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Concept Maps

A concept map is a visual organizer that can enrich students’ understanding of a new concept. Using a graphic organizer, students think about the concept in several ways. Most concept map organizers engage students in answering questions such as, “What is it? What is it like? What are some examples?” Concept maps deepen understanding and comprehension. 

Key Information



When To Use This Strategy

During reading

Appropriate Group Size

With small groups
Whole class setting

Why use a concept map?

  • It helps children organize new information.
  • It helps students to make meaningful connections between the main idea and other information.
  • They’re easy to construct and can be used within any content area.

How to use a concept map

Note: It is important that teachers spend time introducing younger students to charts and diagrams prior to using this strategy.

There are several ways to construct concept maps. Most include the following steps:

  1. Model how to identify the major ideas or concepts presented in a selection of text as you read.
  2. Organize the ideas into categories. Remind students that your organization may change as you continue to read and add more information.
  3. Use lines or arrows on the map to represent how ideas are connected to one another, a particular category, and/or the main concept. Limit the amount of information on the map to avoid frustration.
  4. After students have finished the map, encourage them to share and reflect on how they each made the connections between concepts.
  5. Encourage students to use the concept map to summarize what was read.

Download blank templates

Lesson plan

Concept Muraling: Organizing Knowledge Visually to Improve Comprehension

Help students develop a framework for organizing their knowledge of a content area text by providing visuals and key vocabulary words. See the lesson plan (opens in a new window) from the Balanced Literacy Diet.

See many more related how-to videos with lesson plans in the Reading Comprehension Strategies (opens in a new window) section.

Watch: Weather mind maps: building background knowledge and vocabulary

Encourage students to share a variety of ideas, experiences, and information as well as study topics that generate opportunities to learn new words. (From the Balanced Literacy Diet: Putting Research into Practice in the Classroom)

Collect resources


How a concept map could be used with a topic such as the study of weather. See example › (opens in a new window)

Here’s a more complex concept map from a study on bats. See example ›

How concept maps have been used in early childhood education to help students understand more about trees, their bodies, and other familiar topics. See example › (opens in a new window)

Here’s a step-by-step on building concept maps for a variety of topics: plants, football, and the Cinderella fairytale. See example ›

concept map drawing of plants, roots, leaves and water

Differentiated instruction

For second language learners, students of varying reading skill, and younger learners

  • Teachers can use concept maps as a pre-reading strategy by inviting students to share what they already know about a particular concept. While reading, teachers should ask students to help add to the map as a group using an overhead or large chart. This provides a visual aid for building upon their prior knowledge with new information they have gathered from reading.
  • Teachers may wish to have students practice writing skills by asking students to write on their own concept map.
  • Teach vocabulary words explicitly and use simple words.
  • Be sure the pointed part of each arrow is clear. Design the graphics to minimize directional confusion.
  • When applicable, allow students to draw pictures or use cut out pictures as well as words.

See the research that supports this strategy

Birbili, M. (2007). Mapping Knowledge: Concept Maps in Early Childhood Education (opens in a new window). Retrieved November 4, 2008.

Council for Exceptional Children, the Division for Learning Disabilities (DLD) and the Division for Research (DR). Graphic Organizers: Power Tools for Teaching Students with Learning Disabilities (opens in a new window) (528K PDF)*.

Hyerle, D. (1996). Visual tools for constructing knowledge. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervisors of Curriculum Development.

Novak, Joseph D. (1998). Learning, creating, and using knowledge: Concept maps as facilitative tools in schools and corporations. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Noyd, Robert. (1998). A primer on concept maps. USAFA Educator, 7(1).

Schroeder, N.L., Nesbit, J.C., Anguiano, C.J. et al. Studying and Constructing Concept Maps: a Meta-Analysis. Educational Psychology Review 30, 431–455 (2018). (opens in a new window)

Children’s books to use with this strategy

Topics this strategy is especially helpful for

Background Knowledge, Common Core Standards