What is a Concept Map?

Concept maps are graphical tools for organizing and representing knowledge. They are popular with users of all ages, from elementary school students to scientists, to express their understanding about a domain of knowledge. Further along in these tutorials we'll examine different uses of concept mapping.

The structure of a concept map consists of concepts, usually enclosed in circles or boxes of some type, and relationships between concepts indicated by a connecting line linking two concepts. Words on the line, referred to as linking words or linking phrases, specify the relationship between the two concepts.

In the concept map below, the terms "Photosynthesis", "Glucose", "Oxygen", and all the other terms within the yellow boxes are concepts. The terms "produces", "is", "stores", and all the other terms in the connecting lines between concepts are linking words (also referred to as linking phrases).

Two concepts with the linking words that relates or join them form a proposition -- a short sentence that has meaning on its own. For example, in the concept map below "Photosynthesis produces Glucose" is a proposition. So are "Photosynthesis produces Oxygen", "Carbon Dioxide is absorbed from the Air", and so on.

As is obvious, concepts are a key element of concept maps. We therefore begin by understanding what concepts are.

Photosynthesis Concept Map


We define concept as a perceived regularity or pattern in events or objects, or records of events or objects, designated by a label. Initially, we will deal mainly with objects, and later on we will come back to look events as concepts.

Words are one way to describe and name concepts, they are used as labels for concepts. "Dog", "boat" and "tree" are example of words that are labels for objects. Images or photos are also used to describe concepts. A photo or drawing of a boat is a clear way of referring to a boat. When a concept is named, the word is a label that maps onto our conceptual structure. With object-type concepts, such as "dog", the word maps into a category that describes this particular type of animal, with all its possible variations in terms of dog size, color, etc.

By perceived regularity or pattern we mean that even though some tables have four legs while other have three, five, or more, and while some tables are round, others are rectangular or square, and they can be made of different materials, we designate the label table to all of them. Humans at a very early age are able to identify these regularities and learn their labels.

Object-type concepts are usually nouns, and their labels in most cases is a single word, although sometimes we use symbols such as + or %, and sometimes more than one word is used. In general, when constructing concept maps we try to use the minimum number of words that can be used describe the concept.

Examples of Concepts

The following is a list of common concepts:










Chemical Energy

The following words are not concepts:








Note that words in this last list do not evoke any particular image. The word "Large" may evoke a tall building, but the concept evoked is "Building", not "Large". So "Large" is not a concept, "Building" is, and "Large Building" would also be a concept.

Lets try out your understanding of concepts so far.

Continue with this tutorial by clicking here.

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