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Revision maps are a great way showing how wide-ranging ideas relate to each other, says Ray Oliver

Revision can be a mind-numbing experience - even half an hour is sufficient to induce a trance-like state in some students. Since it's so dull, it should be done as efficiently as possible. Students will be familiar with traditional note-taking and writing summaries. But they should also use alternative strategies, such as revision maps or Mind Maps. The term is now a registered trade mark of Tony Buzan, whose books have had an enormous impact on the way people learn. The mapping approach (which differs from spider diagrams) isn't suitable for work that requires recalling fine detail, such as a series of chemical equations, but it is invaluable for showing the relationships between a range of factors.

Imagine a GCSE student has been set the task of learning the complex details of the extraction of iron and its uses. How should they begin? They could highlight words in the text, extract keywords or make a list of bullet points ready to memorise - or they could use the mapping approach, which produces a different kind of revision aid. It summarises the key points in one diagram and shows how the various ideas are related.

To create a revision map, first examine the content that needs to be recalled. In the case of iron it reads like this: "Iron ores are oxides which have distinctive colours. A blast furnace is used to extract iron from its ores and there are four raw materials. The iron produced is called cast iron, but most is immediately converted into steel. Iron compounds have characteristic colours, like rust."

The basic rules for the construction of a revision map look like this: * put the main idea in the centre;

* extend branches that can be further sub-divided;

* one set of branches illustrates a group of linked ideas;

* use colour to differentiate the branches and include graphics wherever you can;

* write key words along the branches.

An example of how one student tackled the iron problem can be seen in the top diagram. The map can be expanded by adding more branches or extending existing ones. Each student will produce a unique version of the map. Ask groups in class to compare versions and learn from each other. Often a composite map can be prepared incorporating the best features of several others.

This visual approach to revision is also useful where students want to generate ideas for an essay or a presentation. Encourage them to write down every idea as it comes to them. The first draft can be edited later by regrouping ideas or cutting out redundant ones.

Imagine the task set is to produce ideas for a presentation about fossils.

After a preliminary class discussion to recall key points, ask students to work in small groups. They can divide the task by contributing separate branches or by supplying rapid-fire ideas linked to a single theme. The diagram shown on the left is an example of this approach. It shows the range of ideas students generated for their presentation - as well as the need for a large piece of paper.

Another way to use these graphic revision guides is to start with one that is already partly drawn. The addition of an ideas list enables groups to complete the guide in many imaginative ways. This encourages discussion and allows students to argue for a particular idea in relation to the existing framework.

Revision will always be a dull prospect for many students, but with Mind Maps it can at least be done more successfully.

Ray Oliver teaches science at St Albans Girls School


Inspiration Version 7.5, CD-Rom from Tag LearningOne to four licences: Pounds 59.95 per machine; five to nine licences: pound;38; 10 to 19 licences: Pounds 33 per machine

Tel: 01474 357 350

Think it - Map It!

By Ian Harris and Oliver Caviglioli Network Press pound;17.95 Tel: 01785 225 515

Mind Maps for Kids: Rev Up for Revision By Tony Buzan Accelerated Learning Centre pound;12.99 Tel: 01267 211880

Introducing Mind Mapping to Children in 12 Easy Steps By Eva Hoffman Accelerated Learning Centre pound;19.99 Tel: 01267 211880

The Mind Map Book By Tony and Barry Buzan BBC pound;5.49 (plus pound;2.95 pamp;p) Tel: 08700

How to Mind Map By Tony Buzan Thorsons, pound;6.99 Tel:0870 787

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