|Improve Your Writing by Using
English learners face a common problem: their writing often lacks
clarity and cohesion.
That is according to Babi Kruchin and Alan Kennedy who teach at the
American Language Program at Columbia University.
They recommend that English learners use concept maps – images that show
how ideas are connected.
What is important is how you put it together
Let’s consider a comparison. In some ways, the writing process is like
Gathering the ingredients for a meal requires effort. But, understanding
how to put all the ingredients together is far more difficult.
Similarly, learning nouns, adjectives, and verbs can be hard to do. But,
putting them together into a meaningful story, email, or essay is what
Doing these things becomes even more difficult when you are writing in a
So, writing clear, cohesive paragraphs or essays, can be hard for
To overcome this problem, Kruchin and Kennedy recommend that students
make concept maps before writing.
Kennedy says concept maps show a writer when his
or her writing lacks clarity.
Kruchin adds that concept maps help visual learners – people who learn
better by seeing ideas.
What are concept maps?
Concept maps are tools for organizing ideas. They usually have three
parts: concepts, arrows, and linking phrases.
The concepts, which are the main ideas, are in circles or boxes. They
are often nouns or noun phrases.
Arrows show how concepts are connected.
Linking words or phrases go above the arrows and explain how the
concepts relate to one another.
Linking phrases are especially important. They are the groups of words
that show relationships between concepts.
Joseph Novak, the creator of concept mapping, says such linking phrases
give meaning to statements:
"If you say dog and food, those two concepts by themselves don't mean
anything. They don't make a statement about the world. But if you say "dogs
need food", then you begin to express an idea that's significant."
Novak adds that the linking words or phrases should be short. "You do
not want a story between two concepts," he says, "just the expression
that is needed to say, 'this concept is significantly related to another
Generally, the generic ideas are at the top of the concept map and the
specific ideas are at the bottom.
Kennedy explains what this looks like:
"So, for example, if you wanted to explain that trees provide wood, and
wood is used to make furniture, you could have a circle around the word
trees… and then you could have an arrow between the word wood and the
word furniture, which would also be in a circle, and on top of that
arrow it would say "is used to make""
From this starting point, writers can expand concept maps to include
many concepts, arrows, and linking phrases.
Regardless of how simple or complex the map is, the most important point
is that every concept has at least one arrow attached to it, and that
every arrow has a linking word or linking phrase.
Building a concept map before writing an essay or email will make you
think about how your ideas relate to one another.
You will realize when you are not explaining the relationships between
ideas if you make a concept map that does not have arrows or linking
What can you do?
So, what can you do to start practicing concept maps?
You can start by reading and learning common linking words.
#1 Start by building a concept map of a paragraph
Kruchin recommends that English learners begin to use concept maps by
studying the writing of others.
Learning how good writers have connected and developed ideas is an
important starting point for learners who want to improve their own
Kruchin adds that English learners should begin with a small amount of
writing, such as a paragraph.
Kruchin suggests that English learners study the paragraph, or essay, by
looking for the following information:
"The author's main idea is this, because of A, B, and C and here is one
example to support A, one example to support B, one example to support
Doing this exercise, Kruchin adds, will give English learners
information about how they can show relationships between ideas in their
#2 Learn common words and phrases that connect ideas
Kennedy recommends that English learners master words and phrases that
show relationships between ideas. These linking phrases often show cause
and effect or tell about the order of events.
English learners, Kennedy explains, should practice using a few of these
phrases before moving to phrases that are more complex.
In particular, he recommends that English learners first use phrases
such as "leads to", "causes", "is a type of" and "requires", before
moving on to other phrases.
Read the article that goes with this story
Whether your goal is to write novels, poetry, or a message to a co-worker
or friend, being able to show a relationship between ideas is an
Concept mapping might seem complicated, but Kennedy and Kruchin wrote an
article that can help clarify their ideas. You can find the article on
this page in PDF format. Download the article, read it, then try
practicing with concept maps.
Let us know how concept maps work for you!