How to Make a Concept Map

Hi, I'm Libby, and I’ll be teaching you everything you need to know about concept


We’ll start with a quick overview, and then we’ll go through a step-by-step tutorial

and build out an example together.

When thinking about a certain topic, several different thoughts and ideas may come to mind.

But after awhile, those thoughts and ideas become a jumbled mess and it can be difficult

to keep everything straight.

That’s where a concept map comes in.

A concept map is a visual way to organize your thoughts and make connections between


They improve our ability to understand and remember concepts, because our brains process

visuals faster than plain text.

Before we show you how to make a concept map, let’s talk about the tools you can use to

make one.

You can draw a concept map with pen and paper, but a diagramming application is going to

make things much easier.

Today I’ll be using Lucidchart.

And you can use it too, for free actually.

Just click the link to access Lucidchart’s website, enter your email address, and you’ll

have a free Lucidchart account in just a few seconds.

It’s easy to use and you can follow along with me as we build a concept map.

A concept map is made of three very basic elements: shapes, arrows, and text.

The shapes represent concepts or ideas.

Rectangles are the most commonly used shape, but some people use ovals instead.

For our example, we’ll use rectangles to represent concepts.

Arrows show the relationships between those concepts.

And text is used to identify and describe the concepts and relationships.

The first step in creating a concept map is to identify the main concept.

This might be the subject of a research paper, a study topic, a business problem, or any

variety of things.

But it has to be one specific thing.

For our example, we’re just going to do something very simple.

We’re going to map out everything we know about the solar system.

So we’ll drag out a rectangle, which represents a concept, and write our main topic: “solar


Our entire concept map, as we build it out, is going to relate to this fall under this

main concept.

But sometimes the main concept can still be a bit too broad.

Maybe we know a lot about the solar system, like the history of its discovery, planetary

physics, formation theories, and so on.

Our concept map would be really big, but potentially not that useful.

We might need to concentrate our attention on one particular topic, and to do that we

could use a focus question.

A focus question helps specify the problem or issue the concept map is supposed to resolve.

For our example, a focus question could be “What’s in the solar system?”

This will focus our concept map on one specific topic and make our final diagram much clearer.

Now that we have a very specific main concept, we can start listing out any related concepts.

These will eventually fall under our main concept and form the overall map, but for

now, let’s just create a list off to the side.

Some people call this a parking lot, and it usually consists of around 15-25 key concepts.

Use your main concept and focus question as a guide, and start listing out any related


For our solar system example, we’d start by writing out sun, planets, asteroid belt,

and moons.

It’s good practice to describe each concept as briefly as possible.

Try to keep each key concept to one or two words.

Otherwise you may end up with a very text-heavy concept map that has less visual impact.

For example, you wouldn’t want to write “Pluto is no longer classified as a planet.”

Yes, this is related knowledge, but you’re better off just writing Pluto.

That’s the key concept, and we can add details later.

I’ll add about 10 more concepts to my list, and then we’ll move on to the next step.

Okay, now that we’ve listed all our ideas out into this parking lot, we can start adding

them to the concept map and organizing them.

You’ll want to arrange your concepts in a hierarchical format.

The map is going to start with your main topic at the top and then get more and more specific

as you move down.

So let’s begin by finding our most general concepts in the parking lot.

The sun and planets seem to be the broadest, so we’ll drag those over and put them right

below our main concept.

You can continue to drag out all your concepts and place them in an approximate order, but

I like to connect my ideas as I go.

To show relationships between concepts, we draw an arrow between them.

Here, we’re showing a relationship between the solar system and the sun.

And typically you’re going to want to define the relationship by adding text.

It’s best to use verbs that link these two concepts together and form a simple phrase

as you move down the map.

For example, we might write “includes” on this line.

As we read from top to bottom, we get a simple phrase that explains the relationship: “The

solar system includes the sun.”

This is called a proposition.

A proposition is just a meaningful statement made up of two concepts and a linking description.

By the time your concept map is finished, you’ll have several sets of propositions

about a certain topic.

Let’s create another proposition over here.

We’ll draw a line between solar system and planets, and then write “includes” again.

Another proposition is formed: “The solar system includes planets.”

Not every relationship has to move downward.

You can also create cross-links between concepts in different domains of the concept map.

For example, you could draw a line from planets to the sun, and then write “orbit” on

the line.

When you read in the direction of the arrow, you see that “planets orbit the sun.”

Cross-links are a great way of visualizing how different concepts throughout your map

relate to one another.

Before we finish building out the rest of this concept map, I want to quickly explain

the difference between a concept map and a mind map since many people get those confused.

As we’ve just shown, a concept map works downward from the main topic, and you add

text to your lines to describe relationships.

Mind maps, on the other hand, have the main topic at the center and then extend outwards

in all directions.

Also, mind maps put far less emphasis on identifying the relationships between ideas.

They’re both great for visualizing knowledge, but it’s good to know the differences.

To complete this concept map, I’m going to continue to pull concepts from my list

and place them in an appropriate place.

I can pull out mercury, venus, earth, etc. and put them all under planets.

Before I start drawing lines, however, I realize that there are two main categories of planets

- inner and outer - and I want to represent that knowledge in this concept map.

I’m bringing this up to show how creating a concept map can remind you of additional

concepts as you go along.

We didn’t have inner and outer planets in our original list, but that doesn’t mean

we can’t add them now.

I’ll create two more shapes for those new concepts.

I’ll place them below planets.

And then I’ll put mercury, venus, earth, and mars under inner planets.

And the rest will fall under outer planets.

You can see how we’re getting more and more specific as we work our way down the concept


Same as before, I’ll draw out connections and write descriptions.

Again, you’re going to want to keep all your text to a minimum.

You won’t want to write much more than I did here.

You can see we still have several concepts left in our list.

We can add as many as make sense for the particular concept map we’re building.

There’s no rule that says you have to use them all.

For our example, let’s just say that the only concepts that I want to add are moons,

asteroid belt, and pluto.

For the sake of time, I’ll put all of those under an additional concept that I’ll call

“other celestial bodies.”

Remember how earlier we wanted to represent our knowledge that Pluto used to be classified

as a planet?

Well this is a great example of how a cross-link can describe that knowledge in a simple way.

We’ll simply draw a line from Pluto to Outer Planets.

And then write “used to be” on the line.

Another cross-link could go from planets to moons.

We’d write “planets have moons.”

Once you finish building out your concept map, you can do several things to fine-tune


Sometimes it can be nice to add color to help organize ideas, or to just give your entire

map a more polished look.

Lucidchart has a number of additional styling options if you really want to take it to the

next level.

You can also refine your map by looking for areas of improvement.

Is there a better position for a certain concept?

Are there better words you can use to describe concepts and relationships?

Revising your concept map is a part of the process, and you’ll find that Lucidchart

makes it very easy to move shapes, redirect arrows, and change text.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on concept maps.

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Leave a comment if you have any thoughts or questions.

And lastly, click the link to try a free Lucidchart account and start making your own concept

maps today.