speaking in context

8 Contexts For Listening, Speaking and telling stories with Mindmaps


Let your heart be your compass, your mind your map, your soul your guide… and you will never get lost.


Continuing on from last week’s article about mindmapping for exams, today’s post is all about using mindmaps for listening, speaking and fluency development. The more we listen, the more we prepare our hearts and minds to speak.

Why is it important to question how we teach listening and speaking and why do we need to keep experimenting with open-ended activities?

Well, here are some things we can ask ourselves before experimenting with sound and imagery.

1) Do our students know how to speak their minds or do they just go through the same old hoops again and again when we ask them typical exam-type questions?

2) Do our students dry up when faced with lists of words they can’t incorporate into meaningful associations?

3) Do students find it hard to relate to photos of strangers they are forced to talk about?

4) Do students feel that they are forced to perform instead or think, feel, or engage?

5) Do extrinsic motivational techniques block their flow of thoughts?

6) Are their expressive skills limited by too much linear-style thinking?

7) Can visual thinking transform communication?

Even though I’m focusing on mindmaps, I still feel compelled to quote someone who inspires me more and more these these – a wonderful academic cartoonist/comic maker called Nick Sousanis whom I hope to feature in the near future.

Mindmaps and comics are closely related as visual thinking tools, so I’ll quote Nick Sousanis here once again.

As Sousanis says,

The primacy of words over images has deep roots in Western culture. But what if the two are inextricably linked, equal partners in meaning-making?

When the mind rebels does the heart excel?

We can all be forgiven for feeling that second language acquisition must focus on function as the foundation stone of a target language. While this can be true in practical reality, the functional contexts for functional language can be too dry and, therefore, not conducive to spontaneous expression.

We’ve all got to let students experiment with their own thoughts, feelings and ideas. What I like about Nick Sousanis’ work is that he knows how to rebel with the kind of creative precision that’s capable of turning academia upsidedown and elevating it at the same time.

Mindmaps, as well as comics, use imagery with words, generate original expression, unlock tunnel vision, and act as memory consolidators.

Sousanis says, we are often unable to see past the boundaries of our current frame of mind. Fusing words and images to produce new forms of knowledge, Unflattening teaches us how to access modes of understanding beyond what we normally apprehend.

Harvard University Press

While Nick’s work is with educational comics (another passion of mine), the concept of fusing words and images through the free-flow of association is also integral to mindmapping as a form of visual thinking. Visual literacy, as a form of brainstorming and linking ideas, enriches how our students feel and experience language, how they think about life, and, most importantly, how they can express their thoughts – even when the exam goal itself is merely functional or that of measuring functional language.

Here are some things that we can do to promote listening and speaking skills development:

For those of you who are new to mindmapping please view this video to get the jist. Although this video features imind by Tony Buzon, you can find my collection of free mindmapping tools on Pearl Trees, which I’ll embed at the end of the article.


1) Use mindmapping for general predictions before a listening text.

Students can be presented with rudimentary/semi-completed mindmaps. This basic map supplies a context from which students can predict what a listening text will be about.

The map could have just a central idea/theme from which different colour theme-based branches can extend. If you just want students to think and talk about the general theme, then you can let them add their own branch themes, concepts, sub-themes and ideas.

This is very useful for,
a) learning more about your own students,

b)providing a brilliant way to personalize the pre-listening experience,

c) sharing ideas to recreate a collaborative mindmap in future,

d) enriching the topic in the minds of students,

e) having them brainstorm and share the vocabulary that they need for their maps,
f) having them create their own contexts from their own maps of the world or cultural experiences,

g) comparing their ideas to the ideas they’ll come across in the actual listening text,

h) getting them to talk in pairs about similarities and differences between their predictions and the actual listening text itself.

2) Using mindmapping for more focused prediction work.

This time you may want students to focus on some main points that they are definitely going to hear about. In this case you provide a central idea and main branches which are already labelled.
You can ask students to add more sub-branches to each branch, thereby having them develop the listening theme in more focused ways and increasing their chances of predicting what the text will actually be about.

3) Using mindmapping for predicting language.

Instead of focusing on themes, this time, you can provide a central idea with branches broken up into parts of speech. This time students must predict which nouns, verbs, adverbs and adjectives they may expect to hear in the listening dialogue.

