Using thinking maps in art

This year I have been using thinking maps as introductory exercises to our projects in addition to thumbnail sketches. Having students create these before sketching shows me a deeper understanding of concepts in addition to sketches.

I limit thumbnail sketches to 5-10 minutes each (at least 3 sketches) so students focus on getting ideas down on paper, not fine-tuning the details. With that said, I still find students are hesitant to put ideas on paper for fear of failing or drawing poorly. Beyond that, encouraging students to create well-developed thumbnails can be a challenge sometimes. With the introduction of thinking maps, I’ve found that:

  1. Students spend more time formulating and exploring ideas.
  2. Having numerous ideas written down creates the opportunity to mix n’ match ideas, resulting in more, well-developed thumbnails.
  3. Students look forward to beginning sketches when they are required to write first.



My example for the 6th grade Postcard Design. Frame of reference emphasized in red for students.


This was a well-done map. This student referenced their recent Geography poster project on Madrid.


Students were deep into the work portion of their postcard designs just as the November 13 Paris attacks happened, so designing for context became a learning opportunity.


Flow map for 1st Grade Keith Haring project. Building our action drawings from the inside out (meat/muscles around bone).


Double-Bubble map for comparing/contrasting pottery and sculpture. Done as a class, this was an immediate buy-in for 3rd graders.


6th Grade postcard design tree map for New York.


6th Grade postcard design tree map for Seattle.