Saturday, November 10, 2012

Advantages of using mind maps for speaking

Intensive Course - Level 2

Advantages of using Mind Maps for Speaking.
This is a recount of how my students have been using mind maps to communicate their ideas.  My students are EFL students at university level. We integrate technology into a face to face class. We have three trimester at year. In a trimester, there could be 8 or 12 groups of 32 students each, interacting trough out our class blog or our Facebook group. Creating a little community of practice where students from different classes benefit and follow each others work. 
We have regular face to face classes once a week and they connect through the use of online tools. We try to be a blended class that gets the best of two worlds. And  I mean we try , since we have to follow a syllabus designed for a more traditional class following our English Center policies.
We use mind maps to convey ideas and present them visually as a supporting material for speaking about the lessons we have covered during our classes together. Students produce their own mind maps to answer questions. These mind maps collect the contents and experience shared during the trimester.
I am convince now that by using mind maps, students can produce oral language in a coherent, cohesive, clear, organized, and memorable way. It allows them to expand vocabulary and associate new and old words to images that help convey meaning easily and in a specific context. As, Steve Darn writes in his article about graphic organisers
"These mind maps serve as a record of the learner's thinking process and it can be used to assess students' knowledge and understand of the content, thinking skills and creativity."
Most of the time when studying for oral exams, students try to memorize chunks or sentences to be repeated as robots. By using mind maps, students know what they are saying, and the ones looking at their maps or listening to them will understand what it is said even though pronunciation and fluency is not the best. It works great for low, intermediate or advance levels. 
By bringing their own materials to be tested on, students confidence is greatly increased.  Having practiced and recorded their reports on their mind maps give them confidence and their self esteem improves, so talking to others is not such a terrible thing to do in the new language.
The understanding and use of the words, structures and expressions learned in class stay with them. It allows them to visualized how much they have covered and worked on mastering a foreign language.
Creating a mind map requires the understanding of the basics of mind maps. In order to do that we look at mind maps created by other students, discussing critically what it takes to create a good tool that will help them talk in a clear, organized fun way.
They notice that mind maps use images, words and arrows to show relations. They are placed in the graphic in a specific way. And that they need to follow relations in order to read them and talk about them. Selecting appropriated images and relating them to concepts and ideas, informs the teacher about the knowledge the student has and allow others benefit from the knowledge shared in the map. 
Students become creators that will inspire and help others to keep on creating. Knowledge amplifies and creates waves, students compare their work and evaluate themselves and their classmates. Resulting in a community that learn together and help each other.
Literacies and critical thinking are also present in the use of mind maps. 
If you want to know more about mind maps check this post out!!!
Here we have an example of a mind map of one of my students:

As extra practice and with the idea of integrating technology in our classes. They also write a script of the map to be checked and edited by a tutor or by the teacher. 
Dave's script 

Later, students read their maps and their voices are recorded in a power point slide. This help students practice their pronunciation and improve their fluency when speaking.  They can also upload their presentations to Authorstream and share it in a social network like twitter or in our Facebook group where students and educators can leave comments on their work.
Samer Buitrago

Finally on the day on the exam. Students display their maps in a poster in the classroom and talk about them by answering the questions of their teacher or fellow classmates.

Steve Darn, Freelance Trainer, Izmir, Turkey, who writes for the 
British Council, summarizes some of the advantages of graphic organizers this way:

A graphic organiser (also known as a concept map, mind map or relationship chart) is usually a one-page form with blank areas for learners to complete with ideas and information which are connected in some way. Some organisers are very specific; others are versatile. Often, the information on a graphic organiser could just as easily be written on a form or list, but the organiser offers certain advantages:

  • Graphic organisers provide the learner with a different way of seeing and thinking about information.
  • Language barriers (words, grammar) are removed, so that learners can focus on the connections between information.
  • The visual display conveys complex information in a simple-to-understand manner. Showing (as opposed to telling) how information is structured is a way of facilitating understanding. In most cases, dual-presentation (visual representation plus is more successful than either approach alone, regardless of whether the student is a visual or auditory learner.
  • Analytical, critical, planning and creative thinking skills are developed. To create the map, the learner has to identify the relationships between items, examine the meanings attached to them, and prioritise the information and decide where each item should be placed on the map. Students are more likely to become strategic learners.
  • A lot of information can be converted into a structured, easy-to-read, graphic display. A large amount of information can be displayed to provide the "big picture" of a topic.
  • Changes can easily be made to allow learners to take different perspectives and clarify their thoughts. Organisers are easy to edit, revise, and add to.
  • Creating the map helps the learner to generate ideas and see the possibilities associated with a topic as the map grows.
  • Graphic organisers have multiple uses. They can be used to structure writing projects, summarise reading texts, organise and store vocabulary, and help in problem solving, decision making, studying, planning research and brainstorming.
  • Subject-matter is comprehended faster and more efficiently. Because the demands of processing the language are reduced, content can be considered at more sophisticated levels.
  • While organisers often represent an individual's arrangement of information, they can also be used at group or class levels. A class flow-chart of the storyline of a class reader may help all the students to follow the plot.
  • Since most graphic organisers use short words or phrases, and sometimes drawings, they can be used with all levels and with young and less-able learners.
  • The teacher is given a record of the learner's thinking process. Graphic organisers can be used to assess students' knowledge and understand of the content, thinking skills and creativity.