Mind Map It: Aiding ELL Vocabulary Acquisition

A guest post by Elizabeth Mosaidis
In this blog, Elizabeth Mosaidis shares how she used the free online mind-mapping tool Coggle to help her ESL/EFL students better learn vocabulary and improve their essay writing.

After reading some disappointing essays in my intermediate ESL reading/writing class, I surveyed the students to determine what they considered their greatest hurdle to overcome in essay writing. I discovered that 9 out of the 14 students found a lack of vocabulary to be the most challenging factor in writing. Several students expressed frustration in trying to remember new vocabulary words, while others mentioned not knowing the words in English to accurately express their ideas. Some felt stifled because the words wouldn’t flow. As one student described it, “I come to the English class, but the English class doesn’t come into me.”

With this in mind, I considered how I could help the students to better remember and retain new vocabulary words. We had tried several methods already—online flashcards, vocabulary BINGO, and a vocabulary journal—to some degree of success, but I still wasn’t reaching all of the students. Since my classes are fairly small, ranging from 13–18 students, I had some flexibility with the type of activity that I chose. However, I had to consider the diversity of my student population, with a typical class being made up of college-aged students from Saudi Arabia, China, and Kuwait, so I needed another method that could appeal to learners from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. After doing some research, I decided to teach the students how to mind map as a tool for them to learn new vocabulary words.

Mind mapping, which is a way of visually representing the connections between words by hand or through a software program, can help students increase their vocabulary by appealing to students with different learning styles, especially visual learners (Gomez & King, 2014, p. 72). In addition, research done on how learners acquire vocabulary shows that students can develop their vocabulary proficiency by not just learning the definitions of words, but also by making connections between words and seeing their relevance in different contexts (Gomez & King, 2014, p. 73). Mind mapping is one method that can be used to show these relationships and allow students to be actively involved in their own vocabulary acquisition. While the students are making the mind map, they determine how the words should be grouped, form connections between words in a way that makes sense to them, and add images to help them remember the words.

To introduce the idea of mind mapping, I had the students map a list of thematic vocabulary words by hand in small groups. None of my students had tried it before, so it took them some time to get the hang of it. After they were comfortable making them by hand, the next step was to incorporate technology by having them use Coggle to make their mind maps. I chose Coggle because it is free and user friendly, while also retaining important functions to aid teachers and students. Coggle requires a Google email account to set up, but after that, the user can store their mind maps and share them easily with others. In addition to sharing, Coggle also has a revision history feature, so the teacher can go back and see how the students revised their mind maps. Finally, another attractive feature is that Coggle can be used on a smartphone, which appeals to students, as they can work on their “Coggles” anywhere—on the bus, in the car, or while waiting for a class.

Student mind mapping example using Coggle

Student mind mapping example using Coggle

Overall, mind mapping for vocabulary acquisition went well in my classes. As my students were discussing which words and images they wanted to use to associate with the various vocabulary words, I noticed that they were working with the words in a different way than I had seen before. Some of my students mentioned that normally they try to memorize the words, but when they memorize them, they don’t fully understand how to use the word in the appropriate context. With mind mapping, they were exposed to a new way of internalizing vocabulary and were excited to create and share the mind maps with the class. In addition to heightened energy in the classroom, the students’ vocabulary test grades also increased. For instance, the scores on a test in which the students used mind mapping to study were 5.75% higher than a test where the students did not use mind maps to study. Over time, the most noticeable benefit was how much easier it was for my students to express their ideas in their essays.

Altogether, I had a favorable response from my students through written surveys, improved test scores and essays, and through energy that I observed in my classes. One student said, “It’s very creative and fun. I’ll show it to my family and friends.” Another student said, “This is exactly what I’m looking for to learn more English.” I encourage you to try mind mapping as one tool to teach new vocabulary words in order to appeal to the different learning styles of your students. Help your students expand their vocabulary without memorization. Coggle it!


Gómez, M. I., & King, G. (2014). Using mind mapping as a method to help ESL/EFL students connect vocabulary and concepts in different contexts. TRILOGÍA. Ciencia, Tecnología y Sociedad, 10, 69–85.

Elizabeth MosaidisElizabeth Mosaidis has been teaching English as a second language and foreign language since 2003.  A year-long volunteer experience grew into a love for teaching, and an impetus to teach abroad.  Elizabeth has taught in Japan, South Korea, Puerto Rico, and Spain, before settling down in the Phoenix area, where she currently teaches ESL at Arizona State University.

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5 Responses to Mind Map It: Aiding ELL Vocabulary Acquisition

  1. Ruwini Wijenayaka says:

    This was really important since I hope to
    write my BA thesis on mind mapping.

  2. DOMITILA VERA says:

    Dear Elizabeth I was trying to find a short reading and I remember you so I look for you in face and found this interesting article I have the same problem with my students they don´t have a vocabulary basis to write essays or ideas but in your article you present the use of mindmap to help the students to adquire a vocabulary.i used it once but with a reading the students work well i am learning Visual organizers and i am learning more about this great help.Thank you for your help.


  3. John Pachuta says:

    Elizabeth, this is very, very interesting. I have an Autistic granddaughter who is 12, and I wonder if this methodology would make sense in approaching her educationally. She seems to use memory (and has a fairly good one) to understand words…but she seems to have the same issues as your students. The relationships between the words, especially verbs to nouns is very difficult for her. I am giving this a lot of thought, and may try to implement this with her informally…thank you, and if you print more or have other resources, please let me know.

    • Elizabeth says:

      Hi, John! I’m glad that you found it useful, and I hope that you’ll be able to use it with your granddaughter. Please let me know how it goes! I’ll send any other resources that might be useful your way. Cheers!

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