The concept mapping technique was developed by Dr. Joseph D. Novak at Cornell University in the 1960s. It is based on the theories of Dr. David Ausubel, who stressed the importance of prior knowledge and a proper learning set in being able to learn about new concepts through meaningful receptive learning. The basic idea is that students are given a central concept. To that concept other related concepts that the students already know are graphically mapped. It can be done individually or in a group. It can also be done in an instructor-led setting. It is generally done at the start of a unit of activity in order to tie the new concept to already internalized ideas, but can also be done as an assessment at the end of a lesson. It is also possible for concept maps to have more than one main concept. The key is the interconnectedness of knowledge.

Appropriate Content Areas



Novak and Canas’ Underlying theory

Goals & Objectives

Generally, the goal of a concept map is to relate ideas that already exist in the students mental structures to new ideas and concepts. Some sample objective statements can include:

During and after constucting the concept map, students will…

  • understand the interconnectedness of concepts x, y, and z,
  • understand concept x,
  • connect related concepts in field x,
  • express new ideas in terms of already internalized concepts,
  • identify misconceptions,

…as determined by successfully attending to 80% of rubric items.


Before beginning a concept map, the students should have some knowledge that can fit to the new concept. They should also possess an appropriate learning set.

Materials and Resources

For synchronous applications: Online, a useful resource is a whiteboard space. Additionally useful tools would include a synchronous chatspace within which students can connect concepts.

For asynchronous applications: Students can create the maps using any of the tools listed below or one provided/suggested by the instructor.

In all cases: Students should be given background knowledge on how to construct concept maps and their purpose.

Guiding Questions for this Lesson

How does concept x relate to concepts y and z? What do we already know about concept x with relation to pre-existing cognitive structures?

Lesson Outline and Procedure

  • Students are presented with a centralized concept.
  • The instructor then provides instructions for the students to individually or as a group, synchronously or asynchronously, link other concepts to the given concepts.
  • The final ‘map’ is shared with the class or submitted directly to the instructor.

Teaching Strategies

  • If students do not have the prior knowledge, they will not be able to contribute to the map and may not fully understand all of the linkages. Some probing of student understanding should occur.
  • Provide a sample concept map to give students ideas.
  • If software is used to create the map, some form of tutorial should be available.


In situations involving a synchronous tool, accommodations may need to be made to allow full participation by some individuals. Some concept mapping software may not be amenable to screen readers and other accessibility software.


A synchronous session should typically allow for at least 15 to 20 minutes to develop the concept map. As little as 1 to 2 days can be allowed in an asynchronous setting once the topic has been revealed. It may also be done as a summary activity after a lesson, for which the students would have the entire lesson unit to work on the map.

Ideas for Lesson Evaluation and Teacher Reflection

How did the students like the lesson? End of semester evaluations should ask about the usefulness and learning accomplished through such activities. Also, the conversation that occurs during the activity will help guage how the students are enjoying various aspects and whether they are learning and/or participating.

How was student learning verified? Participation can be assessed in group exercises or discussion session. A rubric can also be set up to help gauge the quality of any final concept map.

Concept Mapping Software

Useful References

  1. Ausubel, D. (1968) Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston..
  2. Novak, J.D. & Gowin, D.B. (1996). Learning How To Learn. New York: Cambridge University Press.