Homework & Studying

Mind-Mapping: A Must-Have Study Tool for Students with ADHD

Mind mapping can help students organize ideas for term papers and clean up their notes for studying. Follow our step-by-step guide to create your own paper mind map, or check out two of our favorite software picks.

ADHD Students Use Mind-Mapping to Get Organized at School
ADHD Students Use Mind-Mapping to Get Organized at School

Faced with a term paper, students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning disabled (LD) students often approach the topic in concepts, images, or networks of connected ideas. We learn best visually; we need to see things in order to understand them. For students with ADHD who take notes with zeal, but find it difficult to pick out the important points, or organize thoughts into an A-B-C order outline, mind-mapping can help.

A mind map is a tool for taking notes, organizing ideas, structuring papers, and studying for exams. You can even use it for brainstorming. Using key words, colors, arrows, symbols, and icons to create a map, or elaborate diagram, you can see how one idea relates to another. Mind-mapping brings order to your thoughts, and invites a free flow of ideas, encouraging creativity.

The basics

At its simplest, a mind map is a series of ideas connected to a central theme. If you’re writing a paper, begin with the main theme in the center of the page, boxed or circled and represented by a picture or key word. Draw lines radiating from the main theme to create a second layer of related thoughts. Each of these might send out shoots to create a third layer, and so on, until you have a web of interrelated ideas that provide a logical structure for your paper.

You can also use a mind map to develop a topic for a report: Begin with a broad theme and add new ideas as you brainstorm, working from the general to the specific.

A step-by-step guide

Plan on making your mind map in stages: a rough first draft to capture your ideas, an edited version of the draft to show their connections, and a final draft that groups information in an orderly way.

To make a mind map, you’ll need a large, unlined notepad or an artist’s sketchpad, and several colored pens, markers, or highlighters. If you take notes with a laptop or tablet PC, you might want to invest in software such as the Mindjet MindManager or Inspiration.

Let’s imagine that your teacher is lecturing about the Apollo 11 moon mission, and you’d like to make a mind map instead of taking conventional notes. The following steps and illustrations show you how.

Step 1: Identify important themes.

Write the main topic in the middle of the page. As other major themes become apparent, place them around the central topic, leaving room for related information.

Step 2: Add details.

If your teacher lectures in an organized manner, keep related themes and facts together. If her delivery is scattershot, you’ll have to connect information to lines radiating from the center in a clockwise fashion, and sort it out later. Use key words instead of sentences. Print large, and leave lots of white space.

Step 3: Look for relationships.

After the lecture, edit your map. First, pick out related ideas and categorize them by color. In the “Edited Draft,” details about the crew are in red, equipment in gold, dates in black, statistics in violet, terminology in blue, and interesting facts in green.

Next, look for an organizing principle. In our Apollo 11 example, the stages of the moon mission—”Lift-off,” “Moon Landing”, and “While on Moon”—stand out as a way to impose chronological order to the map. Add “Crew” as another topic, and you have four major themes around which to organize the information. (If a topic heading isn’t already on the map, add it.) Number the topics to indicate their chronological order, and assign a different color to each.

Step 4: “Move” things around.

Using lines and arrows, connect pieces of information to the appropriate topic, matching the color of the lines to the topic color. In some cases, you may decide not to group an item with the topic of the same color. For example, notice that the item “Neil Armstrong-One Small Step” (referring to the astronaut’s memorable words, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”) is outlined in red because it relates to the crew. But in the final map, it is grouped with “While on Moon.”

Step 5: Redraw the map.

Shuffling items, as directed by the arrows, creates a final mind map. Introduce sketches or borders to make information stand out. Add cartoon figures or funny representations that will help you recall details. If you remember additional facts from the lecture, add them to the map in the appropriate place. If you missed any details the first time, look them up and add them.

Now step back and take a look. You’ve turned an hour’s lecture into an organized, understandable, and visually memorable mind map. If you have an exam coming up, study the map and try redrawing it from memory to etch it into your mind. You’ll be amazed at how visualizing the colors, sketches, and location of facts on the page allows you to recall information. Draw additional mind maps as you review course materials or re-read important chapters, and you’ll be ready to ace the exam.

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