Highly visual or tactile-kinesthetic learners typically have difficulty with lectures, and may avoid them altogether. Such avoidance or aversive behavior can create deficits that seriously hamper learning in traditional educational settings.


These learners can be assisted to make good use of the lecture method. They may be taught to apply to their note-taking the techniques of "clustering," developed by Gabriel Rico, and mind-mapping, created by Tony Buzan. Like brain-storming and often used with it, these techniques employ free-association of ideas, creating a "structure" quite unlike the traditional outline method, but equally effective. They represent one way that visual and tactile-kinesthetic learners may adapt their learning needs to fit the given situation.


These strategies are useful not only for organizing information, but for generating ideas. They are used to create patterns, build connections, and establish associations between the student's own experience and new information, between known facts and new concepts, between parts of a concept or problem and its whole.


Random, non-sequential, and non-linear methods like these are ideal for the visual, tactile-kinesthetic, Type 1 and Type 4 learners. Furthermore, by utilizing skills inherent to both sides of the brain, they become very valuable techniques for the more sequential learner to employ. Finally, they are compatible with "schema" theories of cognitive processing advanced by Costa, Ausubel, Neisser and others.


In both techniques, the learner begins with a center or nucleus. The general idea of the lecture, book, or movie, the topic for creative writing, or the central issue in a problem-solving exercise, is placed in the center of the page. Main ideas are connected to the central topic by drawing lines from the center. Supporting ideas become "branches" off main ideas. Working outward from the center in all directions, the learner produces a growing, organized structure composed of key words, phrases, and images.


Mindmaps are useful for chapter reviews, test preparation, planning, organizing, report-writing, note-taking, and generating ideas for creative writing or research. They are an invaluable technique for introducing a new lesson geared to Quadrant 1 of the 4MAT cycle (See also Learning Styles and the 4MAT System.)


In this curriculum, for example, students being introduced to study of Mount St. Helens are asked to mind-map everything they already know about the volcano. (See Eruption Simulation.) The map becomes a graphic representation of the knowledge level of the students, allowing the teacher to easily identify the gaps in their information. From this visual display, students can draw conclusions and pose questions for further exploration. The process serves as both a motivational technique and as a way of establishing the students' baseline knowledge. Instruction can be modified and adapted, made more basic or more elaborate, based on this information about students' level of readiness.


In A LIVING LABORATORY: VOLCANOES, mindmaps are also used to review information or synthesize new learning. It is helpful and enjoyable to create color mindmaps. We tend to remember better when ideas are presented in color, and the use of colored chalk to highlight main ideas in a lecture has been shown to enhance learning.




Finally, clustering is an especially effective tool for the prewriting stage of the writing process (See Peer Editing.) The following, excerpted and adapted from Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico, may help you introduce clustering to students.


What is it?

Clustering is a generative, open-ended, non-linear, visual structuring of ideas, events, feelings. It is a way of mapping an interior landscape as it begins to emerge.


What is it based on?

It is based on a beginning knowledge of how the two sides of our brain process what we know. They process information in radically different ways. This difference is most easily explained by a look at two words often thought to be a synonymous: order and structure.


Order, on the one hand, comes from the Latin ordo, ordini. It means "in a straight row," "in a regular series." Order implies linear, rule-governed activity. Order is imposed from without. Structure, on the other hand, comes from the Latin struere. It means "to heap together." Structure emerges from within.


What will clustering do?

  • Clustering should help you find and generate ideas and, having found them, to structure and restructure them long before any ordering actually takes place.
  • Clustering is a technique for collecting thoughts around some stimulus, for finding a focus, and for allowing a sense of the whole configuration to emerge even though all the details are not yet apparent.
  • Clustering is a technique for engaging and utilizing the raw materials of one's experience and giving them a tentative shape. In short, it is a discovery process.


How does clustering work?

For brief journal entries, clustering is a simple process taking thirty seconds to two minutes, just long enough to let ideas spill out onto a page until an idea presents itself that you can develop into a whole.



Buzan, Tony, Use Both Sides of Your Brain (New York: Dutton, 1974.) Costa, Arthur, Developing Minds (ASCD, 1985)

"New Horizons for Learning: An International Human Resource Network" (Now an online organization, no longer a membership organization-- our newsletter is free at our website. If you are interested in contacting them please write to: New Horizons for Learning, PO box 15329, Seattle, WA 98115-0329 or Phone: (206) 547-7936.)

Rico, Gabriele, Writing the Natural Way (Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher, Inc., 1983.)