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Artículo 03

Volumen 16

The Concept Maps Usefulness Perception in the Target Language IV Classroom: an Exploratory Study

[1] Dr. Benjamin Gutiérrez Gutiérrez

Facultad de Lenguas

Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP)


Language Teaching has always pointed to something better: better teaching methods, better strategies and also better tools that can facilitate this complex job. Among these tools concept maps can be identified as helpful elements in language learning and teaching. This means that the use of concept maps can be beneficial since they help to implement new ways to understand a topic and, consequently the exercise of thinking in the target language. However, it is important to remember that these visual tools would not be effective if they were not used by teachers and students as well. That is why the objective of this research was to find out the utility that concept maps have in the Language classroom as well as the perception of students and teachers about the use of them. In order to reach that an exploratory study was developed in the Faculty of Languages at BUAP having them both as participants. The results show that concept maps can have different uses depending on the topic treated and the purpose of their creation.


Key words:  Concept maps, language classroom


Language teaching is a complex area of study. From the beginnings there have been many studies about new ways of teaching, different types of didactic material, new techniques to facilitate this process, etc. One of the issues in which many researchers have focused on is the implementation of instruments for teaching. An example of this instrument is the concept map. A concept map can be defined as a schematic resource that represents a set of meanings and that is helpful to analyze and represent knowledge and learning (Novak 1998, cited in Arellano, 2009:42). In other words, concept maps are mental diagrams to synthesize and organize knowledge. According to Dubberly (2010:2), a concept map is “a picture of our understanding of something.”

This means that a concept map can also be conceived as a personal interpretation of the information provided. Moving this perception to the area of language teaching it is necessary to point out that language students are used to working with texts of different topic in different languages and that is why it is necessary for them to have an effective tool for the organization of the information that allows them to have a better development of certain skills.



Concept maps have their origin in the mid-1970´s in Novak´s research about children´s knowledge. Novak states “working from Ausubel´s theory of meaningful learning, we decided to examine interview transcripts for concept words and propositions given by the students, for this would indicate prior knowledge and postintructional knowledge” (Novak 1998: 27) This means that concept maps, in their basic purpose, were created as a tool to process data in an easier and faster way: they started to be useful to replace other instruments in researching.



There are three main elements in a concept map (See Figure 1):

            1. Concept: that is any fact or object that can be observed.

            2. Proposition: The small sentence formed by a concept and a linking word.

            3. Linking Word: The word that is used to connect one concept with another.


Figure 1. Elements of a concept map


These three elements combine each other in order to make an idea as understandable as possible for the reader in a brief and clear way.



The importance of concept maps can be seen in many areas of daily situations. This research will focus on the educational ones and, in order to facilitate the comprehension of this type of mental diagrams, the different utilities have been classified into two related categories: Concept maps in Education and in Language Classroom.


Concept Maps in Educational Fields

As a learning strategy

Concept maps are useful in this way because they resume only the most important things in a topic and show them in an organized way in order to be significantly learned by the students. As Ontoria (2000:101) pointed out: “Concept maps can be used to be conscious of previous knowledge about the topic […] and also to improve the comprehension. When the concept map is made by the student this comprehension is assured.” In other words, concept maps can help students in their learning because they provide a way to represent what they have learned or want to learn in a compact way. Also, concept maps can present ideas in a short and easy-to-remember way.


As a teaching strategy

Concept Maps can be useful in this area in many ways; however two are identified in this paper:

a)    As an exposition resource: Concept maps can help to explain a particular topic. Teachers would just have to take a look at it to catch the idea that would produce the corresponding explanation.

b)    As an evaluation: Concept maps can work in this area to let the teacher know if the content of the topic was learned successfully.


Concept Maps in the Language Classroom

As a diagnostic test

As the name suggests concept maps are useful in the language classroom because through them we can identify previous knowledge and mistaken concepts that students may possess. According to Ontoria (2000:97) there are several possible ways to evaluate the elements mentioned before, one of them is explained: “Once the teacher has given the general title students will try to make a concept map to develop their relations with other concepts.”  This strategy can help teachers to recognize how much students know about the topic they are about to explain.

