What are Thinking Maps?

Thinking Maps are consistent visual patterns linked directly to eight specific thought processes. By visualizing our thinking, we create concrete images of abstract thoughts. These patterns help all students reach higher levels of critical and creative thinking — essential components of 21st Century education. In a school-wide implementation, Thinking Maps establish a consistent Language for Learning.

Defining in Context

The Circle Map

21st Century Learners use the Circle Map to:

    • Define
    • Brainstorm
    • List
    • Identify
    • Tell everything they know

‘What does _______ mean?’
‘Can you define _______?’

The Frame of Reference around each Map provides context and helps students to better understand their own thought processes.

Describing with Adjectives

The Bubble Map

21st Century Learners use the Bubble Map to:

  • Describe using adjectives
  • Identify characteristics
  • Identify properties
  • Identify qualities

‘How would you describe ______?’

Comparing and Contrasting

The Double Bubble Map

21st Century Learners use the Double Bubble Map to:

  • Identify similarities and differences
  • Differentiate between characters or objects
  • Analyze comparisons and contrasts

‘How are ___ and ___ alike/different?’


The Tree Map

Tree Map
21st Century Learners use the Tree Map:

  • to classify
  • to categorize
  • to sort or group
  • to give sufficient and related details
  • for convergent and divergent thinking

‘What is the main idea of ______?’
‘What are the supporting details?’


The Flow Map

21st Century Learners use the Flow Map to:

  • Sequence steps, stages or events
  • Order information
  • Analyze patterns

‘What is the sequence in which these events took place?’
‘How would you demonstrate the steps for solving _____?’

Cause and Effect

The Multi-Flow Map

21st Century Learners use the Multi-Flow Map to analyze:

  • Causes and effects
  • Impacts and/or benefits
  • Reasons and/or results
  • If…then predictions

‘What is the impact of the author’s point of view on______?’
‘How would you evaluate the arguments and claims in _____?’ ‘Why would you choose to do this and what are the short and long-term outcomes?’

Identifying Part/Whole Relationships

The Brace Map

Brace Map
21st Century Learners use the Brace Map to:

  • Identify the parts of a whole
  • Deconstruct problems
  • Show physical components

‘Analyze the structural parts of ______ to suggest improvements.’

Seeing Analogies

The Bridge Map

Bridge Map
RF = “Relating Factor”
21st Century Learners use the Bridge Map to:

  • Connect related ideas and relationships
  • Understand analogies and metaphors

‘What is the relationship between ____ and _____?’
‘How would you analyze the relationship in analogous form within _____?’

The Benefits

Why use the Maps?

Thinking Maps are successfully implemented school or district-wide


  • Students use visual patterns to work collaboratively for deeper comprehension in all content areas and grade levels
  • Students are empowered with the tools to analyze complex texts and think mathematically for conceptual understanding and problem solving
  • Students use Thinking Maps for the production and distribution of a range of writing types and purposes


  • Teachers have a common language for teaching Common Core and/or State Standards more efficiently and successfully
  • Teachers have a consistent set of tools to meet the needs of ALL LEARNERS
  • Thinking Maps allow teachers to “see” the evidence of their students’ learning, enabling them to assess more effectively


  • School promotes integrated thinking and interdisciplinary learning
  • All members of the school community share a COMMON LANGUAGE for meaningful and rigorous collaborative learning
  • Facilitates monitoring of teacher effectiveness and teacher quality
“As a school improvement specialist and former math teacher, I am impressed with how Thinking Maps lends itself to the scaffolding and rigor that we expect from teachers. Thinking Maps provides ALL students access to higher order thinking skills with the support needed to assist them in achieving success with learning targets and with critical thinking.”
– Renee Mixon, Continuous Improvement Project Consultant, Northwest Georgia Learning Resource System

The Results

Thinking Maps really work.


Patriot Elementary takes students from passive to passionate.

When Dave Burgess was named Principal of Patriot Elementary School in the fall of 2012, he saw tremendous potential and opportunity. “It was literally a blank slate,” he says. “I saw all these clean white walls waiting to be filled. We had a strong staff, but to take our students to the next level we needed a common focus and language so we could all work together.”

Read the full story now.

Thinking Maps®: A Language for Learning has been revised and updated for today’s classrooms.


The materials and training have been revised for today’s teachers and leaders. The new Training Guide, Thinking Maps® : A Language for Learning, 2nd Edition, and the training model are aligned with Learning Forward‘s research-based recommendations for 21st Century Professional Development to help teachers move from theory to classroom practice. We updated the Training and Teacher’s Guides to:  

  • strengthen the role of teacher leaders within their school
  • equip teacher leads with the expertise to facilitate effective learning communities
  • customize Thinking Maps training and application to the needs of their teachers and students
  • improve program fidelity and student outcomes

Learn More…
Contact your local representative today!