4 Steps for Creating a Quality Concept Map

Practice the skill of creating strong concept maps for learning or assessment

10 minutes

Table of Contents

Concept mapping is a skill that takes practice to master. However, it’s easy to get started!

We’ve outlined four simple steps to help you build concept maps that can be used for virtually limitless learning and assessment purposes.

Here is the concept map authoring process at a glance:

1. Craft a focus question

2. List and organize concepts

3. Use linking phrases to form propositions

4. Iterate

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1. Craft a focus question

Focus questions provide the context for the knowledge to be assessed.

This section will guide you through the process of crafting a good focus question.


Pick a Focus Question that will elicit the kind of knowledge you want to diagram

It's okay if the Focus Question changes as you edit your map

Think about...

What is the topic that the concept map will cover?
Example: Structure and Properties of Matter

What is the most important idea related concerning this topic that
you want your students to be able to explain?
Example: Molecules make up all types of matter in the universe, and
how those molecules are arranged determines a matter’s state.

What are three questions that could elicit this knowledge?
Examples: What is matter made of? What determines matter’s state? How does molecular structure affect matter’s state?

Out of the three questions you just wrote, which makes the best
focus question?

What kind of content and structure do think your map will use?
Examples: factual, reasoning, compare and contrast, tree, cycle


2. List and organize concepts

Concepts can be people, places, events, objects or ideas.

This section will help you practice listing concepts to be used in a concept map!


Concepts should be short and concise and not sentences

Create a “parking lot” of 10 to 30 concepts to start

Organize concepts hierarchically by placing the important, overarching concepts at the top and the supporting detail concepts below

Think about...

What concepts are necessary to understand in order to answer your focus question?

3. Use linking phrases to form propositions

Linking phrases describe the relationships between concepts to form propositions—the building blocks of knowledge and thinking.

Use this section to identify some linking phrases that connect your concepts.


Add crosslinks, connections between separate branches of your map, to add detail and nuance to your map content

Check to see if linking phrases are repeated and differentiate where necessary

Make your linking phrases specific. Consider the word, “has,” which can mean multiple things. A good replacement could be “owns,” “contains,” or “consists of”

Use arrow direction to specify how propositions should be read. “Earth – revolves around – Sun” is unclear without an arrow. “Earth - revolves around –> Sun” is clear and valid

Think about...

Consider the examples pictured below. Which linking phrases seem
most relevant to the map you want to create?

Commonly Used Linking Phrases

What linking phrases accurately complete each proposition below? In which direction should the arrow be pointing?

Coffee _____ Caffeine

Branches ____Trees

Envelopes _____Mail

Heart _____Blood

Pollen _____Allergies

Pollen _____Allergies

4. Iterate

Expressing mental models is a creative exercise.

As you make connections and the structure of the map takes shape, it will inevitably inspire even more concepts and connections


If the map starts to take directions that are not directly related to the focus question, consider creating new maps to explore those new directions

Think about...

Are all the propositions you’ve created directly related to your focus question?

If you answered “no,” which next step seems most appropriate?

A: Revise the focus question to be broader

B: Revise the propositions (concepts joined by linking phrases) to
align with the focus question

C: Create an additional map with a different focus question


  • Concept mapping is a skill that requires consistent practice to become good at.
  • The process of creating concept maps can be broken down into four main steps:
    1. Craft a focus question
    2. Brainstorm and organize concepts
    3. Use linking phrases to form propositions, and
    4. Iterate
  • By considering the Guiding Questions provided under each of these steps, you can create quality concept maps for any learning or assessment purpose!

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