Learn English more quickly with mind mapping

Chris Parker
Boost your English learning with mind maps to improve memory and comprehension, plus all the core English skills

Learning English can be difficult for some, though one technique, mind mapping, has proven to be an effective way of boosting this process. This technique can help you both visualize and organize information in a way where your brain can make better sense of it while memorizing things more easily. In this guide, I’ll walk you through the concept of mind mapping and how you can easily use it to quickly improve your English reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a technique where you take new information learned during your English lessons and organize it by looking for connections between things while mapping these out on paper or somewhere else where you can easily reference it.

It always starts with a central concept or topic, and as you think about this, you should also be thinking about other details that relate to this. These other things can then be placed into sub-topics or categories, which can then be further expanded upon.

Mind map example

To give you a better idea of how mind maps work, the illustration below is a basic example of one. The different types of sentences (sentence forms) serves as the central concept, and each of the five forms (declarative, interrogative, optative, imperative, and exclamatory) are represented as categories. Branching out further, examples of sentences using these forms can be found next to their respective categories.

mind map

What are mind maps used for?

To memorize new concepts more easily

Mind maps can be used as a tool to help you memorize information, such as new English vocabulary words, phrases, or grammatical concepts. By mapping things out on paper or elsewhere, you can return to the maps at any time to study the words or material and remind yourself of previous thoughts, ideas, or what you’ve learned about something.

To gain a better understanding of English

When you’re putting information in front of you as a visual representation and can see how words or concepts either connect or differ from each other based on their categories, sub-categories, or finer details, this can give you a better understanding of this information. Sometimes we may observe similarities between things, but how they fully connect or relate to each other may not be as obvious until we map things out and look at the big picture.

To demonstrate and share knowledge

You can also use mind maps to demonstrate your knowledge of the English language to others by presenting them in front of a class or to a teacher. In business scenarios, mind maps are often used as presentations during meetings to not only show someone’s knowledge of a topic, but to share that knowledge with others, and this can be used in the same way for you as an ESL learner.

How are mind maps created?

You can make a mind map in various ways, depending on your preferences and resources. Some learners simply create and write down their mind maps on a sheet of paper, while others use software, like Microsoft PowerPoint. There are also many online websites and apps for making mind maps, such as Canva, as well as downloadable templates at sites like Pinterest.

What are the benefits of using mind maps?

  • Allow you to visualize connections between things
  • Improve memory by encouraging active thinking
  • Quickly organize notes, thoughts, and concepts
  • Help to identify areas where knowledge is lacking
  • Can strengthen all the core English language skills

How to use mind maps for specific skills

Mind mapping for better reading comprehension

To sharpen your reading comprehension skills, you can use mind maps with stories and texts with these simple steps:

1. Identify important details

When reading stories, you should be looking for key points and details within the text that are important to the story itself. Make note of who the characters are, what the overall plot or theme is, and what events, actions, or places are mentioned in the story. You should be writing these down somewhere where they can later be organized.

2. Categorize and connect

As always with mind mapping, you’ll first write down the central topic. Then, begin to branch out with all of the other details you notated. As an example, the popular German fairy tale Hansel and Gretel could be mapped out where the central or overall topic is “two children becoming lost in the woods and encountering a witch.”

You can then branch out with a category called “settings,” and within that category you could write “woods” and “the gingerbread house.” Going back to the central topic again, you could create another category called “plot,” and in that category you could write down all of the important plot details that you can think of (e.g. “Hansel and Gretel are abandoned in the woods,” “They find a trail of breadcrumbs to follow home,” etc.)

3. Recycle the information

Simply creating a mind map and then looking at it isn’t always enough to memorize information, which is why you should actively re-engage with it afterward by re-using it in other activities. To do this with things you’ve read, you can write your own story or simply summarize what the original story said by referencing details outlined in the mind map.

Mind mapping to improve your writing skills

You can also use mind mapping to refine your writing skills or make writing tasks easier, and here are two ways that you can do this:

Brainstorming writing ideas

When practicing your English-writing skills, there will undoubtedly be times when you’ll need to be creative or come up with ideas on how to explain or articulate things. When glancing at a mind map, ideas often come to mind when you start to look at the connections between its many parts.

Say, for example, you need to write a paper where the focus is “the benefits of learning English as a second language.” While this would be the central topic, you could branch out from it by adding the following details as categories:

  • Better job prospects in Western-based companies
  • The ability to communicate with English speakers
  • Easier assimilation into English-speaking cultures

By simply looking at your mind map, you can then brainstorm new ideas that might fit within these categories as sub-categories. For the first category, “better job prospects,” you might then come up with related sub-topics, such as “higher pay as a bilingual speaker,” or “greater versatility when working with international clients.”

Outlining a writing structure

Before writing a story or anything of considerable length, good writers normally outline everything first, so they have a better idea of how the story will go and where all the details should be placed within the story.

Once your mind map is created and well-organized, you can use it as a reference to create an outline for this purpose. By simply glancing at your mind map, you can see which details might be more important to a story and which ones should be mentioned before others.

When writing formal texts, you can look at the categories you’ve created in your mind map as ideas of what headings and subheadings you should be using or which details might be more appropriately referenced with bullet points or discussed in paragraphs.

Mind mapping to enhance speaking and listening

Practicing speaking with phrases and responses: to improve your speaking skills, you can make mind maps that include common conversational phrases and responses that one might use in different scenarios.

Example: mind mapping a shopping scenario

Central concept: shopping for clothing
Categories: sizes, colors, brands

In the example above, the categories that branch out from the central topic of “shopping for clothing” include “sizes, colors, and brands.” For sizes, you could then branch out further by adding conversational phrases, such as the following:

“Do you have a smaller/larger size?”

 “Is this the only size you have?”

“What sizes do you have?”

“This size is too big/small for me.”

You could then expand out even further by adding the clerk’s possible responses to these questions and can then follow suit by adding conversational phrases to the “colors” and “brands” categories as well. This would give you a full overview of a conversational mind map that you could practice your speaking skills with, and you can always make a copy of it to take turns playing the roles of customer and clerk with a partner.

Organizing what you’re hearing

When listening to a teacher or lecturer, you can carry out a mind mapping activity simultaneously by taking notes and writing them down as a mind map. This can help you quickly organize your notes during different parts of a lesson, where topics discussed can be organized as categories and then the smaller details about these topics can serve as sub-categories and side notes.

You can easily improve your listening skills this way because you’re learning how to pay more attention to details while noticing which ones are more central to a topic and how the different concepts connect to each other.

Mind mapping: a skill that builds other skills

As a versatile technique that can be applied to just about any situation, mind mapping is a quick and fun way to organize your thoughts and new information. Although mind mapping can be quite easy in its most basic form, you should challenge yourself when first starting out by seeing how many categories, branches, or concepts you can add, which can improve not only your English skills, but your mind mapping skills as well.

Written by Chris Parker for EnglishClub.com
Chris has been studying linguistics academically for several years and has taught ESL in both primary and secondary schools.
© EnglishClub.com

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