Mind mapping and jigsaw puzzles


My last blog looked at some aspects of team-teaching from a theoretical point of view which led me to reflect on some of the basic strategies I use when supporting in Social Studies or English Literature classes, where I tend to do most of my EAL support with grade 8 and 10.mind-map-oedipus-themes
This year I started thinking about how I can make myself useful when my role as an EAL specialist puts me in the backseat so to speak. Basically, the subject teacher is running the show and I work in the background, keeping students on task, moving around or simply listening and observing. As a result it became fairly clear that only a few students were taking notes or annotating texts during readings and discussions. At first I moved around and asked why individuals weren’t doing this. Sometimes I even wrote down the notes with the intent of giving them a sample of what could be jotted down. Many students just need a push to get started but different strategies work better with some than others. I started searching for visible learning strategies and reviewing the ATL skills (see attachment) to try different approaches and see if students would start to get the importance of having good note-taking skills. The result being that this week more students have started to take notes without being reminded!

Most of the colleagues I have worked with over the years showed me something useful, so I started with something I picked up from a dear colleague at a previous teaching position. My friend mastered the skill of mind mapping and this was the perfect way to help groups to develop my students note-taking skills.  mind-map-tragedyMost upper secondary students seem to be familiar with mind mapping so I just reminded them it was a different way to take notes and they understood the principle strategy. We briefly talked about mind mapping websites and there are plenty around.

One of the areas my students fail in note-taking is writing points, not full sentences, particularly weaker students. In class, it was in these moments when I was in the back seat that I grabbed a board marker and started mind-mapping the elements of the class discussion. A grade 10 unit on short stories and literary elements like setting, characterization, and symbolism gave me the opportunity to mind map on the board while students tried it themselves at their desks. To take things a little further in a later class I invited students to the board to take the notes while there was a “fish tank/goldfish bowl” discussionmind-map-tvotw going on. (An activity where four students sit in the middle of the classroom and discuss elements of short stories they have studied. Around them, as an audience sit the rest of the class, listening and taking notes). What my colleagues and I noticed immediately was how each individual gives it a personal touch or some just invent a new form of mind mapping altogether. I hope to indulge more into developing note-taking skills and maybe even try doodling and drawing as an option to see which students really would prefer using alternatives to words.


The second strategy I want to mention is old but great because we all like a little jigsaw puzzle now and again (also popular with curriculum development workshop leaders). Rubrics are the best thing ever to cut up and hand out to individuals or groups to get them reading, puzzling, and thinking. Making it into a bit of a competition to see who fixes the rubric first can add some friendly competition if needed. Mostly it forces the students to read the descriptors carefully, then, once finished the rubric can be discussed together with the assessment task in a more meaningful way. Students should have a clear idea of the criterion so that in the lesson(s) building up to the assessment regular reminders of specific criterion will make more sense to them. Teacher talk explaining this type of bigger assessment task like an essay shouldn’t be only explained verbally with a handout as not everybody in the class will get it, specially in classes with mixed abilities. Soon I plan to try similar strategies to get students to understand their rubrics better which is fundamental if they are expected to achieve well.

Author: Niels Zwart

Living in Rabat, Morocco. Also lived in The Netherlands, UK, Spain and China. EAL in Secondary, English Literature, Social Studies, IBDP Spanish ab initio. Family man, music, reading, cooking and eating, tennis and table tennis, and traveling.

3 thoughts on “Mind mapping and jigsaw puzzles”

  1. Hi Niels, what a great collection of strategies and approaches. Check out some of the blog posts written on SPELTAC about visual note taking, which is quite popular at the moment at our school. I liked reading about your role in the class as EAL teacher and how you effectively supported the students during what seemed like lecture time, by modelling note-taking and then allowing students to be more independent later on. I wonder whether the subject teacher learned from that too, and saw how your strategies were helping students. The note taking obviously served as a means of assessment of where to go next and you and the teacher could use the notes to gauge student understanding and consider their unique perspectives. For this kind of team work to happen you need to be comfortable in each other’s classroom and it’s great to see an example of good collaboration having an effect on student learning.

  2. Visual note-taking and mind-mapping are useful ways for me to remember information…to remind me of when/where I was when taking the notes and every pen stroke helps put me back in that time, when I’m reflecting. While I’m not awesome at doodling, I do love to colour coordinate and a lot of the mind-mapping I do is basically colour alternating notes.
    I’m learning Khmer and I always write the word in Khmer/English in different colours. I also like to make acronyms or find words that sound similar to help me remember vocabulary words. Anything visual helps to trigger my memory! 🙂

    And jig-saw – so good! I’ll definitely be remembering to try this out! We had a workshop with Gini Rojas come in to give us PD on different ELL strategies that I’ve found useful! Definitely Google her resources! 🙂

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