Thinking Maps in Science

thinking maps

Thinking maps are a set of eight visual tools which each correspond to different higher-order thinking skills. First published by David Hyerle in 1989 they are now a common feature in classrooms around the world. The maps help learners to grasp new concepts by allowing them to construct visual representations of otherwise abstract ideas. They also promote cooperative learning and critical thinking through processes such as ordering, prioritising and sequencing.

Here are some examples of how I have used a few of the thinking maps recently in my science teaching.

(Incidentally there are same great apps available for constructing thinking maps but I find that large sheets of paper or laminated, wipe-clean outlines of the maps and coloured board pens are actually more conducive to collaboration when concept mapping.)

Circle map

Circle maps are used to put things into context. The ‘thing’ represented is written or drawn in the centre circle and contextual information is shown in the outer circle. The activity can be extended by drawing a rectangular frame around the outside of both circles to represent a frame of reference. The circle map highlights that how people represent or define something is very much influenced by context and by personal experience.


Most recently I have asked students to use circle maps to:

  • Consider the points of view of various interest groups towards a proposed factory development prior to a public-hearing role play activity
  • Highlight plant and animal adaptations to different habitats
  • Demonstrate prior knowledge of the Periodic Table.

Bridge map

Bridge maps are used to visualise analogies by quite literally bridging the gap between the familiar and the new. The line of the bridge shows the common relationship that exists between two or more pairs of things.

For example:

  • Comparing thermoregulation in the body with the negative feedback used by the classroom air conditioning system
  • Using a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant as an analogy for the cardiovascular system
  • Modelling an electric circuit with a water pump.


Bubble map and double-bubble map

The bubble map shares some similarities with the mind map but it is usually used simply to qualify or describe something using adjectives or phrases. For example, students could outline the properties of metallic elements or list the parts of an insect. However, the double-bubble map takes things one step further and allows students to compare and contrast the perceived qualities of two things in much the same way as a Venn diagram.

Double Bubble Map Example

For example, compare and contrast the following:

  • Nervous system and endocrine system
  • Metals and non-metals
  • Longitudinal waves and transverse waves
  • Plant cells and animal cells
  • Sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction
  • Nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

Flow map


Flow maps are used for interpreting changes or sequences and is probably the map I use most often in the classroom. Remember that flow maps do not have to be linear (life cycles for example).


Lots of possibilities including:

  • The stages of mitosis or meiosis
  • The life cycle of a flowering plant, butterfly, frog etc.
  • The process of DNA replication
  • The steps involved in conducting an experiment.

DNA repl

Multi-flow map

Multi-flow maps are used to represent the causes and effects of a given situation, for example:

  • Global warming
  • Eutrophication
  • Health and safety scenarios
  • Infectious diseases.


Brace map

The brace map which is used to visualise the relationship between a whole object and its parts (e.g. the human body, body systems, organs, tissues, cells)

Tree map

The tree map is used to represent hierarchical information (e.g. classification or ecological keys).

More information

For more information about thinking maps and how they can be used effectively in your lessons visit the Thinking Maps Learning Community.


One thought on “Thinking Maps in Science

  1. Pingback: Limiting Factors and Super Cheesy Burgers! | If It's Green Or Moves

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