MindMapping (or iThoughts therefore iAm)

Health and safety – Framework for a discussion

Now, I usually like my posts to be about things that you could pretty much pick up and use straight away with your classes, but there is a bit more speculation I. This on of what I think might be possible in the not too distant future… Bear with me here…

Not just for my learners….

I have just started as a student a fairly full-on full-on course (Cambridge DELTA at UCL) and I wanted to find a better way to organise my notes. I’ve probably never been taught how to take notes and generally have just written loads of stuff down. So far it has worked well enough, but I have this nagging feeling that there must be a better way to do it. After spending quite a while pointing out to learners how useful it can be to use mind maps and other graphic organisers to plan their work,I thought I might give it a try myself (see exploratree for some great ideas for using graphic organisers).


I’d found my iPad quite useful for making ‘write a lot of stuff down’ type notes and I could use the resulting scribblings (tappings might be a better word) to write blog posts with. This is a development from what I normally do with handwritten notes, which get stuck in a folder and occasionally skimmed through. Nevertheless I knew that there were some mind mapping apps available for the iPad and I thought that they could be a good use for my tablet. So far I’ve been impressed – it seems a really logical way of organising concepts and most crucially it’s easy to add new ideas in at different points when revising. It also allows you to create very large unwieldy maps and then zoom into the bits you need. In case you’re wondering how big you can make them, there’s an example of my course notes at the bottom of the post. I’d guess it is probably not for everyone, but I’ve been convinced to stick with it.

Killer App?

Having been trying this for a week or so, I’m starting to think that this might just be the “killer app” for tablets in the classroom. Mind mapping can be done very simply and cheaply with a pencil and paper – it’s probably the best way to do a quick, simple mind map. However they soon get huge, messy and generally unwieldy. One way to overcome this is by using an online mind maps such as bubbl.us which allows you to rearrange things and zoom in and out to look in more or less detail. This means that you can create massive mindmaps which are still usable. The problem is that you end up tied to a PC or laptop. Now, this might just be a generational thing, but I can’t sit in a lecture or class tapping away on a laptop or desktop without getting really self-conscious and to be honest I can get easily distracted (not coincidentally my most effective writing usually happens on an old laptop that has no internet access) . Mobiles could be less intrusive, but their small screens are not really ideal for complex mind maps (though there are plenty of apps available for them). Tablets, on the other hand, seem really well suited to this very visual genre. The touch screen makes it easy to manipulate the image and add ideas. It’s easy for learners to show and compare their thoughts. If tablets (not necessarily Apple-Flavoured) become accessible enough for them to be common in class, I suspect that this is something that will become widespread. This might be a way off for most groups, but I’ve been doing a lot of 1-1 support this year and I’ve found my iPad very useful. Tablets are great (and a bit more realistic) for that context.


The app that I’ve chosen is iThoughts for the iPad. I chose it because most reviews seemed to suggest that it was the best option and it comes out top when you google “iPad mindmapping”. At £7, it is a bit expensive for an app, but it’s still only seven quid. There are quite a few alternative apps out there (some free), so you might want to do a bit more research than I did.

Leaving the competition to one side, I would recommend iThoughtsHD in its own right for these reasons:

  • it has a really intuitive & simple user interface
  • There are plenty of features and editable options to create maps (colour, image, links, tasks, etc)
  • It links smoothly with cloud service (I use Dropbox all the time, so this is a big bonus for me
  • It has ability to export as an image, PDF (very useful) or as one of any number of alternative mindmap formats (not so useful for me – but if you use mind maps a lot this might be a crucial feature)
  • You can cut and paste maps as text ( appears as a bulleted list in text)

However, there are lots of different apps out there, likewise I’m sure here are good options for android as well.

Classroom ideas

So if you are lucky enough to have a class full of learners with the required hardware (unlikely perhaps) what could you do? Please add your own ideas in the comments section below but these are a few that I’ve thought of:

    • Great big vocabulary maps around a particular topic – get groups to compete to see who can make the biggest (but actively encourage them to steal each other’s ideas)
    • Get learners to break complex texts down into mind maps, then ask them to reconstruct the original text orally or in writing
    • Track learners free speaking in order to return to topics to add more content (the picture at the top of the post is an example of this).
    • Working out what questions they want to “ask the text” before trying to use a long text or website for research. This could make learners less like to copy (or cut and paste) the source text.
    • The old favourite – planning for writing or giving presentations.

Further Reading




I’m sure you’ve got loads of better ideas than mine – I’d love it if you could share some in the comments below….

12 thoughts on “MindMapping (or iThoughts therefore iAm)

  1. Inspiration is also a really good mind mapping software that they should hopefully already have at your uni or college. The software allows you to transport mind maps from diagrams into essay headings on a word doc.

    1. We do have inspirations somewhere… but it’s not widely available across the college. From what I’ve seen it also looks really good – iThoughts also lets you copy maps into text – if you copy the maps and paste them into a wordprocessor they appear as bulletted lists (and I think you can do it the other way round).

      This does all seem like a powerful technique that isn’t really being used much….

  2. Just started the DELTA? You are one of those that I figured would have it or beyond! Well, I am starting (hopefully) in late February. We will stay in touch! I think I still know how to take notes…

  3. iThoughts was one of the first apps I bought for my iPad more than a year ago and it gets far and away more use than every other app, and game, put together. I use it particularly for “discovery” sessions with new clients, I have a template which I create a new session from for each client and if they bring up a particular avenue of questioning that I think would be useful I just add it to the template.

    It is constantly updated and there is more and more “project management / milestone” functionality all the time, this on top of the integration with dropbox / box.net make it a no brainer purchase for even the lightest note-taker – it is an excellent application and well worth far more than it’s £7 pricetag.

  4. iThoughts is definitely the most fully featured mind mapping app for iPad. I’ve just downloaded and just started playing around. Personally I use mindmaps for organizing ideas and brainstorming rather than note taking per se but maybe it’s bout your personal definition of note taking. Your example nevertheless shows effective use and I will definitely give it it go at school this year.

    1. I hadn’t used it for note-taking before – it’s just something I thought I’d try… it seems to be a nice idea to consider the relationships between ideas and contexts – and makes the process all a bit more active. I think the idea of iPad notetaking is probably something that needs to be looked at if Tablets are to become widely used in schools.

  5. I’ve really found this useful (am not the only one: https://twitter.com/#!/harrisonmike/status/171999026248564737/photo/1) – but have been a bit constrained that I’ve only been able to use it on my iPad – (might pay for the iPhone version as well) – But have just downloaded Freemind, – a free desktop application which can sync with it – seems to work OK at the moment… will probably add a section on desktop apps to the post – but if you’re interested for now, have a look at this page for the lowdown on desktop compatibility with iThoughts: http://www.ithoughts.co.uk/iThoughts/CompatibilityDetails.html

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