These are just three ideas for predicting listening texts through mindmapping, but as you get used to mindmapping, and as your students get used to it, more and more ideas will be generated.

Another fascinating thing about mindmapping is that no matter how you may wish to focus on something very specific, the resulting map will always feed into larger schemata and form the basis of developing other skills beyond the core skill being developed at any one time. I’ll explain this in more detail at the end of my article.

4) Using mindmaps while listening

Give students map templates with the central idea and main branches already filled in. Their job will be to listen and add key vocabulary that they can hear to suitable branches. In this way, they are categorizing information, working out context, and memorizing words and stories at the same time.

A map could be divided into branches of who’s who – for example, some exam items have five different speakers and students have to identify who says what. Students could also be asked to formulate their own comprehension questions based on the map before they are presented with the official comprehension questions.

The types of mindmap templates you want students to develop will depend on what your particular objectives may be and/or what kinds of listening skills/ tests you are focusing on.

For example, you could also have mindmaps for mood, tones of voice, feelings. Students would only listen for these aspects and not the actual story or language at all. There are so many ways to listen to a text in the target language. Sometimes you may wish to challenge their deeper listening skills, social/emotional intelligence, implicit meaning, or have them tap into what makes people tick. Many of these listening tasks based on social nuances are especially effective for business English.

4) Mindmapping after the listening experience.

Pairs of students could ask each other to describe what happened in the listening text and map out their partner’s responses. Afterwards, pairs can share their maps with the whole class and vote on which ‘story and map’ was the most accurate, the richest, the most detailed or the most interesting.

You can challenge your students to record themselves and create their own listening texts. Using mindmaps they have already created from previous tasks, or a new map made by you, ask them to create audio stories based on the key words and central theme.

5) These ideas can very lead us into storytelling, movies and multi-media via mindmapping.

Here’s a presentation I made last year on mindmapping, movies and other related ideas.

Here’a link to the webinar and description of my talk.

6) Brainstorming for speaking tasks


Quite often our text books provide useful expressions, prompts and photos for students, but students tend to gloss over the word lists and struggle with the photos.

A nice way of engaging creative interest would be to provide students with blank maps which just have a central idea. This time ask students to add an image to each branch associated with the central idea. In this way they are providing their own images associated with the topic and making their own associations before speaking. By adding keywords to sub-branches or child branches, as they’re called, students are filling in their own context of useful words and phrases that they can use for the speaking activity.

One thing to remember about mindmapping is that we only put one keyword on each branch, so students have to choose a key word from particular expressions without writing out the whole thing. This is good because they start memorizing chunks based on these key words, so the process of mapping like this enhances memory, flow and fluency, whilst allowing students to build up a collection of theme-based word-maps, as opposed to word lists.

7) Find images to suit the speaking maps.

Another idea is to give students full mindmaps of speaking topics you have created yourself, or recycled maps that they made themselves in the past. Each map will be similar with reference to the main central idea, but different with regard to branches and associations.This time students have the simple task of finding images to suit the maps. When they have found their images ( online or from magazines), they can pair up and go through their speaking tasks or exam interviews. Needless to say, it would also be interesting for pairs to share their photos.

8) They can also record or video themselves speaking through video tools on their mobile phones or even google hangouts.

Post-mapping advantages for courses, revision and the bigger picture


Every mindmap provides part of a visual record of lessons/tasks/tests and courses. These are fantastic for classroom revision, revision at home, wall charts, visual aids, sources for memory games, movie-mapping activities, and so on.

Speaking and listening maps can be used for further cognitive thinking activities, for leading into sophisticated discussions, writing skills development, creativity experiments, training in reading skills, understanding subtle contexts, speed reading, and so on….

A mindmapping activity cannot ever exist in isolation, unless you throw away the map and never recycle it or relate it to the larger schemata of your course objectives. Even if you do throw away all of that creative work, the seeds of influence have already begun to transform the minds of your students, and the effect is generative – a ripple effect of brain-friendly inspiration.

Here’s my collection of freemium tools.


Mindmapping tools, by silversal

Sylvia Guinan

is an online English teacher, writer and blogger who facilitates professional development online. She uses brain-friendly techniques to help students and teachers around the world. She designs educational materials, develops courses, writes resource papers and publishes ebooks. Her work is the result of much research into the psychology of learning, as well as hands-on experience with multi-media technology.

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