The Usefulness of Semantic Maps in Navigating Knowledge

    by Elfrieda (Freddy) Hiebert | May 22, 2024

    120 zettabytes: amount of data created in 2023
    1,000,000,000 terabytes = 1 zettabyte
    1,000 terabytes = half the contents of all US academic research libraries
    .0000000001 terabyte = a short novel1

    Videos, photos, social media, music, and games, not text, account for much of the data in the graphic. What is evident, however, is that the amount of data stored digitally is truly massive–and is expected to increase at even higher levels. What is also evident is that human beings have gotten good at storing data digitally. But are we getting better at supporting students in organizing and remembering information that is critical for life in communities and the workplace?

    There are no simple answers to that question but one learning technique has proven effective in supporting students in organizing and remembering knowledge: semantic maps.

    Whether the technique is called a semantic, concept, or mind map, the distinguishing feature is that words, phrases, or sentences that represent concepts are presented in a diagram-like scheme. For example, imagine a teacher is creating a semantic map with young children about animals. Students might suggest a cat, dog, lion, and elephant. On the map, cat and dog might be placed together under the heading of “pets,” while lion and elephant might be placed in a group labeled “wild animals.” A line might be drawn between cat and lion to show their shared membership in a group called felines. Such a map visually shows the relationships between words based on their meanings and categories.

    Examples of Semantic Maps (see ILA Webinar: Knowledge Building as the Foundation of Literacy Learning for more information.)

    Click to enlarge

    Numerous studies have shown the efficacy of semantic maps in supporting comprehension skills and knowledge acquisition and retention. In a meta-analysis of over 100 studies, Schroeder et al. (2018) found that learning with semantic maps resulted in significantly higher problem-solving, summarizing, and inferencing as well as motivation and interest in learning. The results applied equally well to STEM and non-STEM topics and for students from elementary through secondary grades.

    Occasions when students engage in semantic mapmaking with teachers support learning and an understanding of their uses and techniques. With this background, students can generate maps individually and in small groups. Student-initiated maps have proven to be especially effective as a learning tool.2

    In an era where available information is increasing exponentially, the abilities to comprehend complex texts and to gain and retain knowledge from texts distinguish those who thrive and succeed. Semantic maps are an evidence-based technique that supports students’ knowledge acquisition and retention.

    Data in featured image: Image credit: Adobe Stock

    2Schroeder, N. L., Nesbit, J. C., Anguiano, C. J., & Adesope, O. O. (2018). Studying and constructing concept maps: A meta-analysis. Educational Psychology Review30, 431-455.