Friday, February 8, 2013

Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate: Concept Maps

What we're working on & why it's important:
As we returned from holiday break we dove into our study of  Denver & Colorado. In kicking off our study we went on a field trip to the new Colorado History Center. Before we visited the museum I knew the amount of background knowledge the kids had varied, and I also knew they'd return with a plethora new knowledge. Therefore, I decided to use the concept map as a structure to hold and organize their thinking, as I can't expect them to immediately hold, understand, and make meaning of their learning.


What I did:
One day prior to our trip we began by listing everything we knew about Denver or Colorado on a blank piece of paper. As you can imagine, our background knowledge varied. Some kids wrote places they'd visited around the state, and others listed things such as Broncos and skiing. Then after returning from the Colorado History Center we went back to our brainstorming and added more people, places, things, etc. that we know about Denver and Colorado. Finally, I asked them to flip their paper over, and write 'Colorado History' on the center of their paper. From there, students placed  items from their list on their 'map' in relation to importance. If they thought something was really important they placed it close to the center box. If an item was not that important to Colorado's past or present they put it near the outside of their paper. Then, partners shared at least three items on their map with one another explaining why they placed the item where they did on their map.

What I learned:
The conversation was the best part of the routine. Hearing the students defend their decisions is where the learning occurred. From conversing with one another, some students changed their thinking, agreed to disagree, or left pondering certain topics.This routine reminded me again of the importance of conversation. I was surprised by the amount of knowledge students brought back and how different it was. When the students completed these concept maps I was able to assess what information they took away from the museum, which helps guide my instruction.

Impact on Instruction & Students:
I didn't intend for this map to serve as a pre-assessment, but it did. Therefore, it has helped me plan through our unit. The field trip and concept map together also sparked the students' interest in Denver & Colorado, which has helped guide our study.

How will I use this learning in the future:
In the text, the final step of this routine is the connecting phase. Students draw lines making connections between items on their map. We have yet to complete this step because I didn't feel like the kids had the background knowledge to make the connections yet. I plan on going back to this at the end of our study as a way to for students to synthesize their learning. I feel like I'd like to use the concept map again in the future as a way to organize our thinking. Perhaps we could use them to help us chronologically organize our thoughts about a certain period in history... 



  1. I have really enjoyed learning about the process you as a teacher have gone through in the planning and implementation of your thinking routines through our conversations in PLCs and your posts on here. Thanks for sharing! I also really look forward to seeing your results when they take on the roles of historical people. :)

  2. Jamie, the two pieces of this thinking routine that really stand out to me are the connect and sort components. When I did this routine with students, our big a-ha's were around the connections we didn't really expect. But as I read your reflections, I remember that I didn't focus on the sort as much as I wanted to. In Ritchhart's book he says, "Sort your ideas according to how central or tangential they are." This DETERMINING IMPORTANCE is naturally integrated into the sort. I love it! It is incredible to see the visual representation of students thinking and how it led to great conversations. Thanks for sharing this post. It encourages me to continue to use this routine!

  3. What a process Jamie! I love that you are so thoughtful about your students and respectful and embracing of the fact that they are all coming to the table with such different "schema." I think this is SO often overlooked when we are given a "unit" to teach. I think the use of this routine THROUGHOUT the exploration of Denver and Colorado really helped the kids to build their background, teach eachother, and determine what truly is important to our state's history. How cool! And what a great visual and kinesthetic (sp?) way to pull in those types of learners!

  4. Great idea to use as a pre-assessment! I think we should be careful to never assume students have background knowledge about any topic we introduce. Good thinking! I will try this with my reading groups when introducing new non-fiction book. Those who still struggle with writing can draw pictures on their "map". You're a smarty-pants Salty ;)