Meaningful learning achieved through students creating concept diagrams with collaborative inquiry tasks


When improving student literacy we tend to focus on reading and writing skills. Apart from the core numeracy skills, research and critical thinking skills are also spoken of as highly valued. But, what about the visual literacy skills – the ability to see, understand and think, create and to communicate graphically? The Theory of Concept Mapping (or Diagramming) to improve student learning has been the subject of research for a number of years. Concept maps facilitate the process of knowledge creation which demands a high level of meaningful learning (Novak & Cañas, 2008). The theory of learning tasks by the Florida Institute of Human & Machine Cognition (creators of cmap software) state that “it is best to construct concept maps with reference to some particular question we seek to answer, which we have called a focus question.” Also, students working in collaboration (relating to others) effectively is one of the five key competencies that cuts across all knowledge areas of the New Zealand curriculum. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the positive cognitive and affective resultant outcomes from students striving to learn subject matter whilst working in small groups in cooperation (Novak & Cañas, 2008).

lucidchart logoCollaborative concept diagramming, not to be confused with mind-mapping, is where students are given a task in the form of a focus question and asked to research and then present their answer by creating a meaningful diagram which answers the question(s) in terms of images, key ideas, synthesised explanations along with connected relationships. On reflection, our best textbooks and our classroom walls are full of amazing diagrams which help us to gain overviews of ideas and information in well organised form. Why aren’t we asking our students to co-create these diagrams? Increasingly the tools are more freely available. One of the best of these I have used recently is Lucidchart which is free for education users.

Blooms_Old_NewThe collaborative concept diagramming tasks that I have given students have been assessed using SOLO Taxonomy. It is interesting to note that the revised version of Bloom’s reaffirms recent feedback from my students, that is that they discovered that their skills in synthesising information gathered was encouraged and enhanced through the practice of creating new knowledge and meaning in their diagrams.

(Diagram source:

Summary of skills developed through Creating Concept Diagrams through Collaborative Inquiry Tasks:

In some Year 9 ICT and Y10 Social Studies classes in 2014, I gradually developed a range of collaborative inquiry diagramming tasks for my students. Skills that the students developed through these inquiry tasks were:

  • gathering and synthesising information
  • organising and classifying information
  • identifying and prioritising key points
  • developing links, connections and  relationships
  • seeing the big picture (develop an overview/broader perspective)
  • collaborating with others:
    • group & self management through breaking down the task and organising themselves to complete it effectively as a group
    • resolving differences and working effectively in a group situation to produce an outcome
  • presenting their diagrams back to the class and explaining their approach and strategy (an import process of accountability and learning)
  • improved retention of knowledge and assessment outcomes (when the knowledge was applied in other assessments, subjects)

A Recent Year 9 Investigation Task

At the start of Term 4 2014, Year 9 ICT students were studying for their end year exams. They were asked to research the possible essay topic questions for Social Studies which also revised content covered during the year. Over four in class lesson, and collaborating online from home, created and presented diagrams that were published and shared to other students across two classes. Over half of the 55 students used the diagrams for revision purposes.

Task DescriptionThe Task was assessed using SOLO Taxonomy which had been introduced school-wide at the beginning of the year. See a link to the Full Task Description along with SOLO Taxonomy Assessment here.

The Topic Questions:

Topic Questions were allocated to different groups in both classes. The questions below were designed based on the broader topics studies which their essay choices were likely to be framed around for their exam:

  1. What are the main characteristics of Australia’s natural environment?
  2. How have European migrants and Aborigines interacted in Australia over the past 225 years?
  3. How did early Maori identify and interact with the land?
  4. How did early Maori society organise itself?

[There were two other topics but the 4 above were the most popular]

The Student Concept Diagrams:

Link to diagram above
Other Student Examples:

Benefits of the Task – Student Feedback:

A survey of all students in the two classes after the exams indicated that over half the students used other groups diagrams as sources for their examination revision:

Graph 1

Feedback on the usefulness of the particular task was generally very good:


The students also felt that accountability was important:

Graph 3

And they found the task to be at a good level of difficulty:

Graph 4

Students talk about the Task and the importance of Diagramming:

I had already given different tasks out to other classes during the year using the collaborative Lucidchart online tool. The more I saw students creating diagrams, the more I realised how many important skills that they were developing while completing the set tasks, as described in my introduction. However, what is really significant is that the students were recognising the importance of these skills and how the diagramming task and Lucidchart tool could be applied to help them learn and develop skills:

Graph 5


At a recent Google Apps for Education Conference I presented a workshop on the above task and student feedback.
Teachers then, after a hands-on experience themselves, shared on this collaborative document their collaborative diagramming learning task ideas for their schools.

About Lucidchart:

  • Lucidchart is FREE for Education (K12 to Tertiary)
  • Integrates with Google Apps for Education (GAFE) and diagrams/charts can be added into and updated in Google Docs as images via Google Drive Add-ons
  • You CANNOT Share a Lucidchart to a user who does NOT have a Lucidchart A/C
  • You can Share Lucidchart Folders (Similar to Google Drive)
  • You cannot publish a Lucidchart diagram unless you are the owner – However, you can have multiple diagram owners
  • Note: The Lucidchart web tool is best used on a laptop. There is a tablet version but it does not operate with the same functionality as the web/laptop version.
  • Lucidchart is simple and easy to use
  • In Lucidchart you can enable “More Shapes” (bottom left) giving you a range of shape options to turn on such as:
    • Tables
    • Video  YouTube (embedded and plays in published diagrams)
    • Equations
    • Floorplans
    • Mindmaps
    • Venn Diagrams
    • Software (such as iOS iPhone/iPad and Android design mockups)
    • Network infrastructures
    • Electrical Circuit Diagrams….plus many more…


Introduction to Lucidchart Worksheet – Here is a quick 20 minute tutorial worksheet that I have given students : “Getting started in Lucidchart”

Novak, J. D., & Cañas, A. J. (2008, January 22). The theory underlying Concept Maps and how to construct and use them. Retrieved June 30, 2015, from


2 thoughts on “Meaningful learning achieved through students creating concept diagrams with collaborative inquiry tasks

  1. Hi Mark
    I attended the Careers workshop on Friday and was really impressed. I had to leave early from your presentation.
    I copied down the google URL but obviously had something wrong. This is what I had:

    Are you able to help redirect me please? Thanks. Elmer Breedt

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