their partner or group to draw a copy of it. Pupils return repeatedly until they have an accurate ‘photocopy’ of the diagram. It should include accurate spellings of key words and look the same as the original.

This can be done individually or in pairs or groups easily.

This type of activity works well when you want pupils to engage more with something perhaps when it would have been easy to just give them a photocopy in the first place. The repeated visits to the original and limited time should mean that pupils become competitive, wanting to complete their copy before their peers, in addition to having a greater understanding than they perhaps would have just by sticking in a sheet.