As a summarization strategy

This means that, at the end of the class teachers can draw concept maps with the help of the students in order to remember and “refresh” the knowledge that was learned in that class. As James (2010:42) mentions “A language teacher may wish to end a lesson by creating one on the board covering the main vocabulary for that lesson. This creates a repetition of things learned but not in a boring way [… ] students can be asked to call out the main keywords, creating a separate branch for each.”

This strategy can work specially with those topics that are related to vocabulary learning. However, these representations can be seen not only as an educational help but also as a way to make students participate. Swan (2010:28) states “I have heard time and time again that there is something almost magical when students can see with their own eyes that their ideas are taken seriously and made part of the collective document. They feel listened to.(Swan, 2010:28)

In other words, concept maps can also help teachers to make students to feel included in the process of learning since they contribute to the creation of an instrument to summarize the learning of the entire group.



The purpose of this research was to find out how useful concept maps are in Language classroom as well as the perception that students and teachers have about the utility, the purpose of use and the way of learning through concept maps.



With the purpose already presented and because of the nature of this exploratory study it was decided to work with two sections of Intermediate students. There were 27 students in total: 10 men and 17 women who were studying the target language IV (which is equivalent to level A2 according to the European Framework of Reference) and were using concept maps as a learning strategy of Minerva program and their respective teachers. The instrument consisted in a survey (applied to the students) of 7 multiple answer questions and 1 question that allowed an open answer and an interview (applied to teachers) of 8 questions, very similar to the students´ one. Both instruments were piloted and the main purpose was to find out how often they use concept maps, what the usefulness was in their English class (in this case, target language IV).The answers were analyzed and they are presented as follows.


About students

Through the instrument applied to students there were found three main uses for concept maps, which answer the question How often do you use concept maps? The results are presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Frequency of use of concept maps.


As presented above, 23 students use concept maps once a week in their target language class and only 2 use them three times a week. This can let us know that students do not use concept maps very often in their English class. This can be due to many factors, for example when students present some problems or obstacles with the language (Tümen and Taspinar, 2007:60) or because of factors related to learning styles or to the familiarity they have about the elaboration and use of them. However, it is important to analyze the purpose that they have when they do use them.

Another finding related to concept maps in language teaching is related to their use. There were found three main uses for concept maps, which answer the question “What do you use concept maps for?” (See Figure 3).

Figure 3. Usage of concept maps (students). 

Table 1. Usage of concept maps (students)

As it can be seen 14 of the 27 participants use concept maps to summarize the content of a specific topic; 8 of them said that they use concept maps when they have to perform a presentation; finally 5 students said that they use this tool as a study strategy. This statement agrees with the one given by Tümen and Taspinar (2007:381) “…they [concept maps] offered the students mental organizers and improved learning.”. This means that these 5 students conceive concept maps as an effective way to “refresh” knowledge.

Thus, the results show that these participants choose concept maps instead of other instruments of summarization.


The third main result answers to the question “Do you think concept maps are useful? Why?”  In this section of the instrument it was found that all the students answer yes and, because of the nature of the question there were different answers. However, the most common answers are presented as follows: (See Table 1).


Concept maps are useful because:

Number of students

They organize and summarize information.


They help to understand a topic easily.


Table 1. Utility of concept maps

As it can be seen, most of the students think that concept maps are helpful to synthesize information and that they can be useful tools to facilitate learning. This statement agrees with what Del mastro (2006:8) points out: “Concept mapping allows the creation of concepts in a non-rote or automatic way, but through active processes of development.”

It is important to point that the rest of the students did not justify their answers.


The fourth finding is about the sources that made students learn how to create concept maps. In the case of the participants in this study it was found that teachers are the most common element through which students learned to create concept maps. 23 students choose this answer and the rest of them said that they learned to elaborate them with help of books and also of Internet. Following this line of alternatives to learn to create concept maps Tezci mentions that nowadays it is possible to find new computer programs or web sites that can help students to interactively learn how to construct concept maps and they even can help teachers to introduce innovative ways to teach a topic following “new developments in information technologies” (Tezci, Demirli & Sapar 2007:2), which means that teachers can be updated in alternatives for language teaching while students work in a different and creative way.


