Mental maps are a useful tool for representing how people think about they place they live. They can be used with students of any age, and allow each person to represent their thoughts as they see them.
One way mental maps are made is to ask someone to draw a map of how they get from their home to school, or their home to a store, or from school to an extracurricular. The map just needs to encompass one well-known locale, and it can serve as a broader representational tool.
The first aspect of personal knowledge being represented is directional and centered on the motions of getting from A to B. The person drawing the map can draw out their route and annotate it with written directions. This will show how they perceive getting around their space; what they use as markers or touchstones to know which way to go. Perhaps a person relies on signs, on buildings, on a natural landmark – whichever it is, it becomes an important point of reference.
The map-drawer can describe their modes of transportation, reflecting on the differences between walking, biking, driving or being on a school bus. The map-maker can use this to discern information about how they like to get around. This helps build an understanding of basic values and basic reflective principles.
The map-maker can also annotate what they see on the way. These descriptions, similarly, can help place value on one’s visual landscape. The visual landscape aspect of this is important; a student can verbalize what they see – which is a transference of knowledge into a more advanced form, and use it also as a basis for reflective thinking. With the visualization aspect, students are also able to use the visual portion of their brain – really just use it – and as the visual aspect of the brain is almost completely in control of all reading functions – the use, while seemingly basic, is an excellent form of exercise for the brain.
What the map-maker is visualizing, they are also organizing, and become able to represent their organizational ideas in writing and picture. The map-maker can look it over, make sure it’s clear, add some extra detail – and will have learned valuable lessons about revising their written expression. The map becomes an important touchstone; it is something personal and hand-crafted, and even reluctant writers may be compelled to add more content into their map. What this amounts to is a drive for visually organized representation of thought (in writing!).
A mental map is worth the time and discussion. It’s a great activity to do with a kid, and can become a source of ongoing thoughtful reflection.
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