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Mind maps: from paper to screen

Paper map or on screen: what to choose? In fact, the watchword could be: one step at a time, depending on what the class has access to.

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Paper map or on screen: what to choose? In fact, the watchword could be: one step at a time, depending on what the class has access to.

The paper…

When introducing students to the technique of mind maps, it may be beneficial to start with paper and pencil, which are often more easily accessible in schools. Ideally, you should also bring colored pencils or markers and voila. Raiding the recycling bin will recover sheets and scraps that are very suitable for draft cards, often necessary when making cards by hand rather than using a computer support. The creation on paper will transform the technique into second nature and allow the numerous works of the pupils to be classified in a binder of ideas or easily displayed in the classroom. Once the concept is well established, we can propose the use of software or online applications to obtain better structured maps, visually more pleasant and easy to modify.

Copyright Jean-Louis Zimmermann, Flickr, CC By

The screen ...

The technology makes it easy to create mind maps, save them, share them, print them, publish them on the Web… Interesting and useful! That said, it can seem overwhelming to choose the right software or application, since there are so many products out there. While some seem free, we often find that it's only the basic version that really is. You then have to pay for a more complete version. Online sites, for their part, sometimes offer a monthly subscription. Before signing up, it's a good idea to do the math to determine if it might not be more beneficial in the long run to buy software. By browsing various user forums, we see that opinions are divided on all the products offered. Good news, it's a sign that there is something for everyone, as pointed out this article that highlights five practical tools or this one which uses the principle of mind maps to illustrate the advantages and disadvantages of various applications.

Software to download

Some software is complete and free. This is the case of FreePlane, free software. User-friendly, it has a number of icons, colors and possibilities. As it is free, it can be installed both at school and at home. If the appearance of the cards seems somewhat austere, the choice of icons remains interesting. By copying the map to Libre Office or Microsoft Office, we obtain a “text” version of all the notes, in other words: a detailed and well-structured plan. You can also add comments in the map, not visible on the diagram (a small icon indicates their presence), but which will be integrated into the file if you copy and paste them into another software. This could, for example, encourage making text plans directly in FreePlane, then transferring everything afterwards in order to obtain an almost final work.

Another software to discover, the free version of Xmind compares to Freeplane. If the cards are a little prettier, the choice of icons appears to be more limited. The two programs are about equally user-friendly, but Xmind offers more interesting basic models. Practical advantage: you can export your maps in PDF format. In the Pro version, you can add MP3 files to the cards. This is useful for recording oral comments in a card.

Some users swear by CmapTools. We also find in This article the advantages and benefits of this software, and also a link to download it.

On the side of proprietary software, we find in several schools in Quebec the titles SMART Ideas, from the company that manufactures SMART Boards, as well as Inspiration and Kidspiration (suitable for the youngest), whose visual qualities and ease of use have often been underlined.

Online applications

In order to avoid program installations and to facilitate the monitoring of student work from school to home, the use of an online application is advantageous. Some also combine with applications for smartphones, which allows you to improve your cards at all times.

A large number of tools exist and, again, all tastes are in nature. While some like Mindmeister or Bubbl.us, others prefer Can goCacoo.com, Popplet, Coggle, Mind manager, BiggerPlate or Mindomo. These applications, in their free version, most of the time limit the number of cards produced or do not offer all the functions of the paid version.

After several readings, I decided to try the online apps SpiderScribe, iMindMap and MindMup, which seemed to be popular with several teachers consulted. SpiderScribe I found it to be very user-friendly, although it does not have any icons. Although the number of private cards is limited to three, the number of public cards allowed is unlimited. They can also be easily shared, or even exported in PNG (image) format, which can then be integrated into another document if necessary. This tool is distinguished by the functions "add maps" (from Google Maps) and "add calendars". Adding images is also very easy.

Less user-friendly at first, iMindMap however, stands out with a variety of the most aesthetic and varied models. A number of icons are available. If we take the trouble to appropriate it, the cards will be visually very attractive.

As for MindMup, it can be used advantageously with the Google account, which makes it possible to share the fruits directly on the site or via GoogleDrive. Despite an English interface, it is very user-friendly and elementary school children will learn to use it in no time.

The software GitMind can be used on multiple platforms (Android, iOS and online). It offers diverse models and allows real-time online collaboration on a single mind map. The result can be exported in different formats.

Summary of the file

Mind maps: advantages and frequent uses
Mind maps in the classroom: examples
Mind maps: content and structure
Mind maps: from paper to screen
Ready, Set? "Map"!


About the Author

Anik Lessard Routhier
Anik Lessard Routhier
Anik is a freelance writer and lecturer at Collège Lionel-Groulx and Cégep Marie-Victorin.

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