About teachers

As it was pointed out before the instrument applied to teachers --in this case only two teachers, who were in charge of the only two target language IV sections and were using concept maps as a learning strategy in their target classes-- was an interview that was elaborated with the purpose of knowing with more detail how often they use concept maps in class, what for and how they learned to create them, as well as to know if they consider them helpful for their personal objectives. In order to have a better comprehension it was decided to present the results as follows. (See Table 2).






1. How often do you use concept maps?


2. What do you use them for?


3. Do you think they are useful?


4. How did you learn to create them?


Teacher 1

Twice a week


To introduce and explain a topic.


Yes, it benefits students with visual learning.


In high school with the help of a teacher.


Teacher 2

3 or 4 times per semester.


To connect ideas and summarize concepts.


They are not that productive.


In a DGIE course.


Table 2. Teacher´s perception of concept maps.

As presented above, differences between both teachers who were in charge of giving classes in both target language IV sections are evident as in the case of question 1, even though there are some elements that on which they agree: in question 2 both teachers mentioned some words that coincide with the uses of concept maps that were presented before in this paper, like introducing, explaining and summarizing. Also, in question 4 the answers concur in the way that both teachers learned to create concept maps through specific instruction, for example from a teacher.  In question 3 differences are marked again, however it is important to say that this depends on the teacher´s objectives and teaching method.



Taking into account the information presented through this paper it can be concluded that concept maps are mental representations through which certain elements of a topic can be explained. Also, concept maps can represent an important and useful tool in language teaching since they provide a brief explanation of a topic through key words. In the study described it was found that, although the students do not use concept maps very frequently in their English class they perceive them as helpful learning strategies. Teacher´s perception is also important and, in this research it was found that the teachers who participated agree in their use of concept maps but disagree in their perception about their effectiveness. Nevertheless it is important to remark that the effectiveness of concept maps can be measured depending on the topic treated, on what teachers want students to do and, of course depending on the conditions where language teaching takes place.

Based on the evidence, it is necessary to take into consideration the need of creating specific training programs to help teachers to create a general way to apply and use this kind of teaching tools because there is a big amount of beliefs and perceptions about how to create them and how to use them. If the school or institution is looking for new ways of teaching to enhance students to develop autonomy, it is necessary to promote this kind of socialization and collaborative work inside the academies to set a coherent way of working and teaching. On the other hand, it is important to perform continuous evaluation about this process in order to know if the program and techniques are helping to accomplish the instructional goals.





Arellano, J. (2009) Investigar con mapas conceptuales. [Research with concept maps]. Madrid, España. Narcea.

Del mastro, A. (2006). El uso de mapas conceptuales en el desarrollo de destreza lectoras en L2. Recovered on March 6th 2011.

Dubberly, H. (2010). Creating concept maps. Recovered on October 4th 2010 from Pg.2

James, D. (2010). English Language Teaching - How to Use Mind Maps. Recovered on September 20th 2010 from

Novak, J.D. (1998). Learning, crating and using knowledge. New Jersey. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 

Ontoria, A. (2000) Mapas Conceptuales: una técnica para aprender. Madrid. España. Narcea S.A. Pgs. 97-101.

Swan,H. (2010). Mind Mapping: Learning and Teaching with Both Sides of the Brain. Recovered on October 2nd 2010 fom

Teczi, E; Demirli, C. and Sapar, V. (2007). English Language Teaching with an Electronic Concept Mapping ¡JET International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning. Recovered on March 6th 2011.

Tümen, S., and Taspinar, M. (2007). The effects of concept mapping on students´ achievements in language teaching. Recovered on March 6th 2011.  Pgs.      60-381.

[1] Dr. Benjamín Gutiérrez Gutiérrez es profesor investigador en la Facultad de Lenguas, BUAP. Tiene la Licenciatura en la Enseñanza de Lenguas Extranjeras, Maestría en Educación Superior y Doctorado en Ciencias de la Educación. Ha participado en el proceso de evaluación de la Licenciatura en Lenguas Modernas, acreditación del programa de Licenciatura en Lenguas Modernas y la Licenciatura Abierta en la Enseñanza de Lenguas-Inglés. Es asesor experto en la creación de reactivos para el examen nacional de residencias médicas en la Secretaria de Salud.